What Is Languishing and How Does It Impact Your Mental Health?

man in his forties sitting at home on his couch looking bored or sad - languishing

When we think of someone flourishing in life, we notice their vitality, contagious energy, and general positivity. Languishing, a term popularized by psychologist and sociologist Corey Keyes, is the opposite of that. For some people, this state of being might only be temporary. For people with mental health issues, it can make managing their conditions more challenging.

What Is Languishing?

The general definition of languishing is “failing to make progress or be successful” and is often used to describe everything from a person’s medical condition to the state of the economy. Specifically in mental health, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that languishing “is the condition of absence of mental health, characterized by ennui, apathy, listlessness, and loss of interest in life.” Isn’t this just the “blahs”? Well, it’s a bit more than that.

Keyes, a professor at Emory University, specializes in studying “what makes life worth living” as well as positive psychology. He notes in a TEDx talk that he also has depression and PTSD. So when he says languishing isn’t depression or sadness, but rather “the absence of feeling good about your life,” he understands how that state of being affects people with anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and other mood and behavioral disorders.

Someone who is flourishing is at the pinnacle of their well-being, while someone with depression or another mental illness might spend time in the low valleys. Languishing is somewhere in between: you’re simply not at optimum mental health. It poses challenges because people languishing don’t really see themselves as having a problem, so they don’t do much to help themselves: they simply go through the automatic motions of life.

“It’s almost like you put yourself on hold and you’re waiting for something good to happen,” Keyes said in a WBUR interview. “Or you’re even trying to distract yourself by jumpstarting a good old battery that I call emotion, which is to feel something.”

Why Languishing Threatens Mental Health Conditions

Anyone can experience languish—in fact, much of the interest in Keyes’ research on the subject came to light during the height of the pandemic, when most people were just putting one foot in front of the other each day while they dealt with tremendous uncertainty and many shifting emotions.

But in his WBUR interview, Keyes referenced the World Health Organization’s (WHO) report that depression will be the “the No. 1 cause of burden to every country in the world by 2030.” That’s less than a decade from now. One reason for this is because more than 70 percent of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment for their disorder. Additionally, the WHO reports that “another barrier to effective care is inaccurate assessment. In countries of all income levels, people who are depressed are often not correctly diagnosed, and others who do not have the disorder are too often misdiagnosed and prescribed antidepressants.”

So for someone struggling with an inaccurate diagnosis of their mood disorder, or if an individual isn’t finding the right treatment and management for their mental health condition, slipping into languish presents more risk. What’s more, too much time spent languishing actually creates another risk factor for developing some type of depression in the future.

How to Move Past Languishing

With an understanding that languishing is a temporary state, it’s easier to believe there are methods to help you move not only through it, but also past it. PsychCentral recommends the following techniques to help you get started:

Maintain good physical health

As much as we might want that giant plastic jug of cheesy poofs, stay focused on highly-nutritious food, regular exercise, and quality sleep.

Express yourself through journaling

This allows a non-judgmental way to purge negative thoughts before they take root.

Get into the flow of creativity

Keyes noted in his WBUR interview that one way he managed his depression and ebbs of languishing is to get into the flow of self and home improvement projects. Whatever type of creative endeavor re-channels energy will be helpful to your overall well-being.

Stay connected

While many people used essential online tools for this during the height of the pandemic, look for more opportunities now to enjoy real-time laughter and facial expressions. This gives you a boost and makes you feel as though you belong.

Adjust your environment

If you’ve been staring at the same four walls for much longer than you like, it doesn’t take a lot of money to spruce up a room with new paint or add a few plants to a windowsill. Think about what adds to your happiness with little touches.


Few things can pull us out of a funk more quickly than recognizing our value to others and shared interests. Volunteer Match in Tucson helps you find resources.

Learn something new

Another great method to reduce languishing is to feel as though you’re capable of so much more (which you are!). Try a new hobby, learn another language, cook cuisine completely foreign to you—all these and hundreds more options help you explore your potential

Let Cottonwood Help

Finally, if you feel overwhelmed, sad, or hopeless, seek professional help. Acknowledging your mental and emotional state is vital to your overall good health. The specialists at Cottonwood Tucson unite to create a thorough, whole-person approach for mental health and emotional disorders. This assures the right diagnosis, treatment, and important followup necessary for progress. Speak with a member of our admissions team any time, day or night, to learn how we can help you.

Looking for an AZ addiction and mental health treatment center? For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.

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