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Have you been down in the dumps? Especially after a long awaited break from the humdrum of work? After the festive feasting is done and the friends and family leave, are you left with a sense of emptiness?
Or perhaps the pit in your stomach has always been there, and the brief burst of entertainment was just barely enough to cover it.
Have you been tagging on an additional lah to the end of your sentences?
You know, that limp-sounding lah like “it’s just like that lah’, that tells people that you don’t really want to talk.
Like when they ask about your job, you say, “busy lah.” or “tired lah.” or “want to quit lah.” Complete with the pause and passive-aggressive full stop that they can almost hear in your voice.
What is languishing?
Last year, organisational psychologist Adam Grant popularised the concept of languishing, itself a term coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving — in other words, they were embodying a feeling of meh, bleh and lah.
He called it the ‘middle child of mental health’ — the middle ground between the highs of mental health (when you’re flourishing) to the lows, where you are depressed. Languishing is the void between depression and flourishing, he said, the absence of well-being.
Grant wrote about that feeling: “It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless.”
“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”
“Through a foggy windshield”, it’s a poetic turn of phrase for an emotion that for want of a better word, can be described as “beige”.
Languishing is the feeling that life is no longer exciting. There’s only a steady rhythm. A consistent humdrum of work. Wake up, go to the computer, end work, binge on Netflix… rinse and repeat.
There was no longer that overseas holiday to look forward to or plan for. There is no longer a need to think about what to wear, or an opportunity to get excited about the latest kicks you were planning to show off to your colleagues at work.
After the novelty of working from home and the freedom of not having your boss look over your shoulder, perhaps we might be losing some of the joie de vivre that we used to have before Covid started.
Maybe it’s just loneliness
If you’re feeling that life has been kinda meh, here’s another thought for you.
Maybe you’re not languishing; maybe you’re just lonely.
Are you spending more time talking to your pets at home because there’s no one else to talk to? Or do you look up after a Zoom call only to realise that you’re missing the familiar camaraderie and coziness of being around colleagues?
This article isn’t about the pros and cons of working from home. Rather, it’s about how to be more self aware and therefore kinder to yourself.
But before we continue, it must be noted that being lonely is not the same as being alone.
Loneliness can happen even if you’re in a room full of people. You’re not alone, but you still feel disconnected.
Why would you feel lonely despite being physically around other people?
In US author Vivek Murthy’s book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World”, he writes about how loneliness is the feeling of being emotionally disconnected from others.
Perhaps that’s why you may be struggling emotionally working from home. Because we miss out on those micro-interactions or “water-cooler chats” where we can complain about our work to our buddies, or gossip about the boss with the work spouse — it’s not the same over Zoom or texting (plus, do you really want to have a conversation that can be screenshotted?)
Look back to the last time you felt emotionally connected since working from home. What happened to help you feel connected? Ask yourself: How can I repeat that?
Loneliness can sound like a small thing. It’s not. In the UK, loneliness has become such a pertinent issue that the government appointed a Minister of Loneliness to look at how to tackle the issue. And it’s not alone. Japan, another country that deals with chronic loneliness, has followed suit.
Don’t wait till it gets serious before you start doing something about it.
Maybe you feel unworthy
We’ve all heard about how important it is to practise self-care. But deep down, do you really believe you are worthy of love?
Before you can care for yourself, you need to believe that you’re worth loving. That’s why the issue around self-care isn’t about tackling an attitude of servitude, or the sense that we have to put others before ourselves. Instead, it’s about tackling shame.
Shame? What’s shame got to do with this? Shame is not often talked about because it is difficult to talk about. But as researcher Brené Brown explains it, shame is saying to yourself “I’m bad. I’m not worth loving.”
It is the emotion that drives you to work harder and harder, yet never feeling like you’re ever enough. Shame is the feeling that no matter how hard you try, you still need to work harder to mean something to someone.
Brown calls shame the ‘master emotion’. Not without good reason too.
If you have experienced loneliness at any time during these Covid years, did you reach out to ask for help from your friends?
It might be pride, perhaps. Or could it be that deep down, you don’t think you’re worthy of someone else’s kindness (even though they are probably more than willing to help)?
That’s your shame talking.
So how can you overcome loneliness?
Work out of home
Getting out of your home helps you to build psychological space between your living environment and your work environment.
Like many Singaporeans, if you don’t have the luxury of having a separate working and sleeping space, you might end up associating the stress of work with the safety of your bedroom.
Putting psychological distance between work and home, not to mention drawing clear boundaries between work and rest areas, can help your mental well-being.
Work with non-colleagues
WFH may mean that you don’t work with colleagues, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work with friends!
Get friends who are also WFH to work with you at co-working spaces, cafes or even at a void deck together. That way, you’re not stuck alone in your room, and even though you may be working for different companies, you still have a “co-worker” near you to build an emotional connection with.
It also helps because now you have someone you can complain to about your boss!
Be open to spontaneity in your work day
Rather than spending the whole day working in your room, why not take some work calls as you take a walk?
Being out and about, you will see people in your neighbourhood, which gives you a chance to say ‘hi’, even if it’s just a brief wave or a nod.
These small moments of connection within your community, waving to a neighbour, smiling at a passer-by, will remind you that you are spreading kindness, as you work (and walk).
Other stories you might like
You’re no longer just a solitary economic unit in your room, producing economic value for an organisation.
You have value in and of yourself, and that at the very least, might serve to get you out of your funk!