Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

What do you call it when you’re not depressed per se, but you’re not exactly thriving, either? What does it mean to be just, well…. just “meh”?

Turns out there is a name for that feeling. Adam Grant writes: “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.”

Covid ushered in an era of languishing. In the workplace, it turns up as dulled motivation and difficulty focusing. You slack off, you prefer to work solo, you generally feel uninspired. (But, eh. You don’t really care that you don’t care.) Languishing is likely the dominant emotion of people who describe themselves as “quiet quitters”—those who do the bare minimum (or maybe a bit less) at work.

So, what’s going on? As a trauma informed therapist, I believe languishing can be read as a stress response of our central nervous system. When there’s a constant and ever-increasing onslaught of societal and personal stress and uncertainty on every front, we go into low key freeze mode. It’s what we’ve evolved to do, after all.

Languishing is a defense mechanism. And given everything we’ve endured the last few years, it makes perfect sense. 

We can’t be expected to feel inspired when we’re in never-ending survival mode.

What’s the antidote? Well, we somehow need to convince our languishing brains that it’s safe enough to re-engage. To risk caring. To dare to hope and try. Here are some tacks to consider:

1. Try self-compassion: Be kind to yourself. Harsh self-criticism is extremely counter-productive. It makes sense that you want to check out. Feeling blah sometimes is just part of the human condition.

2. Try connection: Find someone you trust, someone who gets it. Vent. Share stories. Know you’re not alone. Then ask them to do one small thing that will help you out or keep you accountable.

3. Try absorption: Get immersed in something. Maybe you decide to really own a work challenge, or really nail a dinner recipe. Whatever it is, allow yourself to lose track of time in an active endeavor that gives you joy.

4. Try nature: The rhythms of the natural world heal the nervous system in powerful ways. So listen to your dog’s steady breathing. Take a walk through falling snow. Listen to the sounds of crashing waves.

5. Try small goals: Pick a do-able endeavor, and take one tiny step toward it each day. A sense of progress in any area increases motivation, confidence, and positivity. Movement is life.

Getting out of languishing is a process. Given the ongoing stresses of our time, it might be a long one. Alas, it probably will be.

But just the fact that you got to the end of this note tells me one thing: 

There’s part of you cares about caring again. 

And just that, my friend, is a win. It’s also a great place to start.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.