IT’S NOT JUST YOU – IT’S ALL OF US!
This blog is being published on Day 404 of the Pandemic. Yes, a year and six weeks since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global celebration of all things Virus, introducing us to a whole new vocabulary like, WFH, virtual socials (what used to be an oxymoron!), social distancing, and PPE.
At first, there was so much to learn. We had to adapt how we lived and worked and learned in every domain; we had to deal with the loss of jobs and people and entire industries (goodbye travel, tourism, hospitality); and we had to renegotiate every task that previously required we leave our home space.
Despite the negative REASON why so many changes happened fast, the truth is that humanity got in touch, at least temporarily, with a vast capacity for creativity and resourcefulness.
But then, flatline. Days blurred. Many of us slid into a sort of limbo where nothing moves, and everything just feels… blah.
The New York Times recently published an article by one of my favorite positive psychology gurus, Adam Grant, titled: There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing
Grant says, “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. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” After the initial adrenalin rush of the pandemic passed, we all had to adjust to a sometimes mind-numbingly boring and isolated existence, and this is not a space where we feel nourished.
Grant goes on to explain that “Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity.”
(Read — or listen to Adam read — the full article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html.)
Is It OK To Be Negative?
Maybe it’s just me, since I read a LOT about Happiness, but in recent months I’ve seen an uptick in articles actually condemning Happiness and the whole notion of striving for it.
And I get it. Really. Happiness, Joy, and Optimism have been harder to access under lockdowns and isolated work/life, and rightfully so. Other emotions are more appropriate responses to the past year.
I’m always careful to remind people that EVERY emotion has value, as healthy emotions exist to tell us something. Fear keeps us safe. Sadness connects us with what we care about. Anger helps us stand up to injustice. Love moves us closer to others. And Hate – yes, even healthy hate — has value, as it moves us away from things we cannot stand.
This past year Anxiety has been a prudent emotion in which to live. We’ve found value in Compassion, Generosity, and Sympathy, AND in Dread, Horror, Impatience, and Righteousness, and why not? Happiness and Contentment would not have led to a vaccine in less than a year, nor would they have fueled the movements to support race and gender equity, voting rights, and human dignity. We need Anger! We need Disgust!
When the conversation turns to “every cloud has a silver lining,” do you just want to punch someone? Insisting that we must abandon the “uncomfortable” emotions that help us get stuff done is just crazy! (you might find this article on Toxic Positivity of value: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity.)
The Secret Is To Listen To Your Emotions
The word e-motion means, literally, To move out from. Emotions exist to help us take action. When you deny an emotion, tamp it down or ignore it, it never goes away. Emotions suppressed always surface at another time and place, sometimes in unhealthy and destructive ways.
Research shows that talking about emotions, whether you label them “positive” or “negative,” helps the brain and body process those feelings. Other studies conclude that labeling and noticing emotions reduces the strength of neural pathways associated with those emotions.
This finding suggests that talking about feelings – and letting them move out from you — makes them feel less overwhelming and thus reduces the power those emotions have over you.
You Are Enough
Back to Languishing. Does that feel like you or someone you know? Stuck between feeling mentally well and depressed? Here are some tiny actions you might take.
First, notice how it feels to give it a name and understand that it’s not just you. You’re not insufficient or less-than for feeling this way. You’re good. You’re human.
Second, find ways and places to talk about the emotions you’re feeling. And offer a space for others to do the same. Emotions are not logical, so there’s no need to “justify” how you feel. Just give emotions a space to be heard, and notice that – at least for a while – they lose some their power over you.
Third, if you don’t have a safe space to talk, then write. Journaling is a great way to slow down your brain while you unpack it. Many people find the experience of writing down their thoughts and feelings helps to reveal them as what they are – JUST thoughts and feelings, and thus possible to change or edit over time. Of course, you can both write AND talk them out!
Finally, even if the world is beating on you, don’t join that crowd. Look in the mirror and remind yourself, every day, that what you are bringing to the party today is enough. That whatever you have right now is enough, for now. That whatever you’ve accomplished today is enough, for today.
Give yourself a break, so you don’t break.
Remember, Leadership is not about a title: Anyone can be a leader who honors everyone’s emotions and experiences as valid and makes it safe to show up as an emotional, imperfect, and unique human being.
Hey, I’m still upbeat on Happiness. If you want a few more reminders, post this summary of The 13 Principles of Happiness on your refrigerator or WFH desk to remind you that every day, you have options.