Let’s do a little game of questions. Possible answers are “good”, “bad” or “meh”. We start with… How are you doing at work? How was your week? How are things going with your partner? In general, how do you feel?
If most of the answers were “meh”… You may be languid. Do not be scared, it is not worrying. But it is something that must be taken care of, especially if it lasts over time. But what is languor?
Being aimless and motionless
It is an emotional state where “there is no purpose in life; there is stagnation; you feel empty and lack of passion”, explains VerónicaMorera, a Venezuelan specialist in integrative mental health and director of the Purple Rain Nutrition portal.
It is that “meh” state, the main thing is that we feel apathy or emptiness and, Morera points out, “we are functional, although we go on automatic”: we get up, have breakfast, take a shower, go to work and do our day “because we have to do it». But we go aimlessly, that is, without a purpose in life, and without the motor that desire and passion give us.
It is not something pathological, since it is part of the normal emotional states of people and we have all been able to feel that way, even within the same day, with “peaks of inspiration and meh”, says Morena. Only in languor, she tells her, “there are no spikes, you are just flattened”. And the problem is when that flattening, that languor becomes chronic.
In addition to that constant apathy about everything, there are other things that can help us detect listlessness. For example: you have gone from home to work, but you do not even remember how you got there. Or you have had a social media binge, and you do not even know what you saw; that is, you do not retain anything.
Morera points out being in the head for a long time as one of the alerts. “It is a way of regulating the nervous system, there is emptiness and an excess of distraction to avoid”. She points out that binge eating, in general —on social networks, food, alcohol, sports, going out—, are an escape tool.
It can also feel like a disconnection from the real world, “there is dissociation, a feeling of not belonging”. How do you eat this? Well, for example, we go down the street and we do not notice anything or we go to order a coffee and we don’t even see the people around us. There may be a disconnection with our own body, such as not feeling the urge to go to the bathroom, hunger, thirst, or satiety.
A precursor to depression
Javiera Torres, a Chilean clinical psychologist and professor at Finisterrae University, says that, as an indicator of languor, we can keep an eye on the activities we have always liked but in which we are losing interest. Thus, if you usually paint 6 days a week and you gradually lower the intensity and then you don’t want to do it, it annoys you, “then turn on that alarm and realize it”. Although languor “is not depression, it does not mean that it is not important”, says Torres.
It can be a way to protect ourselves at times when “you have to survive and move forward in the midst of uncertainty”, as many people did during the pandemic, precisely the moment when this term became popular. “The problem with survival mode is that it can only be used for short periods”, explains Morera.
If it lasts longer, it can turn into depression: “I stopped feeling passion in my life so much that, eventually, I settled for this state of flattening”, says Morera. And from that state, says the Venezuelan psychologist, you go from gray tones to a darkness that is already more difficult to get out of and that, from doing everything in automatic mode, will lead to not wanting to get out of bed, to seeing everything black and not being able to do our day to day. But, fortunately, there are ways to avoid reaching that extreme.
Look at that mood and take action on it
“Languor is a warning, a call to change, something my body is doing and does not want to do anymore”, says Ana Sánchez-Anegón, therapist and founder of Emotional Animal. She says that it involves reviewing our relationships, the work we are in, our motivations: “It is a break to take charge of our lives”.
After “looking at it head-on and stopping avoiding it”, we must take action and go towards what VerónicaMorera coined as a “flow state”, something that we can translate as “flow”, but which also reminds us of the world of music: who it has «flow», feels the music, moves and transmits those emotions and sensations to the world. And how do we get to that flow state? With mastery, mindfulness and purpose”, says Morera.
Or, in Roman paladin: “feel competent, that you contribute something and you do not always do the same thing, connecting with the present and paying full attention to what you do and, furthermore, that everything has a meaning”. From today to tomorrow, we are not going to set up a hospital and look for a cure against cancer while doing meditation, but we can do little things that start to “batuquear” (trembling) us and that make us regain connection, passion, and find meaning.
“It can be something as simple as playing a video game with your partner or a friend and saving the game. It is something that is a ritual, it gives a feeling of belonging, of feeling competent, you have full concentration and it is something that matters, because we are connecting and we are going to save the game. They can be such small things”, advises Morera.
Other things that can help in our routine is to include things, no matter how small, that imply novelty, and help to connect with yourself and with the environment. Morera advises, for example, to leave the phone at home and “get lost”, go by different routes to go to work (this way we avoid this part of going automatically) or go to new places that involve exposing ourselves little by little to that novelty. It can also be things that give a kind of shock to the nervous system, such as a cold and sudden shower, even if it is little by little, moving the body, touching the feet with the ground.
A support network
Javiera Torres also focuses on asking for help, especially “if this emotion already interrupts your day to day life, if you lose interest a lot”. He says that he is aware that psychological help cannot always be obtained, “because mental health is a privilege, so the first thing to do is to alert our support network: family, friends, siblings, people who can contribute and help us get out of that feeling of emptiness.
And she emphasizes the importance of setting minimum goals: «I am going to wake up; I am going to go out to the shower; I am going to put on those earrings that I like. They are cumulative things, so one is advancing».
For Ana Sánchez-Anegón, it is important to carry out a therapeutic process because getting us out of languor, in many cases, means «breaking with certain things in your life, it can be a process of breaking with many of your beliefs». Still, she says if you cannot or do not want to seek professional help, she recommends that someone who suffers from listlessness “have a space to listen, withdraw in on themselves, or read about personal development”.
“What do you need?”
If you have read this far, it may be because you know someone who is in the midst of this apathy and you do not know what to do. There is a key, magical question, says Javiera Torres: «What do you need? Many times we arrive with our baggage, advising what to do. And that does not always make sense to the other. So you have to arrive with a very open mind and with a disposition towards the other», she points out.
Helping another is putting ourselves at the disposal of what another needs. What if the one who is languid does not know what he needs? We accompany you in that search. «It is not about arriving and saying we are going to do this, or that, because the languid person is not going to be receptive. It is telling you that, what do you need, I am here for whatever you need, let me know. I take care of you in your time”. And, when the person opens up, “seek to make him contact what he likes”.
Another advice that Javiera Torres gives to the environment of the person who is languid is not to let it escalate, not to wait for the critical moment; “when something is wrong, it is better to prevent a little earlier”.