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Blog Short #172: Coping with the “Blahs”

Photo by RomarioIen, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Ever had the “blahs”? Who hasn’t? Sometimes, it lasts just a day or two, and then you get your mojo back and feel more engaged. But sometimes, it can last longer – enough to interrupt your daily functioning. You might continue to go through the motions, but you’re not feeling it.

This blah state of mind has become common enough that it now has a more formal name: languishing.

Languishing is that feeling of being stalled in neutral. You’re not happy, yet not exactly depressed. You feel stuck and maybe somewhat numb.

The American Psychological Association defines it as:

The condition of absence of mental health, characterized by ennui, apathy, listlessness, and loss of interest in life.

It’s like a gray day where everything feels colorless and dulled. Empty.

Isn’t That Depression?

Languishing is on the cusp of depression but not quite there. When you’re depressed, you also have feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

Languishing is more like no feeling. There isn’t sadness. You might feel blue, but not really sad. You’re not happy or sad. Just blah.

Studies have shown, however, that people who experience languishing over extended periods, or more often, are more likely to experience or develop depression than people who are flourishing (Keyes, 2002).

Symptoms of languishing are:

  • Lack of joy or happiness
  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing
  • Disinterest in normally pleasurable activities
  • Lack of motivation
  • Dulled emotions
  • Boredom
  • Feeling emotionally detached
  • Fatigue and burnout
  • Feeling stagnated
  • Feeling unsettled or mildly agitated but not anxious


The causes of languishing are both mental and physical. They often overlap, and it’s sometimes hard to distinguish exactly what the problem is, but the following list covers most of them.

Stress and Burnout

Stress, especially chronic stress, can lead to burnout. Burnout is feeling depleted, exhausted, detached, and often cynical. It can lead to languishing as well as depression, depending on the situation and person.

One study looked at the effects of high work stress among 200 postdoctoral fellows and found that 58% of them were experiencing languishing. The general percentage of people languishing is 12%, based on a landmark study by Corey Keyes.

You may have had similar results yourself when chronically stressed. Many people do.

Social Isolation

We are relational beings and need interaction with other people. If you’ve ever had periods of social isolation, you may have experienced languishing after too much time alone. Many people had that experience while staying at home during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The other issue is that when you’re languishing, you often don’t feel like being around anyone.

The longer you stay isolated, the harder it is to break out of it. Your world becomes smaller, and you don’t have the energy or desire to do anything about it. The tendency is to cocoon.

Feeling Stuck

You can become defeated when there’s a wide gap between your daily activities and your sense of purpose.

If your job or work doesn’t match your values and personal goals, and you feel stuck to change those circumstances, you can become emotionally deflated. Likewise, being stuck in a toxic relationship can do the same.

Values and purpose generate energy, drive, and motivation. Without the means to express them, your drive takes a hit and diminishes, leaving you feeling flat and numb.

To flourish, you need to feel that what you do is in sync with what you value.

Physiological Issues

There are four items in this group to watch out for. They’re as follows:

  1. Poor diet. Eating a less-than-nutritious diet long enough, especially one filled with sugar, empty carbs, saturated fat, and junk food, will negatively affect your mood. When languishing, you’re more likely to eat less healthily or not eat enough. Either way, you’ll feel worse.
  2. Sleep deprivation. A night or two without enough sleep probably won’t give you the blahs, but continued sleep deprivation can have serious effects like brain fog, muted mood, and apathy.
  3. Hormonal changes. Hormones can change someone’s mood even if everything is going well. Women are more likely to experience this as a result of menstruation or menopause.
  4. Viruses. I included this one because of some of the new research about the effects of COVID-19 on depression. One study reported that survivors of COVID-19 were 46% more likely to have been diagnosed with neuropsychiatric disorders one year later. These include depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, brain fog, and opioid use disorder. In other words, both depression and languishing have a physiological component associated with COVID-19. I had the same experience with the Epstein-Barr virus. My symptoms lasted for some years.

What to Do

The two most obvious strategies are a healthy diet and regular sleep habits.

I’ll leave the type of diet up to you, but suffice it to say that it should include lots of fresh veggies and fruits, low saturated fat, and whole food instead of instant packaged or junk food. Do your homework and figure out what’s best for you.

Other strategies are as follows.

1. Spend time in nature.

You might think this sounds nice, but really? Is it all that helpful? Research says it is. In every article I read about languishing and how to combat it, this strategy was included, so I went to the research, and sure enough, I found some interesting studies.

The general findings are that time spent in “green spaces” reduces stress, depression, and anxiety while restoring the ability to direct attention and increase focus.

One study found that spending at least 120 minutes in nature weekly is associated with good health and well-being.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is one of those activities that benefits everything from lowering stress levels to mood stabilization, cardiovascular functioning, brain activity, and creativity. It also helps break through the blahs.

Try walking outside in nature (if you can). If you live in a city, it’s harder to do that. See if you can find a park or quiet neighborhood with trees and foliage. Walking three times a week will make a difference in your mood and outlook.

3. Change your environment.

If you work at home, go to a coffee shop. If you spend much time in your office, change its appearance. Maybe paint the walls a new color and rearrange the furniture. If you sit in your house a lot, do the same.

Changing the environment has an immediate effect that you can capitalize on. It gets you started and energizes you at the same time.

4. Start journaling.

Journaling is a good practice if you ruminate about the same things repeatedly or can’t get in touch with your emotions.

Writing your thoughts down gives you an objective view of what’s happening internally. It helps you see things from a mindfulness point of view. You catch your distorted thoughts.

It also helps you access feelings under the surface that are troubling you.

Languishing sometimes feels like being disconnected from yourself. Writing helps bridge that gap and reconnect you, stimulating some energy.

5. Plan something in the near future that excites you.

Having something to look forward to helps bring you out of your neutral haze. It provides a point of focus and ups your activity level. It can be motivating.

6. Connect with people.

Connect with a friend or family member, or attend a group activity where you’ll be around people. When you have the blahs, re-engaging with people can feel daunting.

Make it easy. Start with a text, make a plan, and show up. Invite someone over if you can’t make yourself leave the house, but if you can, leave the house.

Feeling Stuck?

Feeling stuck may take more doing than the strategies we just went through. They will help, but being stuck often relates to feeling out of sync with what’s important to you.

If that’s your situation, I have five articles that may help depending on where you’re at. I’ve listed them below. Hopefully, you’ll find something that will provide a spark and set you in a new direction to change your situation.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Articles to read:

​What to Do When You Feel Stuck​
​7 Natural Ways to Increase Your Dopamine​
How Do You Find Your Passion?​
​How to Deal with Rumination and Overthinking​
​A 4-Step Process to Set and Maintain Goals​


Gloria, C. T. & Steinhardt, M. A. (2013, August). Flourishing, languishing, and depressed postdoctoral fellows: Differences in stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Journal of Postdoctoral Affairs, 3(1).

Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Article in Journal of Health and Social Research, 43(2), 207-222.

Pearson, D. G. & Craig, T. (2014, Oct 21). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology, Vol.5.

Shetty, P. A., Ayari, L., Madry, J., Betts, C., Robinson, D. M., & Kirmani, B. F. (2023, Aug 21). The relationship between COVID-19 and the development of depression: Implications on mental health. Neuroscience Insights, Vol. 18, 1-8.

Wadman, M. (2022, February). Lasting impact of infection extends to the brain. Science 375(6582).

White, M. P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., & Wheeler, B. W. (2019, June). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports 9(1), 7730. DOI:10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association.

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