Malaysians have been subjected to Movement Control Orders (MCOs) for more than a year now. Being instructed to stay home for so long has taken its toll on many, especially affecting people’s mental health. Being unable to visit friends and family, resume daily activities, or even worse, losing their livelihood, has made it difficult for many people to cope. 

Although COVID-19 vaccination efforts are ramping up, it has emphasised feelings of waiting for the future and not having control over what the present looks like. 

The present still consists of months of lockdown monotony and boredom; thus, Malaysians are feeling aimless, hopeless, and a little bit empty. In fact, in a recent article for The New York Times, psychology Adam Grant figured out what this particular pandemic-related feeling is: languishing. 

Languishing, he mentioned, is the dominant emotion of 2021, which is, “a sense of stagnation and emptiness. A blah feeling. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.” Languishing is the middle child of mental health, the void between depression and flourishing – the absence of well-being

When you’re languishing, you’re not functioning at full capacity. While it can be hard to identify, experts say that languishing can be a risk factor for mental health conditions like major depression later in life. And it’s definitely something to take note of as recent suicides cases in the country have been increasing.  

So, what do you do if you find yourself feeling hopeless or languishing? Here are four steps to overcome it: 

1. Eliminate negative self-talk

(Nick Fewings/Unsplash)

This is important, as negative self-talk exacerbates the situation that we’re in. While the pandemic is something beyond our control, what we can do to ensure our mental health is to focus on something we can control instead. 

Watch out for self-talk that puts you down. This includes harsh, critical, negative thoughts about yourself or thoughts that tell you that you’re ‘no good’ or hopeless. For example, “I feel unworthy and ashamed that I lost my job and am unable to provide for my family.” More often than not, such self-talk isn’t helpful or can actually making you feel bad about yourself and your abilities. Instead, develop positive self-talk such as, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. People are not perfect. I am not perfect, but I am persistent in making ends meet!”

2. Get some sunlight

(Jin How/Unsplash)

Basking in morning sunlight for 10 minutes each day is a source of Vitamin D and helps increase serotonin levels, all of which are beneficial for our mental health. The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye. Serotonin is associated with boosting the mood and helping a person feel calm and focused, thereby ensuring a healthy mindset. 

On the other hand, numerous studies have found lower levels of vitamin D in people who have depression – and that vitamin D supplementation can reduce rates of depression and improve symptoms. So get outside your house or situate yourself near a window each morning (experts recommend the time between 8am and 10am) and soak some sunshine goodness! 

3. Celebrate small wins 

(Ella Olsson/Unsplash)

In this era of doom and gloom, the first step towards improved wellbeing is to focus on small goals and celebrate small wins. By focusing on the small wins, you’ll be able to develop ‘flow’ through the small things that you find interesting or meaningful every day. 

Examples of celebrating something small that you did include making the bed each morning or keeping up with your home exercise routine. You can then reward yourself with a nice cup of coffee or make yourself a delicious meal as a result. 

There’s science behind this thought process too. When you accomplish something, it activates the reward system of our brains, allowing us to feel a sense of pride. The neurochemical dopamine is released and energises us with feel-good emotions. This chemical helps you experience getting rewarded and leaving you feeling hopeful instead of hopeless.

4. Practice self-care 

You can improve your mental health and leave a state of hopelessness by practising various self-care methods. For example, you can exercise or eat nutritious food. Getting plenty of sleep can help take care of your physical and mental health too.

Keeping a journal can also help you express your thoughts and see patterns in daily behaviour. Make it a habit to write what you’re grateful for and what positive moments happened during your day. It may even help you identify signs of languishing early. 

Apart from this, making some changes in your physical space can work wonders too. Consider making small and progressive changes, such as changing the colour of your bedroom walls or adding fresh flowers to your desk. Such changes will help boost your mood and have a positive influence on the way you feel. 

You can even follow in our Founder, Marina Mahathir’s, footsteps, by wearing makeup even at home! This will help lift your spirits as you admire your favourite facial features.

5. Beyond languishing

If you’re still feeling hopeless, stuck, and depressed, you may find it helpful to seek professional mental health support. Working with a mental health professional can help you gain clarity, relieves symptoms of languishing or depression, and create an action plan to make changes. There are various mental health helplines available that offer affordable or even free professional support. In addition to these, NGOs such as Mercy Malaysia and private organisations such as YEAH offer free therapy sessions to any Malaysian above 18 years old.

Stay safe and take care of your mental health this pandemic season.