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This Is What We’re All Feeling Right Now, According to Mental Health Professionals

Languishing is so 2021.

Photo: Getty Images

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Since the start of January, my conversations with friends, family members, colleagues, and even my barista have approximately gone the same way. “How are you?” “You know…” “Yeah…” We look at each other with knowing glances. It’s a tough time. As another surge of COVID-19 cases combines with one of the coldest and longest months of the year, we’re all feeling a little… something. But what is this feeling, exactly?

In 2021, the New York Times identified the emotion of the year as languishing. We weren’t necessarily depressed or hopeless, but feeling a sense of blah, or emptiness. Yet, with the start of 2022, a new feeling seemed to arrive—one that’s perhaps past the point of languishing. We found it tough to put into words, so we asked the experts to get their insights on how we’re (collectively) doing right now—and tips on how to healthily address everything we’re feeling.

We’re feeling trapped.

Amber Benziger, a psychotherapist, says many of her clients feel trapped, especially in their decision-making. Whether it’s an employer mandating a return to the office, navigating unexpected school closures, or dealing with the uncertainty of event and vacation cancellations, Benziger says you may be feeling a loss of control over your life, which in turn makes you feel stuck or trapped. And if you feel this way, you may also experience increased anxiety, Benziger says.

What to do about it: If you’re feeling trapped, Benziger recommends focusing on what you do have control over. While it may feel like March 2020 all over again, it’s important to remember that we’re not in the same place we were back then. “We know a little bit more, and we’ve seen a little bit more. And [we’ve survived],” Benziger says. She recommends reminding yourself that you are capable of moving through this, even when it feels difficult. Holding onto things that you can control—like limiting your social media use or connecting with friends and family—can help you feel empowered.

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We’re feeling lost—and in limbo.

Parents, especially those with young children who aren’t eligible to get vaccinated, are feeling lost, says Rena Beyer, a psychotherapist and life coach who works with a lot of mothers. While much the country has gotten their shots and checked out on vacation, Beyer says many parents of young children still feel like they’re living in the pre-vaccine phase of the pandemic. These parents may still be practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and reducing contact with friends and family—even when others aren’t. Not only that, but many of the parents Beyer works with report feeling shamed for their cautious behavior, and even gaslit, Beyer says.

Even clients who aren’t parents feel in a state of flux, Beyer says. “What I’m hearing [from them] is this limbo of going back to work and not work from home anymore and more of a routine, but still feeling like the world isn’t normal,” she says. “It’s this odd balance [of] going back to normal when the world isn’t normal.”

What to do about it: To combat this sense of feeling of being in limbo, Beyer suggests building a routine. But it doesn’t have to be complex, she says. For example, in addition to getting dressed and brushing your teeth in the morning, you may add in a daily stretch session or even just a few deep breaths to help you calm and center your mind and body before taking on the day.

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We’re feeling defeated—but surviving.

Brooke Aymes, a licensed clinical social worker and drug and alcohol counselor, says many of us approached 2022 feeling hopeful. However, that hopefulness quickly waned with increased COVID-19 cases and school closures. For almost two years, we’ve lived in this state of trauma, Aymes says. And it’s making us feel defeated. “As a result of that, now we’re in this place of survival,” she says. “We’re still putting one foot in front of the other.”

What to do about it: Aymes says the main theme she reiterates in her sessions is flexibility. The coping strategies we practiced in 2020 or 2021 may not longer serve us, and that’s OK. Instead, it’s important to recognize the need for change, Aymes says. “I look at it through a lens of what’s going to bring us the most joy,” she says. Even on our most stressful days, Aymes suggests finding something that can still bring you a sense of happiness, such as stopping to get a coffee or going to the park for 30 minutes.

So, yes, take this as your sign to spend $7 on a matcha latte. You deserve it—really.

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