Pandemic ‘languishing’ leaves students, staff pining for better days

Spring can be a stressful time for many students and staff members. With summer on the horizon and months of work behind them, it can be difficult to keep the stamina of meeting deadlines and the same level of excitement as before. 

In a typical year, “burnout,” or exhaustion brought on by overworking oneself, is no stranger for this community. 

However, the usual burnout has been heightened by the seemingly never-ending pandemic. It’s led a new variant of burnout to trend — languishing

Languishing takes burnout to a whole new level. It’s more than just exhaustion; it’s an overwhelming feeling of emptiness and stagnation. 

Many people have described their quarantine as a “Groundhog Day” experience — repetitive to the extreme. While students are still advancing in school and employees are still making headway in their jobs, it all still feels like the same thing over and over. 

With burnout in the past, there were things to look forward to at the end of the tunnel. But with this new feeling, brought on by life in a pandemic, many believe it’s difficult to find any motivation. 

A Pew Research Study found that 42 percent of young adults in the U.S. say they’ve lost motivation since the pandemic. 

“The pandemic has exacerbated this feeling of burnout because many of the typical markers of enjoyment and motivation are unavailable or unattainable,” said DePaul psychology professor Jocelyn Smith Carter. “At this point in the pandemic, we also don’t have many reserves of energy to draw on …We have been in survival mode, which is exhausting over such a long period of time.”

In normal life, people had the opportunity to unwind by socializing at the end of a long week — or, especially for seniors this year, the reward of an in-person graduation ceremony. With these motivators becoming a non-option, even with the possibility of Covid-19 vaccines, many are left to wonder what’s the use. 

DePaul senior Grace Ulch has had a profound relationship with these feelings. 

“To me, burnout is a type of exhaustion that you can feel in your bones,” Ulch said. “It’s like all the energy you have for things that are typically your source of revival or the things you look forward to just continue to make you feel completely spent.” 

Ulch feels the pandemic has made her less likely to take necessary breaks and time to recenter, only worsening her feelings. 

“Because I had a job and stayed pretty healthy through this last year of the pandemic, it felt silly to ask for a break, or feel like I needed one … [But] the longer people suppress things, the stronger they will show up later down the road,” Ulch said. 

Ulch added that it’s gotten to a point where even things she once enjoyed feels like “an expenditure of energy.” With her passions upended by the pandemic, she struggles to find things that reinvigorate her — and she’s in good company. 

“Many students and staff have experienced increased financial strain, familial responsibilities … and work demands,”  said Autumn L. Cabell, a DePaul counseling professor. “In addition, during the pandemic, there are even more stressors than usual, including virtual learning, Covid-19 health disparities, increased racial tensions, grief, unemployment and uncertainty surrounding the future.”

Cabell explained that this time of year is already notorious for stress, but the difficult circumstances presented by the pandemic has exacerbated the issue for all involved. 

But Cabell also described how people can combat this overwhelming feeling. 

“[Set] boundaries and [use] your core values to help you prioritize what is important to you during this time,” Cabell said. “Then, using those boundaries you’ve established to say ‘no’ to things that are just not manageable and don’t align with your values at this time.” 

Cabell also said there is value in asking for what you need from others, breaking up tasks to make them more manageable and paying close attention to stress and fatigue. She stressed that unless these emotional and physical struggles are dealt with, nothing else can be. 

Additionally, Cabell pointed out that in a time when it seems like hardly anything matters besides being safe, it’s more important now than ever to keep purpose in mind. 

“Remember your ‘why’ — write it out, read it out loud to yourself as a reminder of your purpose,” Cabell said. 

“I give myself the time to lay in bed, time to read or a night to be with friends,” Ulch said. “I will just focus on the one thing that is proving positive energy, because I know that in the long run something that will help my mentality — and is just as important as all the other work I put towards my school work and advancement of my work professionally.”

Carter said the first step to dealing with these challenges is accepting they exist. 

“Call it what it is and know that it’s a completely adaptive response to the stressors and traumas of life,” Carter said. “Try not to compare yourself to others if they seem like they have been able to ‘flip a switch’ and come back to normal — that’s not how recovery happens.”

With vaccinations rolling out and safety restrictions lifting, it seems as though society is on its path back to normalcy. The hope is that with this return to life as it was, the feeling of languish will be a thing of the past. But until that day comes, it seems it will be a continued obstacle for many.