Cures for languishing

Stroll with Nicole

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Nicole Law takes back control of her mental processes and finds silver linings in Covid clouds.

I recently read a New York Times article about languishing – that state of stagnation and restlessness which has become so familiar to many of us in the midst of the Covid pandemic. 

Various news outlets and websites have given this vague emotion – anchored in the collective consciousness – a name. In Singapore, we call it ‘sian’, a colloquial term popularised by the local website Rice Media to describe the feeling of boredom or exasperation with a situation. 

The word itself has peppered many conversations with friends who heave a sigh of resigned concern at the increasing restrictions placed on us and the yo-yo between steady improvement and regression of the situation. 

Social media updates which speak volumes help me calibrate the cabin fever of friends all around the world. Someone going on long walks in the nearby park when, a year or so ago, he would not be seen anywhere near any greenery. Or other friends who have taken up a new hobby, be it baking organic chocolate cookies, taking up a course in yoga or learning a new language.

The interesting thing is that our collective reality is not too different, yet our responses sit at opposite ends of a curious continuum. I struggled to characterise this continuum accurately until a friend who studied psychology commented that what distinguished these two groups of people was their understanding of the locus of control

On the one hand, those who were feeling particularly boxed in by the need for social distancing and reduced socialisation often blamed their present situation on factors beyond their control. I myself have inhabited this mode of thinking at times, bemoaning the tightening of restrictions in Singapore as a death knell to my carefully-crafted plans to celebrate birthdays, catch up over coffee and to explore new places in the city. This inevitably resulted in a lot of sulking, moaning and swirling negativity. 

In truth, I could not control the severity of the situation nor the new measures that were announced.

I started to realise that my reaction to the situation had no impact on its improvement or deterioration.

I was demonstrating a strong external locus of control on my thought processes and subsequent reactions, blaming my current reality on external factors that had little to do with me in the first place. 

I did a little research and learned that the locus of control is one of the key dimensions of self-evaluation and allows us to gain greater self-awareness of negative thought patterns. I spoke to a few more positive friends, clarified my thinking and asked them what was their ‘secret’ – though I already knew the answer: a strong internal locus of control. 

In essence, they were able to pursue new hobbies in the lockdown, stay positive amidst changing circumstances and remain stoic by leveraging on this strong internal locus. They were well aware of what they could not control, such as the progression or even end date of the pandemic, and focussed on what they could – essentially, their attitude towards the situation. 

They viewed the pandemic not as a crisis putting an end to their carefully-laid plans but an opportunity to adapt and to seek new ways of thriving and connecting with those they loved.

They turned to online means to continue their dance lessons, regularly connected with friends across the world through book clubs or virtual birthday celebrations, and possessed the mental capacity to send encouraging texts or check-in messages to friends they knew were struggling alone. 

I was amazed at their limitless capacity to continue giving to others and to spread their positive mindset. I was intrigued and decided to give it a go too! 

I organised online meetings with friends, played online Pictionary, recited my poetry at a virtual open mic event, wrote poetry for a month (in fact I am planning on writing a 100 poems!) and have started to clear my reading list. Sure, I may not be browsing books at the bookstore this weekend, but a simple reorientation of perspective, with the help of a few friends, has set me on the path not to languish in these next few months, but rather, like the new plants in my backyard, to thrive even in harsh circumstances!

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