Illustration of a hand pressing buttons on a remote control in front of a TV displaying a Netflix logo
Illustration: Djanlissa Pringels
Ask VICE

Lockdown's Over and I Still Don't Feel Like Doing Anything. What's Wrong with Me?

"If I could have it my way, I’d watch Netflix all day. But after a day-long binge like that, I feel guilty about not having done much with my day."
November 12, 2021, 9:30am

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today, we’re exploring the guilt that can come from doing nothing all day.  

Hey VICE,

I haven’t been feeling great since the lockdown started last year. I’m not necessarily lonely, but I’ve noticed I’m not as motivated to make plans or stay as active as I used to be.

Advertisement

If I could have it my way, I’d watch Netflix all day, just because it’s so easy. But after a day-long binge like that, I feel guilty about not having done much with my day. I’d love to do more things, but I have a hard time getting myself going.

I don’t know how to break out of this rut. What’s causing my current situation and how can I fix it?

R.


Dear R.,

It’s tough to figure out exactly what’s going on with you based on this short message alone. The emotional state you seem to be describing is called languishing, a term first coined in 2002 by American psychologist Corey Keyes, which some experts have described as “the dominant emotion of 2021”. In short, you could say it simply means feeling “meh” – not exactly burned out, but definitely in some sort of funk. 

Maybe you feel like the hours bleed into one another without anything to set them apart. Maybe you feel stuck, but lack the willpower to make a change. Letting yet another afternoon disappear into the attention vortex known as Netflix might be the path of least resistance, but as you’ve already pointed out yourself, you’re not really enjoying that either.

Advertisement

According to Lidewy Hendriks, a therapist at the Dutch mental health platform MIND Korrelatie, you should ask yourself some tough questions to figure out if your languishing mental state is just a way of decompressing, or a symptom of a bigger problem like depression.

The key here is understanding why you prefer spending your day on the couch. Are you trying to avoid something or someone? Does your job no longer inspire you? Do you feel disconnected from your friends? “If you haven’t been able to motivate yourself to do things you used to enjoy for over two weeks, or you’re no longer having fun doing the things you love, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or another professional who can help,” Hendriks said. These are often telltale signs that there’s something deeper going on. 

That said, you could also be enjoying some solo Netflix-and-chill action because it’s a comforting activity that doesn’t require any effort. After everything that happened last year, including things we haven’t collectively processed yet, it’s understandable not to feel 100 percent like yourself. “We keep hearing that people have a hard time getting their proverbial motor up and running again after last year,” Hendriks said. “I see more and more people in this state of hopelessness, including younger children and teens.”

Advertisement

That hopeless feeling, she said, is tied to the fact that you haven’t been able to learn and grow like you used to. “We have a natural inclination towards evolving and growing. And when we notice we have, it makes us feel good,” Hendriks said. “But to get that feeling, you need enough stimulation and time to evaluate.”

The lack of outside stimuli could also be contributing to your recent demotivation. Spending so much time inside has probably prompted you to re-evaluate your own relationship with yourself, which can trigger existential crises and confusion. Maybe “you’re asking yourself who you are now, what your values and ideas are based on”, said Hendriks. “And if you can’t answer those questions, you might start to feel lethargic and exhausted. You’ve lost your anchor.” 

Considering the rising rates of burnout among young people, Hendriks stressed that, sometimes, not trying too hard is the healthiest thing to do. Just because you’re not currently performing at a certain level in your social life, doesn’t mean you’re doing poorly. There’s no need to be hard on yourself. Besides, mental ruts can also offer some important opportunities. “The pandemic has made a lot of people realise what truly matters to them,” Hendriks said. 

Conversely, during the lockdown, everyone spent much time on the couch in their pyjamas, and got used to not expecting anything more. “That created a habit of giving into this kind of languishing behaviour,” Hendriks said. “It can certainly be nice on a lazy weekend or on vacation, but if you keep doing it for a while, you forget you need to do more to have a more balanced life.”

No longer participating in activities can also make you more insecure, isolate you from friends and family and make your anxiety levels spike when you do decide to venture out again, Hendriks said. To avoid this cycle, Hendrik’s advice is to do something you might deem unthinkable – “keep moving and develop a routine”.

One of the ways to start doing that is writing a detailed to-do list, as things can slip out of your mind when you’re not feeling as sharp as usual. “Write those activities down and divide them into small steps,” Hendriks said. “The smaller the steps, the better, because you have more chances of success. That will then inspire you to do this more often.”

According to Hendriks, structuring your day by planning these smaller activities is a very good habit. But, if you don’t feel ready to plan and execute yet, you can start by planning binge breaks. You can schedule your three meals a day at set times and go out for a daily walk after dinner, for example. Or keep yourself busy while you’re watching a show by folding laundry, doing some knitting, clipping your nails – anything to help you break the monotony. Slowly, you’ll claw your way back out.