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Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder: What It Is & How To Cope Post-Covid

In May 2021, at the height of the pandemic, an article in the New York Times went viral for bringing the psychological term ‘languishing’ to our attention. It describes that flat, aimless feeling which hovers awkwardly somewhere on the emotional spectrum between gloom and contentment. You’re not quite happy; but you’re not sad, either. You’re just… well, you’re just a bit lost. At that time, after almost a year of successive lockdowns, it perfectly encapsulated how we all felt.

In the piece, US psychologist Adam Grant writes: ‘Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.’

But what would you say if I asked you what the dominant emotion of 2022 is so far? We’re vaccinated, the world is welcoming us back and, while many of us are still choosing to test regularly and exercise caution, we are able to see our loved ones whenever and however we want. So, the dominant emotion of 2022 is surely relief? Hope? Joy?

The thing is, if I’m being really honest here, I haven’t felt total, unbridled joy in quite some time. Content? Sure. Grateful? Always. There are moments of delight, of course: like when I hug my parents; when a colleague makes me laugh; when my boyfriend puts his arm around me in the morning; when my friends say something sweet or supportive or silly while sipping pints in the pub. But they are fleeting. Soon, that feeling of stagnation and senselessness seeps back in and I just feel… well, I don’t feel much at all. 

It’s like languishing, only this time, there’s not the obvious cause there was back in May 2021. This has more of a permanency to it. This is languishing 2.0.

And I’m not the only one who feels as though my emotions are flatlining. “That’s exactly how I feel,” says one friend when I bring it up. “I also find I’m easily irritated or agitated, but don’t get bursts of joy to counteract it. It’s like two years of intense highs and lows has meant that actually we don’t know how to deal with normality anymore.”

In fact, it’s estimated that the pandemic led to a 27.6% increase in cases of major depressive disorder and a 25.6% increase in cases of anxiety disorders worldwide in 2020, according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last month. It’s no wonder we’re so psychologically burnt out. The pandemic has bled us dry of emotion.

Plus, a recent survey of 5,000 women in 10 countries by Deloitte, first reported by NBC News, also found a troubling evolution for working women in a “burnout epidemic.” 53% of women reported stress levels higher than they were a year ago, with mental health maintenance on the back burner and work-life balance nearly nonexistent (not helped by the rising cost of living and the government telling us all to “work longer hours” in order to stay afloat financially). And whereas women were considering leaving their employers last year, the top-cited driver to leave now is burnout. 

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