Languishing and the Food/Mood Connection

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Just the other day (May 6), the New York Times published yet another article highlighting the profound links between our diet and our mental wellness – the proverbial “food/mood-connection” – showing quite clearly that what we eat dramatically influences how we feel.

Diving into the science underlying the food/mood-connection shows us the close links between our gut and microbiome (often called the “2nd brain”); our heart (often called the “3rd brain”); and how our “first brain” (the one in our head) feels, behaves, and performs on every level imaginable.

These are precisely the topics that I cover in my upcoming book, “Mental Fitness – Maximizing Mood, Motivation, and Mental Wellness by Optimizing the Brain-Body-Biome” – which is on pre-order now wherever you buy books.

An earlier NYT article (April 19) by the amazing Adam Grant – that I tweeted about and shared quite a lot, outlined the “emotional limbo” that many people are feeling – referred to as “languishing” in psychology research (and which is linked to what happens across our “3-brains” and our “brain-body-biome”).

The opposite of languishing is “flourishing” – just as the opposite of burnout is vigor and the opposite of depression is vitality and the opposite of stressed out is resilience.

Languishing is not quite burnout and not quite depression, but is more like feeling “blah” or “meh” and not really getting as much enjoyment or excitement out of life or certain hobbies as you once did. You feel sort of stagnant and empty. You might have brain fog or cloudy thinking or a lack of motivation.

On the “Mental Wellness Continuum” that I’ve been talking about for more than a decade – we have depression, anxiety, and burnout at the low end – and vigor, thriving and flourishing at the high end – and the dreaded “blah” or “fine” or “stressed out” (also known as languishing) in the middle. The middle “ho-hum” region is where most of us find ourselves due to chronic stress, and especially after what we’ve all been through (and are still going through) with the pandemic. 

The Global Wellness Institute has recently picked up on and refined the Mental Wellness Continuum model with a dual-axis approach that I really like to help us distinguish between mental illness and mental wellness (you could be mentally healthy but not fully mentally well).

The big problem for people who are languishing isn’t just that you feel like crap and your drive has dwindled, but that you might start becoming “indifferent to your indifference” and you just stop caring about much of anything – or even be able to see your own suffering.

If you find yourself endlessly and mindlessly doom-scrolling Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, then you might be languishing – and you might need to hit the “reset button” to snap yourself out of it. This might be to take a small step to do something to improve your mood or motivation (like Edge for me) – or get yourself into the zone (like exercise for me) – or something to get you into a flow state (like writing for me) – or focus on something fun that requires focus and is non-work related (like playing the guitar for me) – whatever works for you to get you out of the languishing rut. Small steps lead to small wins that can be strung together day after day like breadcrumbs to lead you away from languishing and toward flourishing.

My upcoming Mental Fitness Book provides the link between how we use lifestyle interventions (like food, supplements, movement, mindset, sleep, stress management, and many others) to reduce languishing, stress, and burnout – and foster flourishing, vigor and resilience.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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