1. a state of sluggish inaction, indifference, or dullness; apathy.
[The word "lethargy" comes, via French and Latin, from the Greek word lethargos, meaning forgetful, which in turn comes from the Greek lethe, meaning oblivion.] - Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary
It seems that in Greek mythology, the River Lethe flowed through Hades. Those who went to Hades drank the water of the river in order to forget the past -- to find oblivion. Ancient Greek physicians likened this state of oblivion to that of the deep slumber they saw in some patients, so they called the disease lethargia. The ancient Romans compared the oblivion in the myth to the oblivion of death and came up with lethalis, an adjective that today means "lethal" -- deadly or fatal. - Thereby Hangs a Tale, Charles Earle Funk.
Today the word lethargy is generally used in the way it's defined at the beginning of this post -- a state of indifference or sluggishness. Most people experience short-term lethargy every once in a while. A great night's sleep, a brisk walk, a weekend of "just" lying around or a night out with friends can often take care of it.
A longer period of lethargy can accompany depression, mourning, or illness and is a normal part of these conditions. Loss, fear, and sickness rob us of physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional energy, making it difficult to think or to perform even simple tasks. Lethargy can drain our interest in life and in the people around us.
Here are some helpful (and maybe not surprising) ways to deal with lethargy:
- Deal yourself a break. Be as kind and patient with yourself as you would be with a good friend.
- Get enough sleep. This might include naps, even if you don't usually "do" naps.
- Eat more fresh, raw foods and fewer processed foods.
- Get outside for fresh air.
- Add a walk or other exercise to your fresh air experience. Even small amounts of exercise are helpful; you can increase it bit by bit.
Talk with a counsellor if you feel this will help. Whether your situation is temporary or long-term, counselling support can be very helpful.
One of the hardest things about dealing with the lethargy of depression and mourning is that it feels like it will never end, even if helpful books and people have assured you it will. Pay attention to your levels of energy and let them guide you as much as possible. If you feel like visiting with friends, do so. If you need a few hours on the couch, go for it. Enjoy laughter and positive energy when they come and respect the tears that can follow. Gently but firmly encourage yourself to reach a little further when you can, but don't give in to blame; feeling lethargic is not the same as being lazy or selfish.
Life may be a roller coaster at times, but if lethargy is part of your ride at the moment, accept it as best you can and be on the lookout for happier moments.