It’s coming down to nothing more than apathy… An infamous line in the opening verse of The Fray’s hit song “Over My Head (Cable Car).” When this song came out I was just 10 years old—but still, I was hypnotized by the heartbreak-struggle of a song…even if I couldn’t yet understand it. In fact, I distinctly remember being caught up on the word ‘apathy’ every time I listened to the song. ‘What the heck is apathy?’ I wondered. I guess I wasn’t clever enough yet to pull out a dictionary or do a quick google search of the word. But it serves as consolation to know that people still struggle to understand this word today. And now, 12 years after stressing out over what in the world ‘apathy’ meant, I can explain it!

Simply defined, apathy is the lack of feeling—the lack of passion, emotion, excitement, concern. In the “Over My Head (Cable Car)” lyric, the narrator attributes his breakup to a lack of love and care; the two don’t feel driven to salvage their relationship. Instead, they’re detached and indifferent: characteristics of the emotionless emotion, as apathy is sometimes called. Here, apathy may sound like a simple state of carelessness in an unhappy relationship. And while it can be harmless and normal to experience, it can also be harmful. The indifference, unresponsiveness, detachment, and passivity can leave apathetic individuals feeling exhausted and also lead to their making of bad decisions—because they just don’t care.

What Exactly Causes Apathy?

It’s safe to say that you have or will experience apathy at some point in your life. Whether it’s during one of these cold breakups, when you lose a job you had given up on, or if it’s what you experience when making an otherwise minor or major life transition. But what specifically can lead to apathy?

  • Negative thoughts and feelings about oneself. If you’ve been feeling incompetent, useless, worthless, or otherwise pessimistic about your abilities, you may soon move on to feelings of apathy. You might stop feeling sorry for yourself and instead become detached.
  • A major life event that affects you greatly. Sometimes major events like being fired from a job can leave you feeling so upset that this distress manifests as apathy. For example, imagine you’ve been working for your employer for 5 years—you’re comfortable, you’re expecting a promotion, and instead get let go. A few days later you’re no longer angry or upset; instead, you’re indifferent.
  • You’re stagnant—your life is a boring routine. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in working our 9-5 jobs, putting dinner on the table, and making sure the day simply goes smoothly, that we forget about our joys and our goals. And before we know it, we’ve settled—we’ve accepted lesser versions of our lives.
  • You’re overwhelmed or worn down. The aforementioned routine also has the power to leave you feeling overwhelmed or worn down, rather than bored. Either way, you’re left with indifference, detachment, and a lack of energy to do anything about it.
  • You have a much more serious issue, more specifically a mental health disorder. Apathy can be a symptom of a number of psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, stroke, and chronic mild depression.

But How Can I Be Sure That What I’m Experiencing Is Apathy?

It’s true: we can experience indifference, exhaustion, detachment, and passivity on multiple occasions, but apathy isn’t always to blame. So how can you be sure? The following narratives will help you better understand and identify apathy:

  1. Jake has always loved playing and watching football; he was the quarterback on his high school’s team and he always hosts Sunday night football at his house. However, this fall, he just hasn’t been interested in playing or watching his favorite sport. He turns down invitations for pick-up games and no longer invites his friends over to watch the games. Jake’s apathy is characterized by his great change in interest; he’s no longer interested in what once made him feel so excited and happy.
  2. Ever since Grace graduated college last fall, she’s been at a standstill. She’s thought about applying to different jobs or even spending the year traveling, but just hasn’t felt driven to commit to anything. She’s satisfied staying at home on the couch for now. This indifference is characteristic of Grace’s apathy.
  3. When Emma first started her job, she loved it. She always arrived early, completed her work with enthusiasm, and her boss quickly took notice. But lately, her heart just hasn’t been in it. She’s suddenly bored by her work and is hesitant to even show up some days. Emma’s apathy is characterized by her sudden lack in motivation.

And How Can I Solve These Feelings of Apathy?

First of all, it’s okay and normal to feel apathetic from time to time. But if you’ve decided that it’s time to shake this funk, you first need to figure out where your apathy is coming from. Are you unhappy with your job? Do you feel stuck in an unsatisfying relationship? Do you just feel indifferent about life? Determine the underlying issue and then approach it with anything but apathy. For example, maybe you should explore other work opportunities; perhaps it’s time to light a fire in your relationship again; or maybe it’s simply time to get up off the couch and chase your dreams. You have to challenge your feelings of indifference and passivity with action. So introduce new exciting elements to your life, enjoy the little things, reawaken! Doing so will surely get you back on the right track. If, on the other hand, you find that your apathy is a sign of an underlying disease, medication can be used to treat the mental illness and this unfortunate effect.

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