Perfection to depression – Measuring ourselves to death

A monthly column about mindfulness and mental wellbeing.

  • Wednesday, November 6, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Burn out is real. We are leaving our professions faster than any generation before. We, as a society, are more stressed than ever before. All this while we are living in more prosperity (in Seattle) than ever before.

What is going on here? Why are we burned-out, fatigued, and stressed out?

To answer that question fully, you would have to take one of my lecture series — the problem is quite complex. What I have time for in this article is to give you one of many reasons. One of the many reasons we are burned out is that we take everything to the extreme.

Our culture has become obsessed with performance, perfection and measurability. Of course, these things can be beneficial, but they can also be harmful when out of balance.

Let me give you a few examples.

We know that high-intensity exercise rotated into our training regimen is beneficial – but now we have exercise boutiques that will push our limits with weights, speed and temperatures, and many of us choose to push our physical boundaries to the limit daily. Every competitive athlete knows that overtraining is bad — we must have light, hard and off training days. Every day of hard practice is the quickest way to burnout and injury. But more and more I see people daily practicing exercise routines into extremes.

And we like to look younger. I am certainly not against aging gracefully with help. There is nothing wrong with a little touch-up. But now I see young women from 20-50 years of age with so much Botox and fillers that they all resemble a surprised frozen Barbie version of each other. I cannot fathom why we equate this to beauty. I guess that would have to be another article, but for sure it is extreme.

A third example — and most dangerously — we are perfecting our children. We send them to endless piano lessons, football practices, community volunteer projects, and the list goes on. We do want them to succeed, and perhaps we are right to be worried. It is harder nowadays to gain entrance to a state school than it was to an Ivy league school 25 years ago, so competition is fierce without doubt. But while we may accomplish winning the race, some vital skills are lost. Our children, much like us, are so busy doing things that they don’t have time to pause, feel, and think.

When we have no time to sit quietly and think, we develop a fear of emotions. When the world is but a big competition, then flaws become shameful, something to hide. And we hide our feelings with more busyness, with more exercise, more work. We are afraid to stop because when we stop, emotions and questions come up. So busyness is the default mode.

But there is a moment when fatigue kicks in when our physiology demands a stop, and all of the sudden, we find ourselves face to face with our emotions, and the big question: Why am I doing this? What is the meaning of all this?

Burnout is the dark side of measurability, productivity and performance.

How can we find balance?

How do we strive to be excellent and productive without becoming extreme and burned out?

I believe the answer is to find the meaning and search for the why behind your action.

Instead of losing weight and being in shape to meet perceived cultural expectations, you want to find health and longevity so you can enjoy your family longer.

Often we try to improve our looks because we think we are not good enough, not pretty enough and not lovable. Instead of working on our looks, we could work on the “why” behind our emotional state. We could embrace our vulnerabilities and spend more time sharing the ups and downs of life with each other. This is something women talk a lot about thanks to Brenee Brown, but unfortunately, it is mostly talking, and many of us are stuck in a perpetual competition to look better, younger, fitter.

Instead of pushing to accomplish a goal in life, the questions should be what kind of life do we want to live, what kind of work, and how much work will give meaning to our every day.

Simply put, we are burned out because we imagine there is an ideal to reach, and only if we reach this ideal will we be accepted as worthy people in our community. I say, let’s take a breath, let go of perfecting life, and set a goal to enjoy life right now. Stop living for what other people think, and start living in harmony and meaning with yourself — have faith that all the rest will work out with time.

Dora Gyarmati teaches yoga and mindfulness classes. She owns Spira Power Yoga in Issaquah and West Seattle. Her company M3Bmethod also lectures on resilience and stress-management to corporations and health care professionals.

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