Today I will get up at 6:30am, get ready for work, make my lunch, have breakfast, be at work by 8:45am, work 8 hours on the shop floor, come home, do 30 minutes of high intensity exercise, make dinner, eat dinner, check emails, finish that novel I've been meaning to read, shower, get to bed by 10pm, sleep and do it all again tomorrow. Sound familiar? This may be what a typical day looks like to a lot of people.
Now imagine trying to do all of this when you're depressed, fatigued and over-stressed. It. Does. Not. Work. You end up pushing yourself far beyond what your mind and body are capable of and become dangerously close to burning out.
So what if I told you that there is a way to help prevent burnout, reduce stress and get your mind on the path to recovery? All it takes is three little words: lower your expectations. Unrealistic expectations are often what cause you to push yourself far beyond your capability. When I say unrealistic I mean, expecting yourself to function at the same level as someone who has a healthy mental state. If you are healthy, it is easier to function at a high level of intensity for long periods of time. But being depressed means that you are not able to perform at the same high level. And that is okay! It is not a weakness to be unable to operate at a high intensity, it is simply where you are at this point in time.
To give you an example of how lowering your expectations can help, I will take an excerpt out of my own life. The example at the start of this post was a typical day for me, slightly edited of course but pretty close. I am a natural perfectionist and people pleaser, which is a dangerous combination for someone who is also depressed. I was trying so hard to be like everyone else, hardworking and happy. It took so much of my energy to pretend to be 'normal' that I became seriously, dangerously, fatigued. I placed hugely unrealistic expectations on myself. I expected myself to always be happy, always be energetic, always have perfect skin, a perfect body, just always be perfect! This went on until I finally realised I couldn't go on like this; I needed help. I saw a counsellor who helped me a lot with my problems. One day, we were talking about what I expected of myself and she said to me, "It sounds like you have placed unrealistic expectations on yourself." I was shocked. I honestly did not think that this was the problem. I thought it was just a weakness that I needed to fix, I did not for one second think that I was being too hard on myself. After this she said to me, "What would happen if you were to lower your expectations?", to which I replied, "It would make life easier, and take the pressure off.". Those simple words really resonated with me.
Since then, I have been working at lowering my expectations. Whenever I look in the mirror and start to criticise my skin and say what it should be, I say to myself, "I'm doing the best I can." Whenever I am at work and start getting stressed about the tasks I haven't completed or the work that still needs to be done I say, "I'm doing the best I can.". Speaking those words out, lifts the pressure right off and allows me to accept things the way they are.
The next time that you start to feel overwhelmed, stressed or like you're not doing as well as you should be, say to yourself, "I'm doing the best I can". Simply repeating these words to yourself, with conviction, can help to ease those feelings of stress and anxiety. Realise that where you are is not where you will always be, but until you're better you need to be nice to yourself. Let yourself be tired. Let yourself be sad if you need to. Let yourself be.
Keep your expectations within reach and you will begin to see improvement. You're okay, and you're on your way.
NOTE: This article is for general and informative purposes only. If you need further help, please see a mental health practitioner.