As part of Mental Health Awareness week we are considering this year’s theme: surviving or thriving? 21st century society leads us to believe that we can ‘have it all’. Where all is defined loosely as everything an individual might desire at some point in their life. The reality – and whether we end up surving or thriving in life – is somewhat different.
How to have it all in the 21st century
Rather unfairly society encourages us to believe – via social media, magazines, TV and more – we can ‘have it all’. Generally it goes something like this…
A successful career coupled with happy, adorable and well behaved children. A beach-body combined with age-defying looks. Enough spare time to do our bit for charity whilst crafting our own greetings cards sold in boutique shops. Living in a home straight out of an interior design magazine bought and furnished with the kind of financial frugality that would make Martin Lewis proud. Weekends are spent with a wide and loyal base of friends and family whose only concern is which fabulous party to attend with us. All the while supported by our devoted partner who confidently asserts that our relationship ‘could not be better’.
Stressed, depressed and in debt
Reality is of course far removed from the picture that is often painted. Worryingly the desire and drive to ‘have it all’ is taking its toll on our mental health. As a nation we are stressed out, depressed and worried about rising debt and falling incomes. Four in ten of our marriages will end in divorce whilst our kids are becoming increasingly anxious and fearful. Meanwhile the car in the driveway is too expensive for us to afford and the monthly repayments keep us awake at night along with a multitude of other concerns.
When it comes to the concept of ‘you can have it all’ it seems clear that many of us are surviving, not thriving.
Can we have it all and good mental health?
Is it possible to have it all and maintain good mental health? Yes but that is the wrong perspective. Like landing on the moon, it is possible but it is also incredibly difficult. Much like becoming an Olympian, it is possible but it also takes sacrifice and being very particular about what ‘all’ is.
Aspiring Olympians know that in pursuit of excellence, other things they might wish to do or achieve need to be put on hold or dropped. Ambitions in other areas of their lives such as starting a family are put firmly on the back burner. They demonstrate sacrifice and control in relatively mundane things too. Like eating only the healthiest food instead of stuffing themselves with pizza and chocolate.
Have it all but narrowly define it
Elite athletes also provide a stark illustration of the need to narrowly define what your ‘all’ is. Time with family and friends is reduced in favour of punishing training regimes. Why? Because in their minds they have a crystal clear vision of what they want: a chance to qualify for and compete at the Olympic Games. Adding more things to the ‘all’ reduces its chances, dilutes focus and creates inevitable incompatibilities.
The pressure to subscribe to and ‘live’ the ‘have it all’ life takes its toll on our relationships and mental health. At The Spark we regularly help couples and individuals who, for example, find that spending long hours at work and less time with their partner damages that relationship. In a similar vein the stress of debt from over-ambitious spending can cause marital breakdown and/or stress, anxiety and depression.
We live in a world where we believe the ‘have it all’ Instagram personas of celebrities. But we gloss over the fact their relationships, marriages, health and more regularly end up damaged in the process of trying to have it all.
Mental Health Awareness Week
This Mental Health Awareness Week we encourage you to think about whether you are on the having it all rollercoaster. Are the things you want to have, be or achieve in life compatible and realistic? Is the pursuit of having it all causing problems in your relationships with your partner, family, kids or friends?
If you need someone to talk to about how you are feeling or issues in your relationships past or present, The Spark can provide confidential counselling and support services.