Pressure and the need to be perfect

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I’ve been thinking a lot about pressure lately. We place so much pressure on ourselves while living this incredibly busy, stressful life that we have. Pressure to look good. Pressure to eat well. Pressure to work out every day. Pressure to be the best husband/wife/mom/dad/son/daughter we can possibly be. Pressure to do it all, ideally with one hand tied behind your back and sipping a glass of wine! No really – it genuinely feels like that.

We go on Instagram and we see these beautiful, zen creatures practicing yoga or drinking a perfect-looking smoothie (not the vomit-green, lumpy one that sometimes comes out of my blender in the mornings), tanned abs rippling, abnormally white teeth grinning in a self-satisfied smile. When I’m scrolling these images, I usually have a fussy baby on my hip, my mascara is smudged under my eyes from a long day at work and I’m feeling guilty because I was really tired so I skipped gym. There might even be an open bag of chips on the counter, because I already did the damage by skipping gym, so why not go all the way, right? And there’s definitely a glass of wine (perhaps the only part of my life that I have never felt guilty about – happy days!).

If you speak to people from different generations, your parents or grandparents, they’ll tell you that life has always been hard. It’s not any harder for us now that we have #selfiegoals and the intense pressure to look or be a certain way – they had that pressure too, they just had different ideals to achieve and different ways to measure themselves.

I’ve been especially struggling with pressure these past few months, more so than usual. My pre-baby life was already filled with many little stresses, as all our lives are. When you add a baby into the mix, things can feel like they’re starting to unravel. Part of it is just exhaustion – the bone weariness of the hardest year of our lives with the least amount of sleep (the little monster turns 1 in two weeks’ time – cue a whole new chapter of tough times with a tantruming toddler!). Part of it is the pressure I’m placing on myself to make things exactly the way they used to be, except now with a baby. And part of it is just normal, everyday pressure, the things I mentioned above that we all feel all the time.

For a while there, I thought this was the beginning of some sort of epic breakdown. It’s scary when you start feeling so out of control and you can’t seem to get a handle on things, and your default emotional state is depressive. But as I’ve plodded through the last month or so, getting up every day to do the same thing and face the same challenges, I’ve realised that what I’m feeling is pretty normal, expected even. What’s not normal is that when we reach this point, we’re conditioned to feel like we just have to suck it up and get on with things. After all, I can’t just get off at the next stop and exit my life for a month, can I?

Pressure is part of our existence, but the stress it can cause has a damaging effect on our health. It interferes with our perspective, our bodies and our healthy habits. It causes low self-esteem, emotional eating and a complicated relationship with food and our bodies as we struggle for control, not to mention a breakdown in relationships with the people closest to us. That feeling of not feeling good enough – you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all felt it and it’s debilitating.

I’m not claiming to have all the answers and I don’t feel like I’m through to the other side just yet. But I’ve been working on a few coping mechanisms that are helping me through the worst days. If you’re feeling something similar or if you’ve ever felt like this, I hope they’ll help you too.

1. Acknowledge when you’ve had enough.

I can’t do it all, you can’t do it all. We’re human, not machines.

2. Have your pity party, it’s healthy.

We’re allowed to feel like we’re failing at life. It’s ok. It’s probably not as bad as we think it is at the time, but it’s totally acceptable to wallow in misery when you feel like you’re falling short. Just give yourself a time limit in that self-pity pool.

3. Don’t be afraid of disappointment.

Whether you’ve disappointed yourself or someone else, accept that it happens sometimes. Be kind and forgive yourself. Others will forgive you too.

4. Find 5 things to be grateful for every single day.

I do this when I’m walking from my car to my office. Every morning without fail, I list 5 things in my head that I’m grateful for that day. Sometimes I even say them out loud, talking to myself like a crazy person. That is also ok!

5. Tell someone.

Lean on your friends or family. You don’t have to tell everyone, just one or two people who can act as your support.  Let them do small things like check in with you, make sure you’re giving yourself 5 minutes of space and basically just look out for your happiness.

6. Take a break.

I’m still working on this one. Take 2 days for yourself. Go somewhere, away from the centre of your pressure. Read a book, lie in the sun, write in a journal. It doesn’t have to be far. It just needs to be a place where you can let out the breath you’ve been holding for ages.

We may not be able to get rid of the pressure we face daily, but in the face of it, all we can do is our best. That’s more than good enough.

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