Expectations and Mental Health

I just caught the tail end of an interview on Scott Simon’s Weekend Edition (opens in a new link) on NPR (National Public Radio) as he asked his guest to help us understand the impact that public expectations have on entertainers and world-class athletes…particularly on their mental health.

Mental health impact

His guest recalled a time in which she scheduled a tour, seemingly knowing that she shouldn’t. As the tour progressed she became so overwhelmed with the effort that she regularly thought of cancelling the tour only to realize how many people were counting on her to perform…fans, venue hosts, accompanying artists, on and on and on.

My wife and I travel quite a bit so I can understand the fatigue associated with travel although I’ve never experienced it to the degree that an extended tour would impose on those touring.

In terms of the emotional toll that expectations take, the vast majority of us have at one time or another committed to more than we should have. We lamented the decision, yet felt compelled to continue the effort because we had given our word that we would fulfill a function.

My point in writing this is to demonstrate that we are all susceptible to mental health issues. While some suffer mental health issues due to genetic aberrations or chemical imbalances, the vast majority of us who suffer mental and emotional fatigue do so because we’re not paying attention to how many commitments we make.

Commitments

It is well and good that we commit ourselves to helping others. I’ve long touted the benefits of being other centric. Yet, as the old adage goes, everything in moderation. We are happy and healthy when we regularly strive to enrich the lives of others…until we overcommit, then we serve no one well.

Yes, we continue to perform because we feel our word is our bond. We want people to know that they can rely upon what we say. Unfortunately, all too often, we don’t perform well. We miss deadlines, overlook details that are critical, make mistakes and have to redo work when we’re already driving on empty. This doesn’t serve the other person (organization) well and it certainly doesn’t make us happier or improve our health. Indeed, our health, both physical and mental, suffer from having set unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

So what’s the solution?

For you

First, before you make a commitment, review the commitments you’ve already made to see whether you have time to make another one. Second, evaluate your health. Are you fatigued? Is that fatigue physical, emotional or both? Are you feeling overwhelmed?

These self-evaluations are especially important when you’re being asked to participate in an effort that intrigues you. The times when we’re most susceptible to overcommitting is when we’re intrigued by the prospect an opportunity presents or when someone dear to us wants our help. By using objective analysis of your current commitments and health, you can avoid overwhelming yourself and experiencing mental and emotional fatigue.

If you’ve already overcommitted, evaluate your commitments to determine from which of them you can extract yourself with the least impact on the others’ involved. It’s not pleasant, but I’ve had to tell people that I could no longer continue in an effort because I had overcommitted and found that I wasn’t serving them or anyone else well. Interestingly, the vast majority were very sympathetic and accepted my resignation from the effort gracefully. The sense I had is that each and everyone of them had had the same experience of overcommitting. They know the toll it takes. Consequently, they were more sympathetic than I had expected.

For our kids

As you see your kids making commitments, ask them “Do your have time to do what’s required in this commitment? How’s your energy? Are you feeling energetic or are you fatigued? Is your answer to the last question based on how you really feel or on how much you’d like to be involved in this activity?”

Helping kids make conscious decision about the commitments they make will help them avoid mental and emotional fatigue just as it does for you.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your experiences in a comment.

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