This is one of the tools that I teach in my CBT anxiety management course.
Romanticism is your need to have your life look perfect. Romanticism is when you want to prove that you have it all and can cope with anything that comes your way. Romanticism is when you have an idealised picture of what your life/family/body/relationships/job should look like.
Realism is when you face the reality that, as a human being, it is not always possible. An idealised view is exactly that, an ideal way of looking at things. However, in reality life is rarely ideal and humans by nature are flawed.
There will be times in your life when you will suffer from anxiety and depression. There will be times you will be physically sick, lacking in funds or unable to deliver. There will be times when you, or your loved ones, act badly and let others down. This is the reality of real life.
In my experience, the need to be realistic is not verbalised very often. On the contrary, we seem to live in a society where people are encouraged to push themselves beyond their limits. There is even an advertisement for a cold and flu formula which tells customers to “soldier on”.
Here are a few examples of individuals who pushed themselves too far.
- Heather is a mother of four who contracted a severe bout of flu. Her doctor told her to take 2 weeks off and rest. Heather refused, saying that her children need her. She forced herself to keep going at her usual rate.
The result? Heather became depressed and chronically fatigued and needed extensive psychological as well as physical treatment.
- Pedro is the national sales manager of a huge corporation. He was expected to travel every week, meet large financial targets and make exciting presentations. It was becoming too much. Pedro began to suffer from insomnia, low libido and fatigue.
What Pedro should have done was speak with HR and make changes so that he could cope. He should have been realistic about what his capabilities were at that time. Instead, he began to function at a diminished level which resulted in long term negative effects.
Excellence, success and high achievement can be good values as long as they are not damaging to your physical or mental health.
Here are 5 tips to staying in touch with reality for your long term advantage:
1: Be aware of what your body and mind are telling you. Are you tired? Have your eating, sleeping, sexual habits changed? Are you worrying all the time? Do you feel stressed and agitated?
2: If you are aware that you are experiencing stress, think of ways to manage it better. You may need to get psychological help to learn to manage your depression and anxiety better. Or you may need to make external changes in your life. Heather (in the example above) should have rested and bought food in for 2 weeks. Pedro should have explored ways of changing his role at work.
3: When you are realistic, and in touch with what your mind and body are telling you, you can adapt quickly – which will immediately benefit you. When you have recovered, you will be able to bounce back to your previous levels of engagement.
4: Use the time you are “going easy” on yourself to evaluate your values. Are they realistic? Are they sustainable long term? Should you improve your work-life balance overall? Be honest and make the changes if required.
5: If you find that you cannot lower your expectations and take care of yourself, take a serious listen to your inner voice. Where is your resistance coming from? Are you so insecure that you need to keep proving yourself? Do you need constant validation? Are your priorities skewed so that you prioritise money or status over your mental and physical health? If any of these apply, they need to be challenged and replaced before you can be compassionate to yourself long term.