How can it be that in a country and a society that lacks nothing, so many people are mentally ill? Is prosperity perhaps a risk factor? It is exciting to take a look at this characteristic of a modern society in order to get to the bottom of possible causes of illnesses such as burnout and depression.
Constant accessibility, digitalization, mixing work and private life through home office – all these factors are sufficiently known as the daily accelerators of life and most people are already on the way to finding a healthy way to deal with them. But why does the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed remain even then? The reason here in Germany are challenges that come with a liberal affluent society:
Lack of orientation
The fact that most people have so many options open to them means that countless decisions have to be made all the time. Whether it’s a rich buffet of education and study options, choosing where to live in any city of choice – or even abroad…And even when signing a cell phone contract, there are more offers than you could ever check. Where at the same time we are incredibly privileged to be able to decide these things at all, it just as often presents us with challenges. Religion, traditions, and values are just as wide-ranging – life can be shaped however one chooses. However, this also implies that everyone is more responsible for their own satisfaction, and failure to achieve goals is more likely to be experienced as a failure of one’s own making.
A job today not only has to put enough money in the bank account at the end of the month. It also has to be secure, well-respected, meaningful and flexible enough to allow a good work-life balance. After all, exciting leisure activities, lots of time with friends and family, and travel are all part of a fulfilling life. We also want to go on the most amazing trips, eat as healthily as possible, be fit for sports and have a perfectly furnished home of our own. Because basically everything is possible. It is extremely difficult to reconcile all these expectations, and disappointments are inevitable.
The last section should have made clear the ever faster spinning merry-go-round in which we ride every day. It is easy to lose control! The infinite range of possibilities, as well as the high optimization demands for self-realization, quickly leave us overwhelmed and exhausted, as well as the risk of mental illness increases enormously.
Burnout results from a prolonged episode of stress – chronic stress. If there are then too few resources available to cope, an imbalance between tension and recovery quickly develops, which manifests itself in three dimensions of discomfort:
Depression is often the result of burnout, which in itself is not officially listed as a mental illness. A real depression is characterized by the following three main criteria:
Other symptoms may include:
Especially in depression, feelings of inferiority and self-doubt are often very dominant, which can be consequences of a lack of orientation as well as too high demands in life.
But what can we do now? To answer this question it makes sense to look at another novelty of our society. Have you ever heard of Slow Living (Slow-Flood, Slow-Business or Slow-Travelling)? Slowness and mindfulness are the new buzzwords for which there is such a great need. Basically, it’s about regaining more quality of life through conscious action – All according to the principle “Less is more”. Examples for everyday life are:
Being consciously in the moment: Whether on the train, at home on the sofa or together with friends. The point is to do what you are doing – and nothing else. Not sending messages on your cell phone at the same time as a movie, cleaning up while you’re on the phone, or taking care of some private business on the side in a team meeting at work.
Taking time to eat: Far too often, we gobble down our breakfast in a rush on the way to the train in the morning, while watching a movie or already doing the next professional task. Conscious eating is about taking time to celebrate the meal, sitting down at the table, arranging the food beautifully and perhaps lighting a candle to go with it. And then trying to taste each bite intensely and chew well.
Conscious consumption: It’s about consuming less and making each purchase much more thoughtfully. We spend far too much money on impulse without really benefiting from the product or service or paying attention to sustainability. Conscious consumption also relieves us of many daily decisions, for example when choosing between countless items of clothing in the morning, some of which do not really suit our own tastes. These are just a few examples of slow living that can decelerate our everyday lives. We should really ask ourselves whether the high demands that we have in any area of life, can not lead permanently only to dissatisfaction and we should not focus on a few things consciously. This way it will probably be easier for us to deal with all the decisions and opportunities we have every day. If we still feel that this is not enough to get out of the fast tunnel, professional support in the form of psychotherapy can help us to integrate more mindfulness and slowness into our daily lives.