The price of abundance
Society is a very noisy place. The nickname ‘urban jungle’ is not accidental; cities are as loud and crowed as the wild. There is no difference in how challenging it is to survive either. The battle has simply moved from the physical realm to the mental one. As while in the wild, one battles with the elements of nature and the scarcity of food and goods, in urban settings, one battles with the frameworks of society and the scarcity of attention and time. As one moves towards more crowded places, goods become more and more available but shared between more and more people and as the number of daily interactions to gain these goods grows, mental fatigue increases.
Every human interaction is an exchange between the participants, be it attention, favours, emotional response, information, money, etc. If one has copied good peopling skills from their nurturing environment, they can successfully navigate through these exchanges and gain from them. Things go downhill when one has learned less advantageous patterns from their family. In these cases, conscious modification of how one handles interactions is required, either in terms of response pattern or amount of encounters, or both.
Juggling with give and take
Keeping sane in the urban jungle is a matter of managing interactions.
Even though the details of these encounters are very specific to one’s own circumstances, the components of mental resilience – the principles of how to stay mentally healthy – are very similar, since we deal with similar challenges in life like managing a family, having to make ends meet, coping with workplace pressure, etc. Accordingly, there are common things that drain everybody regardless of their cultural background. Cutting off those things are not simply vital for maintaining a good mental condition, but the only way to do so.
Drainer #1 – Workplace exploitation, exclusion, discrimination, and/or covert/overt abuse
These are harsh words, but I like to put bright labels on dangerous things to make sure they are paid the appropriate attention. Interestingly, when labelled like this, these things sound very serious and somewhat rare. In practice, however, they’re the most common issues in workplace communities. Those who were raised to be a ‘good boy/girl’ to do everything for the community, place others above themself and always give, are very vulnerable for these games that companies play and are commonly set up for lifelong exploitation. For them, their boss can just imply that they don’t do enough for the community (as they strategically refer to their own company) and they’ll jump in to do others’ work for free without a second thought.
This good boy/good girl conditioning is very dangerous outside of one’s own private community, in which they are respected and appreciated. The workplace is filled with strangers who are there to make money for their own nest: when they see someone who is happy to do their work for them, they will take the ‘favour’ and enjoy their time off. The overworked employee often doesn’t even get thanked for their hard work. Their co-workers assume they take on extra work for the love of it, since there is no other reason for an adult to give up time with their family and do extra work for a co-worker, other than because they enjoy it. Completely reasonable thought. That how twisted the good girl/good boy attitude comes out in the workplace.
In order to stop being drained by this game, what one can do is to label the other players. Make it clear who is who exactly, what relationship one has with them and what responsibility one really owes them. A boss is a boss, not a mother, a colleague is co-worker, not a best friend, so really mark out where you will stop getting personally involved and carefully check if they reciprocate favours or attention at all or you keep giving out of fear.
There will be friends found in most places, but that’s not guaranteed. More likely to find real connections via personal activities, and for a reason. There is commonly no surviving game or power game going on during leisure activities, so people have their guards down and you get a more realistic image of their personalities. The same opportunity isn’t found in the workplace: most workplace friendships end when one of you moves on from the company.
Drainer #2 – Being talked down to in personal relationships
‘Downtalk’ is a sad and toxic pattern that circles around communities without most people recognising it as a cause of conflict. The symptoms are usually accepted with the excuse, ‘that’s how we roll, that’s how things are’. Downtalk is therefore carried over to adulthood as it is accepted to be how people talk to others. Beneath the surface, it kills.
When your loved ones roll their eyes while you talk about your plans, the message you receive is ‘we don’t think you have it in you’. How long can these messages float around without impacting you? Not long. We learn everything via repetition. If you are repeatedly told ‘you can’t win’, that is what you will learn. If all your achievements are dismissed with ‘anyone could have done that’, you’ll learn you’re nothing special, you have no achievements. A lot of the messages within these communications also signal that you are inherently broken, less than others, such as ‘what were you expecting?’ or ‘that’s what wrong with you’ – which makes you very vulnerable in the above mentioned workplace/network games, as others can manipulate your desire to prove yourself.
Similar downtalking habits in your romantic relationships are even more damaging. Your partner is the person closest to you, who can access everything you have including your thoughts and fears. If that someone has a tendency to use their access to your soft parts for justification or ‘proof’ in their blaming/shaming circles, you’ll be drained from your very core. Blaming and shaming, or trying to be a better partner than the other person, is very common. Phrases like ‘I did this for you, unlike you’ are very common in toxic relationships.
This game is often fuelled by cultural gender roles, in which ‘boys will be boys’ (meaning inherently mean and unreliable), and the ‘girls just wanna have fun’ (meaning fundamentally stupid and invaluable). These messages are repeated constantly in pop culture and are soaked up into toxic personal relationships.
A common example of this stereotype is when one hurries home after a long day, arrive late, and are greeted with, ‘you just can’t care, can you?’ That response denies the efforts of the partner, makes them feel unseen and betrays their intention. These kind of treatments are very draining, and the truth is that nothing makes someone feel more lonely than being unseen in a relationship.
To stop this pattern circling around and to prioritise mental wellbeing, one needs to follow their conversations consciously. Translate what is delivered in a conversation: if your partner is listing your so called weaknesses and their own expectation on what you should do or be, then they are delivering blaming/shaming. The original topic of the discussion is irrelevant. You can also check what emotional condition you leave the conversations with. If you feel worse about yourself then before the talk started, that talk was toxic.
The hardest job is to opt out of those conversations, because when your intentions and values are questioned by others, you naturally want to defend yourself. That perpetuates the blaming/shaming circle until someone gives up. But without conscious effort to cut these conversations off before the blaming/shaming starts (or cut the entire relationship off), these conversations will start again the next day, the day after that, and the day after that.
Drainer #3 – Living a life that you do not resonate with
Following principles that are not aligned with one’s own values and a lifestyle that is not a good match with the personality is one of the most mentally sickening things. It creates a huge dissonance in the psyche that often leads to mental illnesses like depression, psychosis and others. A common example is that the basic corporate worker lifestyle itself fits much fewer people than there are employees. Acting interested in a job/activity that one couldn’t care less about, while missing out on time to explore themselves and the things they like, makes life feel wasted.
Changing the framework of life is extremely hard, since in most cases your income entirely depends on it. This is even harder if the personal relationships are as described in the previous point. Not much support would come from those places and the resources required for the change need to be allocated alone or with a little outside help.
Side hustles are the saviours here because they can fit into the current lifestyle without risking too much. If one hasn’t discovered where their real passions lie yet, they need to seek out an interest, go to all sort of workshops, group activities and inspirational places to find out what they can put the most of their personality into. From there, step by step, this can be grown from a hobby into a micro entrepreneurship, pushing forward towards ideal life.
Conflict in the lifestyle can also can come from the cultural environment. If what surrounds you is very different from how you think about people and life, that environment will constantly send you messages that you don’t belong here. You would need to constantly lie and come up with excuses to avoid being ostracised by your social group for acting differently. Looking for communities where you can talk freely is crucial and usually the first step to feel validated and collect courage to move to a new place if necessary.
The above list of the major drainers is not in any way exhaustive. Rather, it is an attempt to flag the main sources of mental exhaustion. These are the hot points of mental health, including how much one can protect oneself against social push factors, be it from a workplace community or family. It also considers the position and treatment one receives from their close ones and how much one can apply oneself to what they’re doing. This list tackles larger issues that the usual self-care advice can’t fix. Such smaller self-care practices – taking a bubble bath, for example – can help us on the way to fixing these channels, but cannot replace the actions needed to take on them.