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Image / Editorial

Duck Syndrome: The Dark Side Of Perfection


by Jeanne Sutton
10th Aug 2015

Female architect on the phone with client lean in getty

Are you stressed to the point you’re shaking on the inside, yet presenting a calm I-can-do-it-all exterior? Is this pretense you can cope with all of life’s shopping trolley of emotions without an occasional f***-up making you a whirlwind of the worst emotions on the inside? You may be suffering from Duck Syndrome, a name that Stanford Univeristy researchers use to describe a particular strain of stress. Think of the duck: serenely gliding across peaceful water, paddling like fury beneath to keep up the placid first and constant impression.

Duck Syndrome, which Marie Claire reported on last week, was first seen in college students who exuded confidence and calm but were stressed out on the inside, trying to balance a personal life with study and adulthood. All this pressure builds up, leading to unreasonably high expectations and in some cases addiction issues.

Last Autumn Morwenna Jones wrote an article for The Guardian on how her arrival at Cambridge University led to her eating disorder worsening. She dropped out for some months and went home to recover. Morwenna spoke about how such damaging strides for perfection were a common factor in high-achievers in these internationally renowned universities. One in five students at Cambridge have been diagnosed with depression, according to one survey, with a further one in four feeling they may be depressed. Eating disorders and mental health issues affected significant swathes of the student population. Last month an article in the New York Times looked at the growing number of suicides on campuses across the United States. Penn Face was what University of Pennsylvania students called the practice of being happy and successful on the outside, but sad, stressed and increasingly isolated on the inside.

It’s a shocking state of affairs, but hardly surprising. Anyone who has been to college knows that self-esteem can take a bump in the stew of working hard, excessive partying, keeping up with peers when it comes to coursework, and trying to make new friends that characterises the first few years of adult independence. The world of social media-approved lifestyles can only contribute further to this. Instagram rarely celebrates the weekend-long hangover and fish fingers for breakfast. It’s day trips, brunches with friends, curated bookshelves with a perfect latte lying in wait. It’s no wonder people are crumbling on the inside when no one will admit just how tough life can be.

We need less cute ducks on an idyllic pond and some grumpy ugly ducklings on the shore quacking about how cold the water really is. Life can be tough; it’s time we started talking about it and helping people who are hurting on the inside.

If you feel that stress is getting to you, make sure to talk to your GP, or contact the Samaritans?for a confidential chat.?

Last week we took another look at Imposter Syndrome after Emma Watson spoke about how she distrusted her talent in the face of critical plaudits.

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