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Superwoman Syndrome

Are you a modern-day Superwoman? 

Let’s see……

You wake unrefreshed after a poor night’s sleep, drag yourself out of bed, feed, dress and yell at the kids before a quick shower, dress yourself, grab a piece of toast, make lunches, yell again at the kids “to hurry up” as they look for their shoes and you run out the door to take them to school. And that’s all before you start your work day, already flustered and exhausted.

The clock starts ticking when you get to work as you get your caffeine hit, check emails, take calls, log on to Team Meetings, at the same time you are striving all day, to stay ahead, be the best, field calls from the school (not letting on that they are in any way distracting), only to return home to play taxi driver as you ferry your kids to their various activities, come home and cook), scull a glass of wine to try and unwind, put the washing on, eat something, perhaps check more emails and finally fall exhausted into bed, tired but wired and sleep fitfully.

And you do it all perfectly with a smile on your face whilst on the inside you are drowning and overwhelmed and asking yourself, is there more to life??

If you can relate, then YES congratulations you are a modern day superwoman!!!

The modern day superwoman

The modern female believes that no-one can perform all the tasks as well as they can or that they just believe that it is their job to do it all.  Throw in a good dose of social media and the unfounded belief that every other women is doing it and doing it perfectly and anxiety and self-doubt slowly creep in with women questioning, “why can’t I do it all?”

At what cost

What we are left with are a group of women feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed which can translate to low mood, anger, guilt, frustration, exhaustion, wired and tired. They experience headaches, weight gain, food cravings, stomach problems, IBS, muscle tension, frequent colds, insomnia, PMS and loss of sexual desire.  And in extreme cases women may experience chronic fatigue, burnout, depression and overall a low quality of life.

However, what we must remember is that humans, including superwomen (not superheros) have limitations. And accepting this is the first step towards combating this syndrome.

What happens to our bodies when we are stressed

When we experience stress especially chronic, long term, never-switch-off- type stress, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated and we are in a constant  ‘fright or flight state.’  

At the same time our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), responsible for the calming ‘rest, digest, repair and reproduce’ state is down regulated. The challenge for women these days is that we live in SNS dominance.

Our adrenals continually pump out cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline which can affect all parts of our body leading to poor sleep quality, sugar cravings, problems with weight management, sex hormone imbalances translating to PMS, PCOS, endometriosis and debilitating menopause.  Thyroid hormones also become imbalanced and we experience hair loss, weight gain and skin conditions.

In addition, digestion takes a back seat translating to poor gut function, constipation, diarrhoea, reflux and inadequate absorption of vitamins and minerals leading to nutrient deficiencies.  Our mood is affected due to the gut-brain axis connection and the lowered production of serotonin (our ‘happy hormone’) in the gut.

It doesn’t have to be like this

It is time women start to view these numerous and varied symptoms as a wake-up call to make changes, not accept them as normal, because they’re not. They are common but not normal.  Use them as triggers to eat, drink and move differently. Most importantly to think, believe and perceive differently.

It starts with our mindset.  As superwomen we need to remember to put on our own oxygen mask first before anyone else. We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s ok to not be a superwoman and that we don’t have to be perfect and in control of everything. 

I especially love this quote from Psychologist, Alice Haddon, “decide what’s important in your life and do it well.  Just because we can have it all, doesn’t automatically mean we must have it all.”

Role of Diet & Lifestyle

Support for Superwomen syndrome needs to take a holistic approach incorporating what we put in our bodies, how we move and how we spend our time. Here are a few starting points:

  • FOOD - Wholefoods diet  - good quality protein, wholegrains, lots of colourful and different fruits & vegetables, good fats and plenty of water (think Mediterranean diet);
  • MOVEMENT - Mindful Movement – for example, running is probably not the best form of exercise for a Superwomen, as it only increases the output of cortisol and adrenaline so perhaps choose a yin-type activity like walking, dancing, yoga or Pilates;
  • SLEEP - Good quality sleep by adopting good sleep hygiene or support with supplements can help nourish the nervous system to repair and recharge;
  • MOOD - Acknowledging what gives you the most stress/anxiety or perceived stress, remove it (if possible) or manage it with a good diet, yin-type activity, relaxation techniques and supplements that nourish the nervous system.
  • TIME OUT – literally, taking time out to smell the roses (as my husband always says). I can’t stress this enough for these modern superwomen who tend to naturally be very giving people and therefore don’t give themselves permission to take time for them. They feel guilty if they do. I’m a perfect example of this when I don’t allow myself to read a book during the day, even on a weekend!!. Sounds crazy I know, but I feel guilty if I do and see it as time-wasting and lazy.  Taking time for self-care doesn’t have to involve much. It might be a massage, bath, taking a walk, enjoying a cup of tea whilst doing nothing else, deep breathing for 5 minutes, even reading a book!!!
  • GO SLOW – there is a tendency for a Superwoman to have this perceived need to rush everywhere, quickly and all the time, exclaiming “I’m soooo busy.’ So any changes that you make need to be done slowly and with patience. My son always tells me that I walk fast and he’s right I do without even realising it. And I do it even when I’m not in a hurry, so now I consciously and mindfully try and walk slowly.

Finally, it’s ok to say that you’re overwhelmed and not coping and ask for help. You may just find that you’re not the only Superwoman out there….and that’s a nice feeling.