Do You Have Superwoman Syndrome?

Doing too much can be bad for your health

Young career woman working with child on lap

Doing too much can be bad for your health

If you think you have to do it all — juggle a career, family, your home, exercise and social activities — you may have a condition called “Superwoman Syndrome.” A term first coined in 1984, Superwoman Syndrome occurs when a woman neglects herself because she is seeking to “do it all” to perfection and stretching herself too thin. 

“The idea that fulfilling all of your roles and responsibilities to perfection will lead to a lifetime of happiness and balance is not realistic, nor should it be,” says Jennifer Duong, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas. “Instead of feeling fulfilled, you can find yourself feeling stressed, anxious and chronically fatigued.”

Recognize the symptoms

Typical Superwomen — moms, professionals, wives, homemakers, volunteers, community organizers, athletes — experience a multitude of symptoms that reveal how stressed they are. Are any of these symptoms familiar?

  • Bouts of irritability
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Memory issues
  • Muscle tension
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating when not physically active
  • Inability to concentrate
  • General aches and pains

“It’s important to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you,” says Dr. Duong. “Aspiring to a level of perfectionism that is not attainable and sacrificing your well-being consistently will inevitably lead to stress and unhappiness.”

Accumulated stress opens the door to a multitude of health issues, including early aging, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and gastrointestinal conditions. 

Take off the costume

To overcome the Superwoman Syndrome and untie your cape, check out these tips:

Ask for help

You cannot do everything yourself, so designate a sidekick with whom you can share tasks and delegate duties.

“It’s not weak to ask for help,” says Dr. Duong. “Your family and friends may think you have it all handled and that you don’t want their help. Let them know what you need and how they can assist you.”

Take time out for you

Schedule breaks into your calendar and hold yourself to it. Daily meditation, mindfulness practice or yoga will relieve stress and help you to slow down. Take a break by getting a massage, reading a book or taking a walk. The key is to start taking care of yourself. 

Learn to say no

“No” is not a dirty word. Start saying no to things that you don’t want, or don’t have the time, to do.

“Figure out what your priorities are and say “no” to everything else,” says Dr. Duong. “Giving yourself the gift of time will soon become second nature, and you will be better able to nurture others when you are not running on empty.”

Set achievable goals

Set goals according to how you want to live. If you don’t know where to start, try making a list of all the important areas of your life (family, job, friends, community, etc.). Draw a circle and divide it up like a pie chart, according to how much each area is taking up of your life. Does it match up with how you want to live your life? If not, list small actions you can take to shift the circle so it aligns more with your ideals.

Let go of perfectionism

Remember that your house doesn’t have to be clean 24 hours a day, dinner doesn’t have to be on the table every night at the same time, and you can’t be the perfect employee all the time. Take time to relax and enjoy your family.

“Just because you can have and do it all doesn’t necessarily mean you should,” says Dr. Duong. “It’s important to identify what you personally want and what is important to you. Superwoman is a fictional character, not a role model, and trying to be her isn’t sustainable or healthy.”

MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Trevor Hoffman is featured on the cover of the March issue of San Diego Health.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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