Women are under alot of stress. With the high demands that both our families and our careers place on us, coupled with the belief that we should be able to do everything on our plate only to discover that we can’t, we have become a society of women putting too much pressure on ourselves. As women, we tend to handle stress differently than men. The natural anti-stress hormone oxytocin is strengthened by estrogen which is a good thing for women. But the problem is women need more oxytocin than men to maintain their emotional health. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), stress is an expression of the body’s natural instinct to protect itself. Prolonged stress can damage our physical and emotional health, which has led to an increase in ulcers, hypertension, and stroke in women. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, the effects of stress on women’s physical and emotional health can also lead to problems such as eating disorders, stomach ailments, sleep problems, heart disease and cancer. Why are women so stressed? While men are more likely to move on from stress quickly, women tend to hold on to this perfectionist (“Superwoman”) ideal, becoming more critical on ourselves and letting the fear of failing control us.
Where Did the Stigma Come From?
The Book: In 1963, author Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” a collection of research ignited by the widespread unhappiness of the majority of women during the 1950s and early 1960s. This book is believed to have sparked the beginning of the 2nd wave of the feminist movement, and with it the beginnings of an era of unachievable expectations which American women placed upon themselves. Today, millions of women are facing a bar raised so high that it’s impossible to meet it. We strive for perfection, both in our personal and our professional lives. But perfection is impossible. Women are not superhuman, yet fall victim to what’s been termed the “superwoman syndrome.” Early feminist leaders told us we could have it all – career, home, husband, and family. Not to mention equality and complete fulfillment. But to have it all, we have to do it all, and doing it all perfectly is unrealistic. We fall short then berate ourselves. It is time that we let go of the Superwoman stigma and focus, instead, on achieving happiness by finding the balance – career, home, husband, and family – that works for our lives.
Career vs. Family: The fact is no one can face a demanding 60-hour a week job and be the same parent they’d be without the stress of a that job. Women suffer from a mentality and expectation that we can (or should be able to) do it all. If we can’t do it all, then we’ve failed. We’ve accepted the feminine credo that we were raised with, hoping that by continuing to strive for more, we were carrying the torch for the next generation of women, a generation of Superwomen. But we’re not doing them any favors. It’s time for women to say “Enough!” and know that it is ok to make choices when it comes to both our personal and professional ambitions.
A Mom Who Knows: In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Drew Barrymore, a celebrity who appears to be doing it all (mother, entertainment mogul, entrepreneur, author) admitted “I never hit the pillow thinking ‘Yup, did it all today.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, phew! I think people at work don’t hate me today and my kids are feeling like Mom was there and this is good’…It’s a hot mess and I need to make the best of [it].” Basically, no one can have it all and that is ok. So how do we change the image of perfection that has haunted generations of women?
Lose the Cape…
News Flash: You don’t have to do it all to be successful. You really don’t. What you need to do is determine what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. Next, actively make changes to your life so you’re doing what makes you happy more often. While actions to change our behavior can be temporary (e.g., starving ourselves to drop a few pounds), if they aren’t met with a new perspective (e.g., make healthy eating a lifestyle), then we will return to the old behavior. We need to change the way we perceive how we want our personal and professional lives to be. If you have a client that’s stressing you out, fire them. It’s ok. Find that you’re overwhelmed with the volunteering that you’re doing? Learn to say no. Build your life recognizing your strengths as well as your weaknesses and know when to ask for help. Finding that you’re too exhausted to keep the house clean? Hire a housekeeper to come in now and then. The few dollars you spend on the help will take a mountain of stress off of your shoulders.
…and Find Your Balance.
Make a Change: So, wants the best way to balance everything? There isn’t. There’s no perfect way to balance everything because we are all different. One person may find balance in waking up before the sun rises to exercise while another person finds balance in sleeping in and getting in a mid-morning workout instead. Some people find balance by hiring someone to paint the kids room instead of painting it themselves, while someone else might welcome the task of painting a room. Balance is about finding what makes us happy and pursuing those activities. In short, we can’t compare ours lives and our habits to what others are doing because what they are doing might not work for us. What they are doing might not make us feel balanced. The end result of a balanced life is one that leaves us happy at the end of every day. Instead of feeling drained and regretting what was not accomplished that day, a balanced person has determined their strengths and their weaknesses, and has made choices between what they want to do and what they don’t want to do. There are resources out there for us when we need them. A balanced person takes advantage of the resources available to her.
“My Mom isn’t Superwoman. But, Boy is She Balanced!”
Be a role model: Mothers are powerful role models for their daughters. Daughters often unconciously imitate and identify with their mothers. The way we handle the stresses in our lives, whether we take things in stride or become easily agitated and overwhelmed, affects our daughters and her perception of how her life should be. It’s the day to day actions we as mothers show our children that teaches them. Because while they may not listen to our instructions or advice, they are watching us intently. Children should know their mother is there for them while also striving to be successful in her career. But she’s not perfect. Show them the difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. They can be successful, but they don’t need to be perfect. As we attain balance in our lives, we find contentment and happiness. And there’s nothing more Super than that.