Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Take off the cape and take care of yourself.
What’s not to admire about women who are able to get it all done and look good while doing it? We see images of this all the time in the media. There are women I admire for what appears to be their superhuman ability to lead in their work and at home, serve in their communities, juggling a myriad of commitments with grace. The oft-used phrase “I don’t know how she does it?” is symptomatic of society that glamorizes the multi-tasking woman who spreads herself thin and tackles everything that’s lobbed at her without complaint. Don’t get me wrong, women are strong and capable of doing it all. But should we?
This superhuman ideal creates a pressure for many women to do it all in order to feel validated and worthy. I have a friend who has a very successful career in financial services. Despite the long hours and stressful days, she still insists on cleaning her home. She does this, not because cleaning is a relaxing meditative activity as it is for some, but because she actually feels guilty if she doesn’t do something that “should be” her responsibility. Not cleaning somehow makes her feel like she doesn’t have it all together. She has the financial means to hire a service to help her, but instead spends time on another draining chore that ultimately takes her away from the limited time she has available to rest and recharge. She is one of a several women I’ve known who have experienced burnout from living up to a superwoman ideal of doing it all, including myself.
Burnout is Real
According to Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment, and inability to function effectively on a personal or professional level. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It can creep up on us after a long period of self-neglect. I’ve experienced this myself personally. Moving from a rigorous MBA program to a demanding career in management consulting, I found myself become increasingly fatigued, forgetful, irritable and anxious, more prone to getting sick. I drank more coffee to help myself stay awake and focused, keep my energy up, stay on my A game. But this was a band-aid and matters became worse. At one point I had to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night because I had trouble breathing. I was moving through life too fast, trying to keep up and juggle everything, while neglecting to see a doctor for what became a severe bronchial infection. Sadly this was not my only burnout moment; it took a while for me to realize that this was not OK.
Burnout is often rooted in factors such as a perceived a lack of control of our lives, perfectionism for what is expected of us, lack of social support, and even dysfunctional or inequitable dynamics in our professional and personal relationships. A University of Montreal study found that women have more exposure to these contributing factors.
Self Care is Not Selfish
I preach the power of self care to anyone who will listen, and especially to my overworked clients. Self care does not have to be an elaborate indulgence (or it can be if that’s what you love and have the time or money to spend on such things). The point is to replenish yourself so that you feel balanced and whole, which enhances your ability to prioritize your time for what matters most to you and give to those priorities fully.
Here are four questions I have my clients ask themselves to bring more self care into their lives:
What activities nourish my need for joy and play, and how can I schedule those in?
Where can I fit more time for rest into my day?
What can I delegate to others so I have more time to care for myself?
What boundaries do I need to set on my time?
There may be times when you feel selfish about practicing self care. Remember two things. The people you care about don’t get the best of you when you cycle through burnout. And second, making yourself a priority is never something to feel guilty about. By answering these four questions above, you can begin creating the conditions in your life to hang up your hero cape and put a little tender-loving-care into yourself.