How Superwomen Stay Sane
“So much time, so little to see…wait a minute–strike that, reverse it.” -Willy Wonka
There are 168 hours in a week, so there should be plenty of time to indulge in a few self-care hours, right? Put your feet up. Lounge in the tub. Hit a yoga class or two. Binge watch Real Housewives .
So why do we feel like there is no time left at the end of the week when all of the other priorities are scratched off the list? And why is it that when all of those priorities are tended to, with neat little check marks in front of all of the items on the to-do list, we feel sapped, not exhilarated?
Superwomen know how to get stuff done. You’ve seen her in action: she swoops in, picks up that upended car about to explode, lifts it as if it were made of cotton, and flies off with it, depositing it safely out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, the oven is preheating and there is a load of laundry running.
But there is a cost for all of this capability. In articles posted earlier this week, we discussed the physical and emotional consequences for ignoring self-care in order to be everything to everyone. Dubbed “Superwoman Syndrome”, today’s woman is more stressed, more depleted, and more unhealthy than ever before.
In this two-part series, you’ll hear from a functional medicine doctor (Dr. Tiffany Mullen), a naturopathic doctor (Dr. Julie Briley), and a health & wellness coach (Patty Stark) on tips and tricks to surviving and thriving in the face of Superwoman Syndrome. Read on!
Your Symptoms ARE Real
I know the Superwoman well. Heck, I AM that woman! It seems like it is becoming more and more common for me to see women who are literally hanging by a thread before they seek help. They are exhausted, emotional, hormonally imbalanced, often ignoring their basic needs (sleep, exercise, good nutrition) so that they can take care of everything at home and at work. Most–if not all–have adrenal fatigue.
It is also interesting to me how many different ways women present with hormonal imbalances, thyroid imbalances, or adrenal fatigue. Some have no hormonal issues, some have estrogen dominance, others progesterone deficiency. Many have been told that their thyroid is fine by a traditional (transactional) medical professional, but they’ve only had a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level done before they are marched out the door. And adrenal fatigue–well, if you want to see an endocrinologist get really fired up, tell them “I think I have adrenal fatigue”, and stand back while they go off, then march you out the door.
The first step in staying sane is getting confirmation that you are indeed that: SANE!
Your symptoms are real. And they can be measured, evaluated, and appropriately sorted out. If you aren’t receiving a personalized care plan that looks at root cause, deeply analyzes all related problems, and is delivered by a physician who will hang in there with you for the long run, you aren’t receiving the care you deserve.
Tips to Balance Your Cortisol Levels
When well-balanced, cortisol is naturally highest in the morning to help us wake up and then slowly tapers in the afternoon and evening so we sleep well. Cortisol is secreted on a circadian rhythm, meaning it follows our internal 24- hour clock. Salivary testing at four different times of the day allows us to see what your individual cortisol curve like. As a naturopathic doctor, I find that the Superwoman can be at various stages of adrenal fatigue based on how long and how hard she’s working to save the day for everyone else.
For some, cortisol can be elevated throughout the day, or low all day, or have a zig-zag pattern, or spike at night instead of the morning. While the road to recovery can take time, the good news is that there are simple diet and lifestyle changes that can help restore a normal cortisol curve.
These strategies basically help to remind your body when cortisol should be high (in the morning) and low (at night). Since cortisol is made on a circadian rhythm, having a good daily routine with consistent bedtime and waking time, regularly timed meas, and and exercise are essential to restoring cortisol production.
Here are some tips to get your started:
Focus on daily movement rather than strenuous exercise which can be more depleting when you are already exhausted. Walking, yoga, and stretching can all be nourishing activities.
Exposure to natural sunlight (even in cloudy skies) first thing in the morning and during the day can help improve daytime cortisol levels, boosting energy and mood. In addition, avoid artificial light (especially blue light) from TVs, phone, and computers at least 1-2 hours before bed, and sleep in a completely dark room.
Keep your blood sugar stable by eating regular meals, including a protein-rich breakfast. Skipping meals causes extra stress on your adrenal glands.
Meals should be balanced with protein, (fish, poultry, meat, bean, nuts), healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds) and high-fiber carbohydrates (vegetables, including dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans).
Avoid refined carbohydrates (white breads, pasta, and processed foods) and added sugars, which cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, contributing to more fatigue and weight gain.
Avoid caffeine . While it may seem like a good idea to get a jolt when you’re feeling fatigued, caffeine leads to energy crashes later in the day, and can affect your sleep. If you are already hooked on caffeine to get through the day, I recommend slowly weaning down while increasing adrenal support herbs and nutrients in order to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Resilience and How to Develop it
If you’ve ever observed a Superwoman in action, you might consider she’s immune to the day to day struggles we all endure. You might imagine she was born with resilience ! Well, not likely. In fact, according to The American Psychological Association, “ Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”
This is good news for us not living in the world of Superheroes but still longing for their powers. We can LEARN how to be more resilient and therefore, reduce our overall stress load. What might this look like?
Here are 5 ways to build YOUR resilience starting today!
- Make Connections : This may take some work up front, but having a community with whom you can count on will provide many stress reducing dividends in the long run. Show up for your neighbor’s Mom’s funeral. One, because it’s the right thing to do. But two, because she will see how you went the extra mile. When your son needs a ride home from soccer practice, she’s your go-to pal.
- See a Crisis as a Big Project that can be Broken into Small Steps : Life happens. And sometimes it gets painful and messy and overwhelming. But, taking time to breathe, leaning on connections (see above) and trying to grasp the big picture can all help you stop and take the baby steps often required to move through a crisis.
- Take care of yourself . Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience. It’s hard to start a self-care plan in the midst of a crisis. But if self-care is already a habit, it will be a delightful ally in the midst of a critical situation.
- Accept that change is a part of living “font-size: 16px;”>. In the midst of an adverse situation, give yourself permission to live in the sadness or anger or frustration for a while, just observing the emotions and the pain. It’s real. It’s normal. But at some point, it’s good to develop a strategy to move on, at least for a temporary respite.
- Keep things in perspective. “font-size: 16px;”> Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion. Your child came home with lice and pink eye, all in one day! You want to call the school and ask how can this be? You want to scream and have a tantrum because your marketing presentation is the next day and you can’t be home combing bugs out of your kid’s head! Let yourself be vulnerable. Ask for help.
“font-size: 16px;”>Chances are, over half of your community (see 1. Connections) has endured the same crisis. They are there for you!
At Vytal Health, we focus on solving health problems others can’t. Our video appointments bring experts from across the country into your home or office and are great for everyone as they fit into our crazy and hectic schedules and ensure that you have the time you need to feel heard and get all of your questions answered.