Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Saving Superwoman

By Sara Engle von Bernthal

Superwoman has a familiar face. She is the woman in the mirror, and she dwells in the millions of other working women struggling to balance a challenging career with the demands of family, friends and managing a household – all while endeavoring to make the world a better place. While the opportunities for women in the workplace have expanded exponentially, Superwoman’s obligations outside of the office have not diminished. Although “having it all” and “doing it all” can be worthwhile endeavors, the competing demands on Superwoman’s time and energy can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, as we are all aware, chronic stress arising from too many obligations (and too little time) can result in anxiety, depression, and even disease. As a busy attorney and mother of three teenaged daughters, I know too well how easily Superwoman can succumb to the pressures of this balancing act. In an effort to save Superwoman, I offer the following suggestions for managing the stress of being Superwoman (some of which I have made a regular habit – and others of which I aspire to incorporate into my busy life).

1. Ask for help. When feeling overwhelmed with responsibility, Superwoman should delegate work. For example, she can ask a colleague for help on a project and/or ask her husband, partner or children to take on some additional tasks around the house. A little laundry and dishes for the kids and a grocery list for the husband can be character-building for Superwoman’s family! If she can afford it, Superwoman may even want to consider hiring some outside help. That bi-monthly cleaning lady and/or nanny can be a godsend!

2. Manage Expectations. First, Superwoman must manage the expectations of her boss and/or client. If she simply does not have time in her schedule to take on a new project, she can assist in making arrangements for a co-worker with greater availability to handle the project. Alternatively, she can coordinate with her boss or client to establish a mutually acceptable deadline for the completion of the project. If Superwoman can’t reasonably juggle chairing that school fundraising event with her other obligations – she can just say “no” (graciously, of course)! Next, and more importantly, Superwoman needs to adjust her own expectations. Superwoman’s house does not need to shine like the top of the Empire State Building. She needs to take a breather from those “Type-A” tendencies, and let a few things go!

3. Make Time for Self and Friends. Superwoman needs to make time for herself. Read a book. Take a bubble bath. Watch TV. It is okay to take a break from the endless demands of being Superwoman. Equally as important as making time for herself, Superwoman should make time for friends – even if it is just a periodic phone call to check in, blow off steam, or share successes. Staying connected with the important people in her life can be a rewarding commitment.

4. Exercise. Nothing takes the edge off of stress like a little exercise. Superwoman should find exercise activities she enjoys. Go for a run, walk, swim, or bike ride. Play tennis. Sweat it out at the gym! And then add weight-lifting exercises to maximize metabolism. Any activities which get the blood moving have been shown to reduce stress, and improve health and longevity – all critical to the Superwoman lifestyle.

5. Enjoy a Healthy Diet. Indulgences aside (which every Superwoman needs to enjoy on occasion), the benefits of a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, lean proteins, water, green tea (and a little vino) are clear. Superwoman will feel better, be more resistant to illness, minimize sugar and caffeine-induced heart racing, and have more energy to save the world if she treats her body to the proper nutrients.

6. Just Breathe. This one is my personal challenge. When stressed, I often hold any breath or become mired in shallow breathing. Superwoman should take time to breathe slowly and deeply periodically during the day. Yoga and meditation are amazing opportunities for Superwoman to tune in to her body and her breathing! A little meditation (even just five minutes to start the day) goes a long way toward establishing peace, serenity and balance for the remainder of the day.

7. Practice Gratitude. Taking time to appreciate her many blessings is one of the most important things that Superwoman can do for herself. Making a practice (even if it is just while commuting to work) of being grateful for her family, spouse, friends, health, career, pet, home – even the weather (when the opportunity arises) can set the tone for a happy and fulfilling life for Superwoman. The fact that Superwoman has so many aspects of her life to juggle is, in itself, a blessing!

The challenges facing Superwoman are daunting. However, by making herself a priority, Superwoman can continue to thrive in the workplace – all while becoming a happier and healthier woman, and a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner and co-worker. And, oh yeah, while saving herself, she might even save the world…