By Kristin Barton Cuthriell, MEd, MSW, LCSW
Are there days when you feel overwhelmed? So overwhelmed that you feel like shutting down? Maybe you feel like you are wearing too many hats but not wearing any of them effectively. Maybe you feel like your gas tank is hovering right above E, and if something doesn't change soon you will surely run out of gas. Maybe your tank is already empty.
This was the case for thirty-eight-year-old Maria. Feeling totally depleted, Maria came to me for therapy hoping that I could help her better cope with life as a working woman, an exhausted working mother of three.
When she first walked into my office she sat down and looked at me with a warm smile. When she opened her mouth to speak there were no words, only gentle tears. Maria tried to smile through them. I said nothing and extended my hand, offering her a tissue. She would speak when she was ready. All she needed at the moment was a safe place to release the stress, the tension, the frustration, and the exhaustion that was bottled up inside of her.
When Maria began to speak, her story unfolded. The guilt she felt about yelling at her seven-year-old daughter for making her late to a business meeting. The laundry that had piled up, the bills that needed to be paid, and the healthy dinners that should be cooked but were sometimes replaced by something fast and not always so healthy.
After revealing a long list of what she should be doing (which included being a top sales associate at work, the PTA president at the elementary school, and her daughter's girl scout leader), Maria's message was clear. She was totally overwhelmed, exhausted, and felt like she just wasn't good enough... good enough at anything. Being anything less than superwoman felt like failure. The more I listened to Maria, the more I knew the time had come... the time for Maria to put down her super cape.
Many working women can probably relate to Maria. As a working mother myself, I know I can. We wear a lot of hats, and we want to wear them well. We compare ourselves to others and many times we just don't feel good enough. We try to be everything to so many and sometimes feel disconnected from the ones who matter most. We give and we give and many times lose ourselves in the process. We judge ourselves harshly for not doing enough, not being enough, and resent ourselves at the same time for not setting firm enough boundaries and allowing our gas tank to go dry. We long for balance, we long for peace, and we long to know that we are doing a good job even if we fall short of superwoman. Sometimes we need recharging, and we just don't know how to do it.
Maria came to me for help, but I learned so much from her. You see, big change begins with small deliberate daily practices. By reviewing these practices with Maria, I began to practice them again myself. Following her lead, her perseverance, and her courage to change, I also turned my own momentum around. I began to once again practice what I already know.
Maria and I are not alone. Over the years, I have counseled many working women who have tried to wear the super cape for far too long and have become depleted. If this resonates with you, these practices can help.
6 Life Practices for the Overwhelmed Woman
Get in touch with your emotions and know they are temporary.
When you are in a deep dark place, you may feel like you will never experience joy again. It is important to remember that life ebbs and flows, and you will not feel like this forever. You may even feel a little bit better after a walk, a shower, a talk with a friend, or a good night's sleep. Yes, it may take longer than that to feel better, but if you allow yourself to feel your feelings without putting a harsh judgment on them, and you allow yourself to share your pain with a trusted friend, you will eventually feel better. Time really does heal if you allow yourself to feel.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
(From my book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life) Comparing yourself to others is not a true comparison. We are comparing what we know about ourselves on the inside- our fears, insecurities, vulnerabilities, past mistakes, and shortcomings- to our perceptions of others. We haven't walked in their footsteps; we have not experienced their experiences. We are comparing ourselves to some fantasy of what we perceive them to be. When we compare ourselves to others, we also have a tendency to compare what we perceive as our limitations to their perceived strengths. We lose sight of the fact that we may have strengths in areas where they are more limited. If we want to move forward in life, it is important that we maximize our strengths, accept or strengthen our limitations, and appreciate our individuality.
Focus on progress not perfection.
If we have to be perfect to be happy, we will never be happy. Remembering that no human is perfect can help us celebrate our progress. Instead of viewing mistakes as failures, view them as learning opportunities. We must realize that we cannot please everyone and trying to do so will leave us miserable and empty. What we can focus on is letting some things go and recognizing our progress in areas that matter most. Letting go of superwoman doesn't make us a failure. It actually restores our energy for the things that truly matter.
Identify values and make behaviors match.
When life gets busy and stress gets high, it is easy to forget what really matters. We must have some quiet soul-searching self-reflection time so that we can identify what it is we really value and make sure we are living with integrity. Living with integrity brings peace and will prevent a lot of regret. We cannot be everything to everyone, so what can we do? Ask yourself, "What kind of legacy do I want to create?" "What really is important?" Life is short, and one day you will ask yourself, "What did I do with it?" Let that lead you. Avoid putting the things you value most on the backburner. Remember, today you are making memories. What kind of memories do you want to create? Does your lifestyle reflect what matters most?
When your gas tank is empty you have nothing left to give. Treat yourself like you would treat a small child or someone you love. Carve out time for you. You will be a more effective woman both personally and professionally if you take care of you. Exercise, seek support from trusted others, ask for help, keep up with your doctor's appointments, eat healthy foods, get enough rest, and stop putting yourself down! Treat yourself well. You are worth it!
Create realistic expectations.
You must create realistic expectations and know that the superwomen out there eventually get sick. They may be able to keep up with their superwoman schedule for a little while, but eventually they suffer emotionally, physically, and spiritually. All of a sudden (but usually not very sudden at all) depression and anxiety become superwoman's kryptonite. Eventually her immune system becomes compromised, and she becomes seriously ill. It usually takes some kind of crisis to get superwoman to take off her cape and realize that she has always been good enough...even without superpowers.
These are just a few of the practices that Maria began to incorporate into her life while we were working together. Maria found balance in her life. She still worked very hard at the office, but she created a sacred boundary around family time, couple time, and personal renewal time. Maria started celebrating the progress she was making in her life and stopped beating herself up for not being perfect. She knew that with every choice there was a cost and the cost of wearing the super cape was just too great.
Kristin Barton Cuthriell, MEd, MSW, LCSW is a national speaker, an author, and a licensed clinical social worker at Eden Counseling Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Kristin brings over twenty years combined experience as a therapist and a school teacher. She currently works with individuals, couples, families, and groups helping them to improve their lives and relationships. Kristin also speaks to groups and organizations about a variety of topics including overcoming adversity and lowering reactivity to increase productivity.
She is on the program committee at Seton Youth Shelters and has been a faculty member and presenter at the 2015 West Coast Symposium for Addictive Disorders. Kristin is the author of the popular book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life and has written for Tidewater Women and Richmond Magazine. She has been the quoted expert for Fox News Magazine and has been a guest on The Hampton Roads Show, Doctor Radio, and other radio programs throughout the country. Kristin is also the founder of www.thesnowballeffect.com, an educational and inspirational website.