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Superhero Syndrome: How To Overcome Work Stress Before It Burns You

In the last couple of years, work stress has manifested into something far worse than feeling fatigued and overwhelmed. The buzzword circulating through today’s doctor and therapist offices is “superhero syndrome,” an issue that’s slowing creeping into an epidemic. While it may sound like a silly term, the way such stress is affecting people’s minds and bodies is no joke.

The term comes from the characteristics of fictional superheroes who can do everything and anything all in a short period of time, and, not just that, but do everything perfectly. This mindset might sound familiar to you or sound like someone you know. It’s that nagging pressure to just do it all without a hitch, which is humanly impossible. This work stress syndrome largely affects women, who typically have work outside of home, whether it’s a second job, a family, household duties or groups and clubs.

During the ’80s, we jumped over a huge societal stereotype; that women can’t be mothers and career-holders at the same time. The working woman became an inspirational image, but really started to push the seemingly harmless point that women can do it all. Now, in 2018, with social media, high expectations to work nearly 24 hours a day, and the pressure to show others that you’re living the best life, it’s no surprise that many people are being affected with superhero syndrome. The mindset “she can run her own business and be a senior editor, so can I” or “he can have a family and be an executive, so can I” has taken a sharp turn into “they can do it all, why can’t I?” The inspiration has diminished into the toxic idea of never being good enough. This is how overworking, burnout, exhaustion, mental health disorders, self-hatred, and stress can manifest and worsen.

Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, MD experienced this during a time in which there was no name for it; or even a solution. On her podcast with goop and in an interview with Well+Good, she discusses that, even though this work stress starts in the mind, your physical health is also severely impacted.

“It’s managing a team at work but secretly having gut probs. It’s pursuing different creative outlets but hiding a crippling anxiety. Being a busy mom but struggling with maintaining a healthy weight,” she said to Well+Good.

Dr. Bhatia found that, when she was going through all of this, she began losing hair, feeling exhausted, and started getting acne. It can develop in your body in multiple ways, and often can be passed off as something else. It’s better to recognize it before you get to a point where you’re in constant pain and stress feels like your only emotion.

How do you know if you have superhero syndrome? There a few things to consider.

First, are you consistently putting pressure on yourself to achieve unreasonable results? If you find that your work life balance has morphed into work-work balance, that’s a red flag right there. Do you often say yes to everything and never find time for yourself? Do you feel like you have expectations to do everything, without failing, messing up or taking too long? Are these sounding familiar? Then there’s a strong chance you’re dealing with this work stress problem, too.

The constant burden you have on yourself — whether it’s been brought on by colleagues, friends, family and managers — isn’t healthy. Removing yourself from the guilt, anxiety and stress you feel when you can’t do it all, is essential for feeling your best. Thankfully, there are ways to cope and break out of this mindset.

Dr. Bhatia wrote a book that’s a helpful tool in combating this syndrome. It’s often the case that people dealing with this discuss it with others who aren’t. Because of this, it’s easy to feel like you’re overreacting, failing, crazy or misunderstood. Speaking to a therapist or a neutral third party about how you’re feeling is a safer way to be heard and work through it.

When you’re beyond the point of “stressed” and into the superhero syndrome territory, it’s harder to make it out by yourself. Talking with someone can lead to the next steps like planning time for yourself, actually taking vacation days and PTO, and lowering unrealistic standards. It’s unfortunate that this is such a common problem now, but it’s not the end of the world, thankfully.

As tips and resources for overworked, overstressed people become more accessible, we can start breaking down the expectation to be “on” 24/7. Working through it means that you’re one person closer to breaking our modern day pressure to flawlessly make everything happen. You’re not alone, and you deserve to put your cape aside and avoid such work stress in your life.

All images via Getty

Melissa Epifano

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Melissa Epifano

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