Is Superwoman Syndrome a Public Health Crisis? Interview with Integrative Physician Tasneem Bhatia, MD

Wife, mother, breadwinner, homemaker . . . today’s women juggle a number of different roles.

However, “having it all” — relationship, children, fulfilling career and more — can also mean having a few things you don’t want, such as stress-related illnesses.

What is superwoman syndrome?

“The superwoman syndrome, to me, is essentially a public health crisis where women are over-stretched, not connected to themselves, and are set up to catch or develop any of the major chronic diseases we see today, which include cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, obesity, hypertension . . . you name it,” explained integrative medicine physician Tasneem Bhatia, MD, in her interview with Life Extension’s Michael A. Smith, MD. “Women are really struggling, and they get there because of this mantra that we’ve just got to ‘power through.’”1-3

The good news is that you may not have to give up being a superwoman if you follow a few simple guidelines and stay connected to who you are.

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Is Superwoman a bad role model?

Look — up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Superman — iconic hero of comic books, movies and T.V. — is well known for his ability to charge forward determinedly above the crowds of the city on his latest mission, leaving onlookers in awe. "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!"

Over the decades of the character’s popularity, it hasn’t been unusual to hear children say that they wanted to grow up to be like Superman — or Superwoman.

There’s just one problem, though.

Superheroes aren’t real and trying to be one can negatively affect health

And when men or women attempt to emulate this fantasy role model, they’re likely to crash and burn.

According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics for 2017, 70% of mothers with children that are under the age of 18 participate in the labor force, and more than 75% them are employed full-time.4 “I have been in my integrative practice for over ten years here in Atlanta, and I continue to be astounded and amazed by all the incredible women who are juggling and trying to put the pieces of their lives together,” Dr. Bhatia told Dr. Mike.

“The mantra amongst women today is ‘I just need to power through this.’”

“They continue to ignore their health signs, their mental health, their passions, their needs and their wants. At some point they get that ‘crash and burn,’ and it can come in different ways and different voices.”

Why did this happen to me? The moment of realization

When patients come to Dr. Bhatia seeking an understanding of how they arrived at their current health challenges, they often have an “aha” moment in which the nature of the problem and the need to pay attention to themselves becomes clear. The moment is so powerful, they find themselves wishing they’d had the revelation five or ten years earlier.

Dr. Bhatia knows this from personal experience. She experienced the superwoman syndrome in her twenties.

Those moments of self-revelation and understanding can result in greater energy and more power to bring to life all one wants to accomplish, according to Dr. Bhatia. “I really want women to be educated about this!”

Pay attention to yourself and your health

“Obviously, we can’t tell women to stop doing the amazing things they do,” Dr. Mike observed. “So, how we can help them attain their goals without neglecting their well-being?”

“The number one thing is for women to take the time to have a conversation with themselves, and understand their health and their chemistry,” Dr. Bhatia replied.

“I think the first step is reconnecting to yourself.”

She noted that women need to make time, even if it’s just five minutes, to forge that connection. Yoga, journaling, prayer or meditation are among ways of accomplishing this goal.

Rule number two is not to dismiss one’s symptoms. Fatigue, pain, crying spells and other symptoms can be body clues that one’s life is imbalanced. It goes without saying that one should seek the opinion of a medical provider when experiencing these or other symptoms.

Dr. Bhatia noted that many women need to find out what foods, exercises, supplements and sleep routines support them.

A third guideline, according to Dr. Bhatia, is to know one’s “power type,” a tool that is described in her book, The Super Woman Rx.5 These five whimsically-named female types are based on responses to a questionnaire formulated by Dr. Bhatia in order to help personalize and guide health recommendations.

From victimhood to empowerment: live smarter not harder

As a physician, best-selling author, international lecturer, acupuncturist, certified nutritionist, prevention/integrative health expert, mother and wife, Dr. Bhatia sounds a lot like a superwoman herself.

She believes that, rather being victims of the superwoman role, women can be empowered by it.

“I have more energy today, in my forties, than I did back in my twenties because I know how to care for myself,” she said.

“Put just as much energy into you as you do into achieving or caring for others to make sure you’re in this for the long haul.”

About Live Foreverish: Join Dr. Mike as he sits down with some of today’s leading medical, health, and wellness experts to discuss a variety of health-related topics. From whole-body health to anti-aging and disease prevention, you’ll get the latest information and helpful advice to help you live your life to the fullest. See the full list of Live Foreverish Podcast episodes, available on demand.

References
  1. Woods-Giscombé CL. Qual Health Res. 2010 May;20(5):668-83.
  2. Matuska K et al. OTJR (Thorofare N J). 2016 Apr;36(2):74-81.
  3. Sampasa-Kanyinga H et al. Prev Med. 2017 Mar;96:16-20.
  4. DeWolf M. “12 Stats About Working Women.” U.S. Department of Labor, 1 Mar 2017, https://blog.dol.gov/2017/03/01/12-stats-about-working-women
  5. Bhatia, Tasneem. The Super Woman Rx. New York: Rodale Books, Crown Publishing Group. 2017. Print.

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