Superperson Syndrome

Liane Caryl, M.D.

Liane Caryl, M.D.

By Liane Caryl, M.D.

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…’s Superman…in the pursuit of truth, justice and the American Way!”

Wait a minute, you think….I do things like that all day long, in the pursuit of more important endeavors like a clean house, a profitable business, happy children and dinner ready on time – the true test of superhuman strength. Where’s MY red cape?

Sit down for two seconds and ask yourself – am I living a Superlife?

Superpeople frequently are entrepreneurs, professionals, or other high-achievers, and are most likely to be women. They are the queens of multi-tasking, and often are taking care of both personal and professional responsibilities alone. Watch one go through her day – she makes a circus juggling act look easier than tying a shoe.

Unfortunately, all that selfless activity can have a price. Entrepreneurs, professionals, and high-achievers are at risk for burn-out, otherwise known as the Superperson Syndrome.

Burn-out refers to the stressful feeling that comes with trying to do too much for others and not giving any time back to yourself. Oftentimes these folks are perfectionistic, and take on extra tasks to make sure things get done correctly, or to try and accomplish the work of five people within a 24 hour period. They may perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness.

Other common consequences associated with burn-out include:

* exhaustion
* feeling overwhelmed
* hopelessness
* lack of enthusiasm
* low energy
* a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
* depression
* change in appetite (eating too much or too little)
* change in sleep patterns (insomnia or sleeping too much)
* muscle tension
* headaches
* anxiety

Stress can manifest itself either physically or mentally. We all have individual stress signals. Your body is very smart. When you are out of gas either physically, mentally or both, your body sends out a cry for help in the form of a stress signal, which can be one or more symptoms from the above list. If you don’t pay attention to this signal and ease the stress, you will get a wake-up call disguised as a physical or mental problem that will really rock you and send you running for medical help. Then, after the work-up, and a review of the lab results, the doctor will diagnose stress and tell you to take a break – exactly what your body was trying to tell you all along.

I will share with you a personal example. I’m a psychiatrist and a public speaker. One Sunday morning I had a presentation to make and woke up with laryngitis. No voice would come out. I delivered the speech in a whisper. I developed laryngitis a few times again afterwards, which made my work as a psychiatrist difficult. It was then that I realized that laryngitis was the wake-up call, and prior to that, an impending sore throat and hoarseness were my stress signals.

In simple terms, all this means that you have no balance between your personal and professional responsibilities. It is time to be selfish and take care of yourself. As altruistic as he is, even Superman takes time out. He has to recharge his Super battery by soaking up sun rays. Great idea – sit in the sun. Just be careful not to collapse from exhaustion and end up with a sunburn.

Other ways you can ease stress:

1. Delegate responsibility – pass off the tasks that you don’t particularly enjoy to someone else – if you are in business alone, hire people to do the things that don’t require your immediate input. Do what needs to be done that day and then take a break.
2. Say “no” to things you don’t want to do – stop trying to please others and concentrate on pleasing yourself
3. Be less accommodating (especially if you work at home) – set up strict office hours, let telephone callers leave a message on voicemail
4. Identify your goals – what do you really want to accomplish professionally? Are you on the path to those goals, or spending time being busy? What do you want to accomplish personally? Have you even started working on those accomplishments? Are you in the right career to begin with?
5. Make play time for yourself – get a massage, go out to lunch, go shopping, take a class in something fun and creative, like painting or singing. Spend more time playing with your children, walk your dog, work out. Don’t worry – work and household chores will always be there.

You do not have to be perfect. Even Superman isn’t perfect. Throw a little kryptonite his way and he’s toast. He is the Man of Steel, so he doesn’t get that emotional feeling of failure. But then, emotional ups and downs are part of being human. And humans are not perfect.

You don’t need the red cape. But you do need to give yourself permission to be imperfect, and to be selfish and take care of yourself first, especially when you get your stress signals. You will be no good to anyone else if you are not feeling well.

Finally, if you do none of the stress busters mentioned above – laugh. It will get you through the day. Doctor’s orders.

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