The Stressed Super Hero Unmasked

Are you a super man, woman, mom, dad, colleague, boss, friend? Do you categorize yourself as someone who likes to be everything to everybody? Many women and men today exhibit symptoms of chronic stress and burn out from the effort expended believing the myth that they can do it all! Our brains may convince us that we can over-achieve; however, our hearts are breaking down from the valiant attempts to keep up with the exaggerated expectations of our thoughts and ideas. In his fascinating book, The Heart’s Code, Dr. Paul Pearsall helps us to understand that the over active brain can be a cause of heart disease. Also, the late Harriet Braiker in her book, The Type E Woman, urged women to stop holding themselves to impossibly high standards in many or all areas of their lives.

Once these hidden attitudes and expectations take over, patterns become habits, and the struggle to make healthy changes, will compare to someone struggling with an addiction.

Can we become addicted to stress? When we over-try or over-work, our body produces adrenalin. This is useful in our fight or flight bodily response. Our tired bodies can ‘enjoy’ quite a high from the adrenalin rushes that result when we push ourselves constantly. As an ex adrenalin junkie myself, I feel nauseous if the hormone kicks in during a hectic day now, but it felt great years ago!

In changing the habit of the super hero mentality (I secretly called myself Wonder Woman), we may have success by addressing these steps in the re-training process:

1. Identify and modify the underlying, exaggerated attitudes, beliefs, and expectations

2. Change the habits associated with these mistaken beliefs

Let’s look at some of the hidden goals for:

· Being stressed constantly

· Wanting to be a super hero

When we are constantly stressed out, we become distant emotionally in our relationships and we have little time for intimacy. It’s a great way to prevent emotional attachments. Also, we probably have little time for fun or positive energy, so people will keep their distance.

  • Is there evidence of emotional distancing in your relationships? If yes, why?

When we constantly work very hard, this may help us to seem important or if we perceive that our endeavours are essential, that may make us feel important.

  • Do you get something out of your over-effort that boosts your sense of self? If yes, what?

When we are super stressed, we are able to avoid other areas of responsibility in our lives. Others may have to pick up pieces that we cannot, given the nature of our over-focus.

  • Are there areas where you are so over-focused that you are unable to take responsibility for other aspects of your life? If yes, where?

When we are constantly stressed, our tolerance is lowered and we may adopt a more authoritarian (Do as I say!) or controlling style of interpersonal interaction.

  • Do you see yourself as a person who likes to take control or who gets impatient with a more democratic process in the family or at work? If yes, why?

Our reasons for wanting to be a super hero may be just as varied as the possible reasons for constantly choosing stress. When we feel needed by others our sense of adequacy is elevated.

  • Do you use the super hero as a way to feel better about yourself? If yes, how?

When we are over-helping we may receive special attention or feel in the spotlight.

  • Do you need more attention than you would get from taking care of yourself, too? If yes, why?

Sometimes our need to be a super hero comes from the need to be perfect at all that we do.

  • Is it important to do things perfectly? If yes, why?

Another possible reason for choosing the super hero lifestyle comes from a need to be first, to be the best, to be competitive and to win.

  • Do you see these qualities in yourself? If yes, what is the pay off for you?

There are likely many more examples and reasons that I haven’t used, but hopefully you get the idea that uncovering these hidden goals or agendas may help identify the mistaken beliefs which create unhealthy, stressed individuals and relationships.

Making changes to our habits regarding over-work and stress is a major challenge because the body gets into a groove of being over-stimulated and then adapts to the lack of balance. So to make changes, we must understand that on all levels we are trying to tinker with a system that is well established and functioning, although unhealthily. Small steps are in order here.

Here are several suggestions:

  • There are books, pamphlets and CDs that help with the relaxation, meditation aspect of helping the body and mind to slow down.
  • One area to consider is your current language. You may use words and phrases that increase your potential toward hurry and worry. For example: rush, faster, ASAP, hustle it up, no time to dally, it’s an emergency, it’s a disaster, help!! Instead, choose words and phrases that create more ease and calm (both good words!).Other “good” words are breathe, simple, relax, there is enough time, no worries, it’s OK.
  • ·Find the fun, joy and humour that is all around you. The more you take notice, the more it may come from within you.
  • Let go of the feelings that exist with impossibly high standards: guilt, depression, discouragement, and inadequacy. When you feel this way, release your feelings using journaling, let go of the self-judgment and give yourself some encouraging messages.
  • Work with a counsellor, a coach or with a good self-help book and start to change your inner tapes through daily affirmations and intentions. Louise Hay’s system, You Can Heal Your Life, is an excellent resource for women. Dr Bernie Siegel has many tapes and CDs that both men and women would find helpful.
  • You may find that you are hypersensitive to negative feedback and criticism. In the book, The Four Agreements, Miguel Ruiz encourages us not to personalize anyone else’s words. This way, you do not get drawn into a stressful argument where you also get into attack mode.
  • Finally, reach out. Ask for help, delegate, allow friends to support you which allows for mutual giving. In this experience you are asked to learn to receive. Superheroes are not strong in this aspect of relationship.

The road to taking off the mask, cape or super hero outfit is a process of small steps. Each new choice creates the possibility for renewed energy, more balance and happiness that comes from an equal sharing of giving and receiving between individuals, whose self-esteem is derived from ‘being’ as well as ‘doing’.

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