The world has come to a halt due to novel coronavirus (Covid-19). This pandemic is one of a kind and people all around the globe are going through a multitude of problems in all spheres; adjustments in terms of financial, physical and psychological domains. The current lifestyle contradicts the ‘ideal’ lifestyle; we are recommended to stay home and not exert as much and avoid socialisation. With individuals restricted within four walls, the chances of mental health taking a hit are extremely high. According to a survey, women conveyed their distress over having a work overload due to the unavailability of domestic help and taking care of the entire family since everyone is mostly locked down together (National et al., 2020). The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 has deeply affected those individuals with existing mental health conditions.

While we are aware of major health concerns, there are many conditions that are not severe enough to medicate, but can lead to unfavourable outcomes if not detected and worked upon. One such syndrome is called “Superwoman Syndrome”.

APA defines ‘Superwoman Syndrome’ as ‘A set of characteristics found in a woman who performs or attempts to perform all the duties typically associated with several different full-time roles, such as wage earner, mother, homemaker, and wife.’ ("APA Dictionary of Psychology", n.d.)

The term Superwoman Syndrome was coined by Majorie Hansen Shaevitz in the year 1984 in her book by the same name. This syndrome occurs when a woman is pushing her boundaries and striving for perfection in everything under the sun and anything less feels like a failure. A woman showing symptoms of this syndrome will engage in behaviours such as putting other people’s needs before hers, taking up the responsibility for everything, not being able to say ‘No’, establishing her self-worth on the results accomplished, among many others. While it looks good on the outside, more often than not, the woman tends to not feel good on the inside, tends to guilty and finds herself perpetually unhappy because after a point the level of perfectionism she strives to achieve becomes unattainable.

For a woman who is working, the superwoman syndrome can help accomplish goals (short-term and long-term), in addition help them shift their energy and focus, but given the circumstance, it negatively impacts their mental health. In addition, there are a lot of women who are working from home and working in home simultaneously. Along with the uncertainty posed by the pandemic, women have to tend to the needs of their family as well. For a woman who has superwoman syndrome, it can get extremely difficult especially during a time like this because she strives to be the best in work as well as her home. If she considers herself as a failure (which is a common finding among women with this syndrome) she may engage in negative evaluation which may have negative consequences upon her mental health. Superwoman Syndrome can further lead to other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Negative impact of superwoman syndrome:

  • Issues with memory
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Irritability
  • Body ache
  • Low mood
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Eating disorders

Types of Superwoman by Dr.Bhatia ("What is superwoman syndrome? | Well + Good", 2020)

  1. Boss lady: Known for their wit as well as intelligence, these women put demands on themselves to a point where it affects their happiness and health (physical/mental). They are prone to insomnia, constipation and acne.
  2. Savvy Chick: They are described as someone who balances between an artist and commander-in-chief. When out of balance, she faces migraines and anxiety.
  3. Earth Mama: As the name implies, Earth mama is filled with compassion. Because she constantly occupies herself with the needs of others, she ends up gaining weight, depression, hypertension among others.
  4. Nightingale: Nightingales are selfless women. They long to bring improvements in the world, small or big. They are prone to insomnia, hormonal imbalances and allergies.
  5. Gypsy Girl: Gypsy women tend to be creative, imaginative in a creative space. They are prone to fatigue, hair loss, anxiety and insomnia.

Connecting Superwoman syndrome to some of the core values of PSR: ("Core Principles and Values | PRA - Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association", n.d.)

  1. Self-determination and empowerment: For a woman enduring this syndrome, feeling less empowered is a common occurrence. The feeling of ‘not having done enough’ can lead to low self-esteem, guilt and self-blame, among others. PSR promotes self- determination and empowerment. The individual is viewed as someone who deserves to stand-up for themselves and make decisions on their own. It is relevant in terms of ‘Superwoman Syndrome’ as those dealing with it tend to strive perfection in order to match up to the standards set by the society.
  2. Improve quality of all aspects of life: There is a quote which states,’ When everything is a focus, nothing is a focus.’ Women enduring this syndrome tend to sacrifice their social, residential, spiritual aspects of life despite being ‘present.’ PSR focuses on the improvement of the quality of life.
  3. Promotes health and wellness: To those enduring this syndrome, it is the need of the hour to focus on their health (physical and mental) as well as their overall wellbeing. The values of PSR are designed to aid individuals in developing wellness programs that best suits them.
  4. Builds on the strengths and capabilities of individuals: Women dealing with this syndrome are already over-achievers yet find it difficult to channelize their energy. PSR aims to build on the strengths of an individuals instead of focusing on their weaknesses.

The relevance of superwoman syndrome in India Although the world’s fifth largest economy, India has spent only 0.05 percent of its health budget annually on mental health ("How Committed Is India to Mental Health?", 2020)

For years together, a lot of women in India have been striving to meet the expectations set by the society. Whatever her age, physical health issues or profession, she is expected to ‘look’ a certain way, ‘behave’ a certain way and ‘express’ a certain way. Women are expected to meet unrealistic standards and more often than not, they feel obliged to. At the end of the day, superheroes are fictional characters. As motivating and idealistic as it looks on the outside, one does not deserve to self-sacrifice to the point of exhaustion and acceptance of the fact that one cannot possibly be a perfectionist in everything they do, but that, in no way means they are less worthy.

Arguments Superwoman syndrome is often confused with ‘career oriented woman’. An individual dealing with this syndrome is in fact crippling with anxiety on the inside. She is never satisfied with her achievements and always strives for more, as a result of which it leads to exhaustion. Women with the syndrome are more likely to engage in drug abuse, consumption of anti-depressants in order to relieve themselves from the responsibilities of being a wife, mother, worker and homemaker at the same time. The syndrome is considered an offspring of feminist movements across the globe. Despite achieving great outcomes for women, feminist movements and the rest of the world need to acknowledge that women too are human beings ("The paradox of being a woman and the superwoman syndrome", n.d.).

Superwoman Syndrome can be gradually but effectively managed by practising the following habits:

  • Recognising one’s timetable and consciously making it a point to schedule a time for self-care
  • Acceptance of the guilt
  • Making a self-care checklist
  • Setting goals that are achievable
  • Ask for help
  • Practising to say ‘No’