Do You Have Super Woman Syndrome?

Listen-up over achievers: it's time to lean out


This might sound strange, but for the past two years I've been operating in my own personal time zone, precisely 11 minutes ahead of the rest of the UK.

My watch, alarm clock and iPhone all reflect this. It means I start the day ahead, and feel as though I'm winning at life before I even leave the house for work in the mornings.

Of course I'm always early, but I like being the first one to arrive as it gives me time to prepare myself for whatever is in store.


It's just one of the many routines I have adopted in an effort to feel superhuman.


Every day my alarm wakes me up at 6.11am Lotte Mean Time (LMT) – that's 6am for the rest of you.

I do half an hour of exercise in my living room or I go for a run and then make a two-course break- fast; something you might see on a fitness blogger's Instagram, such as fruit salad followed by avocado on toast or chia seed porridge (health and fitness: tick!).

As I eat, I read a newspaper and listen to Radio 4 (current affairs: tick!); I decide on an outfit that makes me look like I might know about fashion but I don't need to try too hard (cool girl: tick!); then, as I set off on my commute, I tune in to an amusing all-women discussion-panel podcast such as Slate's Dou- ble X (feminist who doesn't take herself too seriously: tick!). I try to get through my day at work being kind to people and efficient at my job (Sheryl Sandberg: tick!); then, in the evening, I'll see a friend or take my mum out for dinner.

I will enjoy two small glasses of red wine but no dessert and be in bed by 11.30pm (supportive and responsible: tick!).

But before you write me off as smug or just plain insufferable, take a look at your own life and the things you do every
day, to be good or better or the best.

Elaine Slater, psychologist at The Priory and the resident British
Fashion Council therapist during London Fashion
Week, comes across a lot of high-achieving young
women in the fashion world who may be suffering from Superwoman Syndrome.

She says: 'A big question that these women ask themselves is, "Am I enough as I am?"'

It's good to know that I'm not the only one feeling the pressure to be cool, smart, fit, thin but not too thin, funny but not bitchy, a supportive friend, partner, family member.

So many of us want to be successful and liked at work, to have opinions about Jeremy Corbyn, the new show at the Tate and the latest Murakami novel as well as The X Factor winner and Kendall Jenner's new haircut.


And, indulge me a moment here, still there's all that stuff I've circled with a red pen and written 'Must Try Harder' next to.

Such as: I should have made that Ottolenghi paella last night and not risotto... I should have gone on the Solidarity With Refugees march this summer...

Lots of my thirtysomething-year-old friends and colleagues relate to this pressure to be 'super'.

Nicole, 32, who also works in media, takes it one step further: she spent her pregnancy and maternity leave doing a two-year master's course at Oxford.

'People thought I was a crazy woman,' she says. 'There were times when I was literally breastfeeding my son between classes and pumping milk in my course director's office.

Having a child has forced me to mellow out a bit, but not by much. My husband still complains about my inabil- ity to stop trying to "be better". I fall asleep to meditation talks on mindfulness and wake up to podcasts and audio books.'


I don't have kids yet (it's on the to-do list, OK?), so I am using this opportunity to make my life tick all the 'right' boxes.

Currently my world is full of healthy food and enriching cultural experiences, of positive affirmations shouted at me during spinning classes, of other people's innovative ideas and interesting opinions, of early mornings and body brushing and trying to finish reading at least one article in The New Yorker.

'I suggest that you ask yourself, "Am I enjoying this life or am I existing within a self-inflicted regime?"' Elaine advised me during our phone consultation.

It made me think of my friend Lisa, an advertising executive who, at 28, is relentless in her need not to have it all, but to do it all.


'I've often eaten dinner three times in one evening, with three sets of people, so as not to miss any events,' she tells me, before adding, more worryingly, that, 'I've occasionally woken up in the night and decided to watch a documentary, as I've felt anxious about wasting time asleep.' Elaine says these are all Super- woman warning signs: 'You should be able to give yourself a break without then punishing yourself for it. That's an unhealthy pattern.'

What would happen, I thought, if I just chilled the heck out? If I slept in late and ate a cheese croissant for breakfast, if I stayed out till midnight and admitted to my colleagues that I sometimes have non-feminist thoughts, would my life fall apart? I decided to find out.

The first thing I did was set my clocks to the actual time and my morning alarm to 7.30am. I woke up feeling pretty sprightly after nine hours' sleep, did no exercise and ate a bowl of Frosties (part of my 'badass' Ocado shop that also included a bag of mini Babybels and a packet of vegetarian cocktail sausages). As I ambled to the station, I swapped my usual podcast to a Carly Rae Jepsen album, which taught me nothing but put me in an excellent mood. At work,

I made less of an effort to not be an awful person. When an email went around celebrating the fact that the Pirelli Calendar now fea- tures inspirational women, not models in their underwear, I hit 'reply all' and remarked, 'Am I the only person who preferred the hot semi-naked models?' I got no response.


After work the next day, I met my friend Will for dinner. He's someone who leads a less regimented life than me and with whom I always have a lot of fun.

'Live a little!' was his advice that evening. He's known me since secondary school when I would always rush home to do my homework.

So, this need to 'achieve' in order to feel happy or relaxed is nothing new. My drive has a momentum and I worry that if I ever really put the brakes on, all the good things in my life (job/house/partner/general sense of happiness and wellbeing) could quickly unravel.

Hence the reason I normally opt for the healthiest option on the menu. But not tonight!

Going against the voice in my head that makes me do the right/boring thing all the time felt good. So did the double whisky on the rocks I drank before we called it a night. On the way home, we ducked under a barrier and broke into a rooftop garden – forgetting that I was a responsi- ble adult was fun and reminded me that sometimes it's good to say yes to silly things. Unless of course it's something that could actu- ally get you arrested.

Later in the week, instead of my usual kale-based lunch, eaten while reading magazines, I met my partner for a blowout lunch with champagne at a fancy restaurant. I got back to the office after an hour to find that not much had changed and I still got my work done before six.

'It's all about balance,' said Elaine. 'If you are happy and confident in yourself and your positive choices, the majority of the time, an occasional rebellion is only healthy.'

I had this in mind as the weekend approached. Normally I write to-do lists of house chores. I work, I exercise, I see family, I cook meals for friends, but this weekend I did something new.

I had a lie- in. I watched actual crap TV, not something I felt I needed to see on Netflix because everyone was talking about it.

I didn't leave the house all day, even though the sun was shining. I couldn't shake the feeling that I should be doing something worthy, like going out for a run or taking my nephew skateboarding; but for every 'good' decision, there's always an even better one.

Elaine calls this a 'bombardment of choice' and says it puts us under a lot of pressure: 'Too many options can sometimes feel as debilitating as no options.'

Then Elaine touches on something that really resonates with me. She suggests that 'sometimes we externalise where we get our sense of comfort and security from – we put it into actions and activ- ities rather than finding a secure base inside ourselves – an anchor'.

She adds that if this 'base' has been hampered with in some way (illness, deaths, bad break-ups, parents' separation – all familiar things to me), we tend to seek our sense of security from things out- side ourselves and they become the 'container' keeping us together. Elaine says that all the activities we Superwomen fill our lives with are great, but they should be done mindfully; that is not by rote or to fill a void. Our 'internal world', she says, 'should be solid and secure.'

There's something in this for me for sure, and maybe there is for you too. But before adding 'Sort Internal Self ' to your ever- growing to-do list, remember the answer to the question, 'Am I enough as I am?' is probably, actually, no – you're even better.

Read Next: