Shahida Muhammad explores how Black women's need to keep it all together can tear them apart
I am thrilled to have been featured as a commenting medical expert in this excellent new article featured in Ebony . The author discusses a cultural phenomenon among many women: Superwoman Syndrome. Despite my own advice, I admittedly have not yet mastered the balancing act of wearing many different hats, but only after putting on my own oxygen mask first.
Everyday I encounter women whose health has declined as a result of self-neglect. On a purely logistical level, it can be difficult to make healthy lifestyle choices on stolen moments of time and a shoestring budget. Many women work outside of the home, often without a mate. This is one reason for the proliferation of unhealthy "convenience foods" that provide a time savings at a low price point (though I'm convinced they are NOT cheaper overall). Then there are the technological advances that reduce how much physical exertion one has to do to get through the day. That creates yet another thing for superwoman to squeeze in- time to exercise.
After a long day at the office, some working women with families stand on either side of a judgmental fence. On one side, those whose cultural norm has them rushing home to make dinner from scratch. On the other, those who were molded to believe they're too smart for such a menial task. She may fear being ridiculed for "slaving in the kitchen" to prepare a good meal for her family. Both the stressed-out chef and the takeout junkie might be at increased risk of heart disease, the #1 killer of women.
We all have crunch situations from time to time. But when our bodies are operating in a chronically stressed state, there can be dire health consequences. Not surprisingly, an unhealthy lifestyle can lead to weight challenges and the associated health conditions of hypertension, diabetes, joint pains, or depression. Stress can also increase the risk of premature birth and other pregnancy complications. Chronic stress reduces your cognitive (thinking) ability. It results in digestive illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome, exacerbates respiratory illnesses like asthma and allergies, and can cause skin conditions like chronic hives and acne. During my residency training, I was going through some personal challenges. I showed up to work one day and a colleague said "Shabazz! What happened to your face?!" I'd developed a pretty bad case of acne almost overnight."...I was going through some personal challenges. I showed up to work one day and a colleague said "Shabazz! What happened to your face?!" I'd developed a pretty bad case of acne almost overnight."
When I have a patient who has listed a number of seemingly unrelated or unexplained physical symptoms, I always consider the possibility that stress is at the root of those symptoms. Unfortunately, so many women have been too busy to even do basic health maintenance or surveillance, so there are many times when a serious illness has gone undetected.
What's a Girl to Do?
- To help relieve stress, find a healthy activity that is also a stress reliever. Exercise can be as effective as medication for treating depression and relieving stress. It is the only way to build new brain cells. Find ways to do your everyday tasks in a way that requires more movement. Stop asking your children to pass you this and that. Get up and do it yourself just for the opportunity to move.
- Try gardening. When I'm tinkering around in my garden, I can literally feel any tension releasing from my chest. It's also a great way to get yourself and your family more inspired to eat healthy, fresh food. An herb garden is super easy to start and can add pizazz to your home-cooked meals.
- Pray. Call on the healing power and guidance of the Creator. I believe we have all been given the ability to use our minds to solve problems...without doing anything illegal or immoral.
Peace & health,