It’s all too easy in the current climate to take on too much, especially for women. There’s work, relationships, family commitments, time for staying fit or doing sports, socialising, maybe even extra training for your job in your supposed “spare time”. But if we fill up every waking hour, we can end up exhausting our resources. Then, if we hit any sort of snag - from an accident or illness to the end of a relationship or losing out on a much-hoped-for promotion or even (gulp!) redundancy - we can find ourselves in poor shape to cope with the life that seemed perfectly doable before.
Australian nutritional biochemist Libby Weaver coined the phrase Rushing Woman’s Syndrome to describe the modern malaise of female busyness. As she wrote in her book Rushing Woman’s Syndrome: The Impact of a Never-ending To-do list and How to Stay Healthy in Today's Busy World £8.53:
“You know you’ve got RWS if your instinctive answer to ‘how are you?’ is ‘busy’ or ‘stressed’; if you rarely get enough sleep, make poor food choices, rely on coffee to rev you up in the morning and wine to calm you down at night.
“You drive too fast and, afraid to let anyone down, will do everything possible to avoid saying ‘no’, squeezing every last drop out of your day, even if it means answering emails in the early hours of the morning.”
For many women today, rushing about is the new normal - and it’s bad for many parts of our bodies, and certainly also our souls.
Could it be that you’re filling your life with activity because you feel empty and unfulfilled?
Very often it’s exactly such women who resist any suggestion that they need to look after themselves better. This could take the form of anything from regularly taking time out to rest and relax, resisting the urge to keep working through a dose of the flu, eating and drinking for health rather than as a response to stress. As one woman said, “I know I am my own worst enemy. That the foot on my neck is My Foot, that I am the one driving myself on, but I can’t seem to stop.”
Talking to a counsellor is a major step towards carving out a new and healthier life. It’s not selfish, but sensible to look for help in creating a new balance in your life. Many women wouldn’t even consider demanding more help from their partners or children; they feel certain they’d meet resistance. But by plucking up the confidence and making the space to work on the problem with a professional, the results can be very different.
Therapists also dig much deeper when needed. Could it be that you’re filling your life with activity because you feel empty and unfulfilled?
Here’s 30-something Rae, writing an open letter to her therapist on the welldoing.org find-a therapist site , talking about how that felt as she was about to embark on therapy. “I had worked myself into a panic in the days beforehand. I hadn’t been sleeping for weeks and had been struggling to see what the point of my being was. Intellectually, I could see patterns repeating but didn’t see why - and a whole raft of things, some of which had happened more than ten years previously, had begun swirling around my head again. I felt fundamentally a bad person.
“I was used to telling everyone: I am fine. I had to be. I didn’t actually have any other words to explain how I felt. I see now I had been quite skilled at hiding in busy-ness, in work, in extreme physical exercise and in being needed by others.”
Anna Storey is a London therapist who sees many women in their 40s and 50s – an age group which, according to research, is the unhappiest around. Often, they feel they have achieved a lot, but are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labour. They feel exhausted and stuck.
“In our 20s and 30s, we are programmed to achieve success and build careers (often not in the field we would have chosen ourselves). There is societal pressure to get married, settle down and have children. We are so busy that there is often no time for introspection or questioning if what we are doing is actually what we want to do,” she tells welldoing.org .
“Your 40s and 50s is the time to do just that – pause and think. So far you might have been fulfilling somebody else’s ambitions (most likely your parents’) and have not stopped to consider your own. Now it’s your time.”
She does warn that sometimes your internal voice will rage against this action, seeing it as lazy or selfish and that there are a million things you could be doing instead (namely, being a Rushing Woman!). “In therapy terms,” she explains, “that is your ‘Adapted Self’ coming up against your ‘Real Self’. This is where therapy can help. Many of my clients reported that what they really needed is to have some space to take stock of their lives outside their day to day routine. The counselling room could become that safe space, where you know you have an hour of self-reflection and generally focusing on yourself.”
More people than ever in the UK are seeking therapy; 1.5 million of us are currently seeing therapists and the public acceptance of therapy is growing in leaps and bounds. This is good news for everyone, as feeling the need for help but fearing the stigma is a terrible situation, damaging to everyone.
Therapy can be very helpful, even life-saving, but it’s also worth remembering that it can be hard work. As therapist Wendy Bristow says, "At first getting it all off their chest to a neutral and understanding person feels like a weight is lifted. But as therapy unfolds and they start to unpack what’s been going on, it emerges there was a painful break-up they never came to terms with, or their out-of-control behaviour dates back to the death of a parent.
“Talking about it means that now their pain is no longer buried in the unconscious but is coming out in the therapy what happens - what needs to happen - is for them to grieve that loss. Grief feels incredibly painful. You cry. A lot.” But as she points out, you work through those uncomfortable, sad feelings, and once the mourning is over, you can go on to the future unburdened with your past.
I’ll leave the last word on this with Rae, the young woman who felt so nervous about therapy, felt five months in. “I have realised that in these past few weeks, for the very first time in my life, I can begin to talk about my shame, my sadness, my loneliness and, most of all, my confusion about myself. I know I have veered off for some sessions talking about work when really I wanted to talk about something else. Thank you again for bearing with me. I look forward to our next session. I always do.”