For Young Women of Color: Balancing High Expectations with Self-Care

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With the arrival of March, the Steve Fund observes Women’s History Month by shining a light on the accomplishments of women, and in particular young women of color.  It is indisputable that women of color in the U.S. and across the globe have reached the highest levels of achievement in many areas, including, but not limited to, business, media, sports, entertainment, healthcare, humanitarian efforts, and public service. From Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, to the dynamic young women of color elected to Congress in 2018, such as Representatives Lauren Underwood, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Sharice Davids, women of color are making their marks.

As young women of color work hard to achieve excellence in the face of negative stereotypes stemming from sexism, racism, and xenophobia, there is a tendency among some to engage in perfectionism. This can lead to Superwoman Syndrome, when a woman feels that she has to go overboard to do everything at the highest level—as a career professional, a wife, a mother, a friend, a volunteer.  Setting unrealistically high expectations is a type of idealism which makes no room for missteps or bumps in the road.  This places excessive pressure on women and has a negative impact on mental health and emotional well-being, and young women of color are no exception.

In this moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the nation and the world, women will carry a heavy burden performing caregiving roles, as they commonly do, for those who are sick at home, for children home from school, and for seniors who are isolated.  Women who accept responsibility for looking after others during this public health crisis may heighten the demands they usually place on themselves.  These pressures added to baseline tendencies of going “above and beyond” to help others coupled with self-neglect can amount to overload and are a recipe for a superwoman who is worn out and drained.

The old saying, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” applies here. While young women of color break through the glass ceiling and climb the ladder of success, it is important to remember the following tips to help maintain mental wellness on the way up:

  • Perfection is an elusive goal. Instead, focus on doing well and doing good.
  • Superwomen get super-exhausted. Balance your investment of time and effort between the workplace, school, family, friends, recreation, and reflection. Be conscious of your need for rest and rejuvenation.
  • Do, but don’t overdo. Resist the temptation to take on everything. Learn your limits and give yourself permission to selectively say no to requests.
  • When things don’t go as planned, go easy on yourself and let go of things you can’t control.
  • Find joy in your favorite activities and make a habit of celebrating your accomplishments.

Please join the Steve Fund in commemorating Women’s History Month and encouraging young women of color as they surmount barriers and set their sights on a bright future full of opportunity, advancement and quality of life.

Be well,

Annelle Primm, MD, MPH
Senior Medical Director
The Steve Fund

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A Framework of Recommendations for Colleges and Universities to Support the Mental Health of Students of Color. Now with toolkit.

About The Steve Fund

The Steve Fund is dedicated to the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color. Right at this moment, there are students of color who are failing academically, suffering emotionally and/OR in some cases are facing serious risk, because population-specific factors influencing mental health are too poorly understood and not acted upon. We are taking action. Learn more.

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