I have it all. A thriving business, a wonderful home, a healthy happy son and the world at my feet as a young, independent, successful business woman. Yes I’ve fought my way here in many ways, overcoming debt, taking giant leaps of faith, investing huge sums of money and losing friends on my entrepreneurial journey – but I’ve not had a traumatic life and it’s now full of opportunity, so what do I have to stress about?
Until recently – just last month in fact, I would never have admitted to feeling any kind of stress – I saw it as a weakness. A fiercely independent highly focused individual, I rely upon no-one but myself to get me what I want in life. On a mission to grow my business and make an impact globally, I felt it was almost my purpose to be a workaholic, and to just deal with whatever pressure comes with that – I owed it to those who I am here to serve to just shut up and get on with it, to excel at everything I do and to have it all. I piled the pressure on myself so I should be able to handle it, right? I don’t think I actually processed any of this, I was just on automatic pilot, set on my path to proving to anyone and everyone that I could succeed.
So why did I wake up with my heart beating hard out of my chest at 7am – so tired after a restless night thinking only about the long list of things I needed to do that day? Why did I always feel restless and on edge and like something was just not quite right?
Because I’m an Alpha Female struggling with high-functioning anxiety it seems…. And where has this come from? Stress….
Carole Spiers, founder of National Stress Awareness Week which runs this week, defines stress as “excessive pressure”. She said: “ Pressure is good for us. It drives us in many ways, it helps us raise our game and deliver on our goals, but excessive pressure becomes stress. Often we pile this upon ourselves and don’t take responsibility for managing this pressure. Our body is like a machine – we need to maintain and look after it – we need to watch out for the warning signs when it is telling us it needs to be recharged. If we don’t, this is how pressure then starts to overload us
and turn into stress.”
So much of what Carole said has resonated with me, but I am the typical ostrich when it comes to self care and usually battle on to burnout rather than asking for help. I now see the car crash I was heading for and am so grateful I’ve managed to put the brakes on first…
It wasn’t until a retreat in LA last month when I started to take a bit of a closer look at myself and the way I function that a few home truths really hit me between the eyeballs. On that trip I was identified as an Alpha Female – something I had not previously identified as, but a tag, it turns out, which is me all over. What it means is I adopt largely ‘masculine’ qualities – I am very straight-talking, I am laser focused, I exude confidence, I set ambitious targets and I take no prisoners – I don’t really cry, I don’t ask for help and I am fiercely independent. When challenged to dig deep and reflect on my weaknesses or tap into my emotions I really struggled….
Wearing your heart on your sleeve is not easy for an Alpha Female so instead I chose to push people away, to hide behind my work and retract from a previously busy social life. I knew I did these things, but didn’t really know why until I recognised my Alpha Female qualities.
I started to realise that my approach to any kind of work life balance was flawed – yes, I am hugely committed to my young son Noah, and I like to keep fit, but beyond that it is really work, work, work.
Since LA I have immersed myself in more reading, more learning and more delving into the psychology behind what it really means to be an Alpha Female and as part of the process also started to see traits of high-functioning anxiety- it’s amazing what you discover about yourself when you actually stop and look!
High-functioning anxiety tends to hit people like me because there is no alternative. It’s all on me to create what I want as an entrepreneur, and as a high performer I am always striving to be the best, no matter what it takes. If I don’t propel forward,and grow then the only other option is failure, and that is not an option for me.
From the outside I am the picture of success, I have it all, and this is because I function fairly well in all aspects of my life, but inside I do feel very different. I set out to achieve all I want to achieve. I am well put together, show up consistently, am willing to help anyone in need and I am always busy with exciting projects. What people don’t see is the internal battle of anxiety.
I never defined myself as someone with anxiety because it never crippled me, it did the total opposite and motivated me to achieve more and be more in all aspects of my life. In today’s society I think it’s important that we recognise this level of anxiety which is caused by stress because it affects ‘the strong one’, the one who doesn’t necessarily reach out for help, and it certainly isn’t obvious from the outside.
I am now working on accepting areas of my vulnerability and addressing them. I am also trying to ‘unpick’ my Alpha Female tendencies to try to understand more about my make-up, and how I can play to my strengths and address my weakness. This is hugely empowering and inspiring if a little scary.
When most people hear the phrase ‘Alpha Female’ they think of the most powerful, assertive, domineering woman they know. The one who does whatever it takes no matter what. Who can sometimes be intimidating to others. However this is not what actually defines them. Yes, an Alpha Female is known for being powerful, hard-working, relentless and dominating but there is, and needs to be much more. I want to redefine the Alpha Female.
I want to help other ambitious entrepreneurs deal with their stress and anxiety through sharing some things I have learnt and I want these women to know that, although they have these qualities, they can also make room for self care, letting go of control and also leaning on others for support. I want other women like me to know they are not alone in their journey and they can embody a softer side without feeling like they are showing weakness; they can feel all the emotions without pushing them to the side and using their work as a distraction; they can nurture personal relationships without having to sacrifice them – and this is what my mission is with my Facebook community ‘Alpha Females Redefined’, my retreat I am running next year in Santorini, and the summit I am planning for 2019.
I’ve come to realise it’s about balance and honouring all that you are and not putting yourself in one box. It’s about being ok with your power but knowing when to surrender and I’m now really working on this for myself.
Although we have come a long way as females, it is still tough being a woman in a man’s world. It has made us become more ‘masculine’ and dominant so we can get what we want, getting satisfaction out of doing things on our own and ‘not needing a man’. Think Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman – that song has a lot to answer for! Although I love how women can go out there and make things happen on their own, in my opinion it has maybe gone too far.
Separating ourselves from the men creates an imbalance in our ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ qualities, and a massive internal contradiction. We need to be independent, but we also need to come together and lean on others. As an Alpha Female, it comes naturally to us to be the leader and get to the top no matter what it takes or who we leave behind, but doing it with support makes it so much better!
In today’s world we can build businesses anywhere, because social media and the internet makes it so accessible. I am always ‘on’. Showcasing what I do and showing up consistently also comes with its pressures, especially for someone who struggles with high-functioning anxiety where my mind doesn’t switch off. Social media just adds fuel to the fire. Having to show up even when you don’t feel like it and being visible makes it very hard to have a day off and I’ve learnt that this can be a huge factor that leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed and to stress.
The following practices most definitely help me navigate through the more stretching times that have caused me stress and I hope they might help others too.
I have been pretty bad about doing this in a personal capacity and it’s something I am working on, but business-wise I have always looked to others for inspiration and support when I knew I needed to learn. One of the most valuable things I have done in my business is create a strong network of people who can support me when I need it. From coaches and mentors to friends in my industry, having these people to lean on makes the world of difference. You want to speak to people who get it and will pass no judgement. Sometimes just talking about it to these people is enough.
This might sound so cheesy but whenever I am in a place on anxiety it’s because I am anticipating the worst. You want to see things as they are, not worse than what they are and see what you do have rather than what you don’t. We have so much to be grateful for and we can find it even in the small things. Get yourself a journal and write out the things you are grateful for every morning and watch what happens to your state of mind!
Even if this is just for 10 minutes a day, working on yourself and your mindset makes a huge difference. Listening to podcasts, motivational talks, audio books and and other self-development media is sometimes all it takes to improve your state of mind for the day.
If you’re not eating well, not going to bed at a decent hour, your environment is more of a stress than a sanctuary so start there. Getting a balanced diet, having a regular bedtime, limiting caffeine and getting regular exercise can drastically improve stress and anxiety levels.
Becoming more self aware to what triggers your stress and anxiety will be the quickest way to deal with the root cause and avoid it from happening over and over again. What can you do to avoid these triggers in the future? How can you navigate around them? It might be as simple as hiring someone to respond to stressful emails or manage your social media. That way you won’t have to deal with the stress of replying.
As a high achiever it can be hard to take time out, but it is necessary so you can switch off from the everyday stresses in your work. Go for a massage, meditate, take a yoga class, go for a walk, whatever works for you.
I am grateful that I now have a deeper understanding of what makes me tick and I do think this will help me navigate challenges as they now arise. I don’t believe I will banish stress and anxiety completely, but having strategies like the ones above definitely help and minimise the symptoms that can sometimes take over my day and allows me to handle whatever situations come my way by keeping perspective.