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Why Women Are So Hard On Themselves – Stop Should-ing Yourself (Part 1)

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Women often feel like they should be doing more, and it leads to a lot of unhappiness. Learn why women are so hard on themselves, and how they can improve their self-esteem and wellbeing.


Too many of us spend our days telling ourselves what we should be doing. You know the routine, fellow overworked women. The loop plays in our heads and it sounds like this: 


I should be exercising more.

I should declutter the pantry.

I should eat more vegetables.

I should spend more time with the kids.

I should spend more time with my elderly parents.

I should spend less money.

I should get a better job.

I should lose weight.

I should be happier.

I should go to bed earlier.

I should take more vacations.


The endless list of what we should do propels us through the day, keeping us going from one task to the next. We think we're motivating ourselves to do the hard things by remembering what's expected of us. But all those “shoulds" add up to one underlying message: You should be better, because whatever you are doing isn't good enough.


It's a tendency therapists refer to as “shoulding." And it's a counterproductive way to think, says Nancy Colier, psychotherapist and author of the book "Can't Stop Thinking: How to Let Go of Anxiety and Free Yourself from Obsessive Rumination."


“Shoulding is the act of trying to motivate yourself through some sort of obligation or shaming process," Colier says. And as with most things involving obligation and shame, shoulding can lead to unhappiness.


Caring For Others Can Be Crushing

A lot of the shoulds that run our lives come from trying to live up to an ideal we feel we must fulfill in order to be a good and worthy person.


“We do things because we want to be liked, because we want to be emotionally safe and because we want to fit in," Colier says.


Women are especially bad about falling into the should trap, Colier says. “Women tend to be worse about anything self-blaming, because when we were little girls we were taught that we have to figure out how to be better and how to please, because our worth, more than a man's, is based on how pleasing we are."


And there it is. Several waves of feminism haven't erased that fact. We still worry way too much about what others want from us and what others think about us.


Because who hasn't volunteered to make homemade cupcakes for their child's class party after a 10-hour day at the office because they didn't want to look like the career-obsessed mother who doesn't have time for her child and sends cheap supermarket cupcakes instead?


“That's why we have an epidemic of depletion and emotional exhaustion among women," Colier says. “We spend our lives trying to figure out what others want. We think if we check all the boxes and be the person others need us to be, we'll be accepted and wanted."


The pressure to do it all isn't just in our heads, either. Women spend a lot of time caring for others, particularly children, grandchildren, and elderly parents. The Family Caregiver Alliance, a nonprofit advocating for caregivers, says 75 percent of caregivers in the United States are female. Nearly two-thirds of those female caregivers are employed outside the home as well.


Again, several waves of feminism hasn't equalized the work of taking care of others. The pressure on women to do it all is real, and it can be crushing.


Stop Shoulding Yourself

There's no way to completely stop shoulding. There's a certain amount of shoulding that we need to do to live and function, like go to work, pay the bills, and of course, take care of family members.


The key to keeping the shoulds from running your life, Colier says, is learning to make a distinction between what you should do and what you want to do.


That's harder than it sounds, because most of us are trained from an early age to doubt our own instincts, desires and drives. School, religion and the culture pushes our instincts out of us, Colier says.


“We're taught that we need to implement this very intellectual system that's telling us who we need to be, telling us how we need to behave," Colier says. “We learn that if we follow our own drives or our own calling, we won't land anywhere good."


Over time we get so dutiful about doing what we're supposed to do that we no longer know how to want, or even how to find out what we want. “We act just like trained seals, 'Just tell me what to do,'" Colier says.


We spend too much our time caring for others and not enough time caring for ourselves.


Take Care of Yourself

The good news is you can get yourself back into a healthy balance between doing what you are supposed to do and doing what you want to do.


One way to do find that balance is to make quality sleep a priority, which has been shown to lower physical and emotional stress. More than one-fifth of caregivers report they're exhausted when they go to bed at night. Sleepers who routinely use their Sleep Number 360® smart bed technology can get 28 minutes more restful sleep per night — that's up to 170 hours per year!*


Another way to stop those mean old shoulds is to learn compassion for yourself and act more consciously. In the next part of this series, we'll tell you how to distinguish between a should and a want, how to make room for some wants, and how to be not just a caregiver but also a self-care giver.


Like diet and exercise, quality sleep has a profound impact on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Because no two people sleep the same, Sleep Number 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably and provide proven quality sleep. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night's sleep, and if you own a Sleep Number® bed, log in to your InnerCircle℠ Rewards account to see your exclusive offers, refer friends and more.


*Based on average SleepIQ® data from 8/1/21 – 2/28/22 of sleepers who engaged with their Sleep Number® setting, SleepIQ® data and FlexFit™ smart adjustable base. 

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