“More and more people know that wellness is a scam, and resilience training is a scam, it’s not the answer. But then it’s easy to become hopeless and think, ‘capitalism is terrible, white supremacy is the root of the problems in America. But what am I supposed to do? I’m just one person and I don’t even have time to sit down and read a book, let alone fix capitalism.’ And this is where I can apply my lens as a psychiatrist. Ultimately it’s about choices that we make in our day-to-day.” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, Clinical Psychiatrist, Professor, Author, and Entrepreneur.
More women are going into leadership than ever. But career growth in systems that weren’t designed to sustain us, feels punishing. Yes, many persist and still make incredible contributions. But to free ourselves, from the perils of hustle culture while we strive for income and impact, we need to grasp its toll.
So how do you care for yourself when capitalism is both the problem and interim solution? Pooja’s new book, Real Self-Care, helps you navigate your path and manage mental health, even on the road to achievement.
There’s a Cost to the Intensity
In 2021 Pooja wrote a viral piece for the New York Times. About how Moms, in the paid workforce, felt “betrayal not burnout” when their critical work/life needs collided with our broken systems. She explained, “In my practice, people started to bring social justice issues into the therapy room, much more than had ever happened before.”
Two years later, Moms remain crispy. And it’s not only pandemic life but handling a wobbly economy, pivots at work and a mental health crisis. Often without childcare, eldercare, or equal partnership at home.
And Your Ecosystem Matters
So, how do we create better options? Pooja and I are both from immigrant families. And discussed how many of us are trying to improve outcomes for ourselves, and the next generation, through the very system that limits us. Because financial wellness, usually brings more choices, like great childcare, healthcare or quality schools.
Pooja said, “It also ties in with the immigrant piece, when you are moving to the next level. I’m reading the book Caste right now by Isabel Wilkerson, which is just awesome. And when you’re trying to move up to the ‘next caste’ you are at risk of being at tool in that same system that you’re trying to subvert. It’s a conversation that my co-founder at Gemma, Dr. Kali Cyrus and I keep having. Like how do you do that? Succeed while also trying to unwind that same system and bring people up with you?”
Although We’re ‘Good’ at Complexity
We keep spinning while trying to figure that out. Most Moms routinely triage wild schedules without breaks and many of us, even take some pride in that. Because the systems problems, especially at work, persist. And for Mothers of color, between health inequities and a charged DEI climate, the challenges are steeper.
Pooja explains navigating, with a sense of self-efficacy, does help us. “Essentially it means that you understand, even in challenging environments and situations, there are still places where you can hold onto agency. For example, ‘I know that my kids are sick, and it’s all going to go to hell when daycare is closed, and I believe in myself to problem solve. I’m angry that, as Eve Rodsky says, I’m the ‘she-fault’ parent that has to figure it out. But I know that I can.’ So, I like the self-efficacy framing.”
You Can Carve a More Sustainable Life
It’s important to reconnect with your confidence and sense of self-efficacy. But working too much while resting and reflecting too little, is corrosive to our health. Pooja intends to shift it. She said, “This is why Real Self-Care is a little bit subversive, because it’s a prescriptive book. But I’m saying that real self-care is not something that you can buy off the shelf. You can never get the answers from somebody else. And when we search for the answers outside of ourselves that’s when we actually end up just continuing to run on this treadmill.”
Decide to Reject the Rat Race
Why are we still so drained? Studies validate what most Moms know, that we work the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs. The mental load to plan, organize and tackle the very long to-do list, just at home, is a full-time job.
Pooja said, “I’ll give you an example of a common situation in my practice. A patient that says, ‘you know I finally carved out an hour so I could get a massage for myself and do self-care. But then I spend the whole time on the massage table worried about my To Do List. Worried that I’m wasting time, then feel like oh my gosh there are only 30 minutes left. I can’t believe this is already ending!’ And asking for what to do so they don’t feel that way.”
Because we can’t possibly get ‘everything’ done, we understandably, internalize every minute as it passes. And fret, when we feel like we’re losing time. How might we avoid it?
And Check in With Yourself Frequently
Pooja said, “I’m a big fan of the calendaring thing. And I know, that you have to be careful, because you don’t want to run away with it. But if you can look at the past three months, and note when there were times you had to make a choice that didn’t feel good. And then, think about what you can do, to put in place safeguards, so that it doesn’t happen in the next quarter. Maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But at least it’s acknowledging and articulating, for yourself, that you can’t right now. There are always costs, there’s no solution that is, win-win all around.”
To Ensure Your Tradeoffs Are Intentional
Pooja shared a personal example, “I have a book launch coming up and I have an 8-month-old, and this is a really fun season. He’s so cute and very fun and this is probably one of the most important moments of my career to this point. And it’s so not fair that it has to happen at this exact time. And the choice that I’ve made is, that I’m lucky that I have family that can help, and we can afford childcare.” Moms are often guilt-ridden about these decisions. So, how can you drop the self-judgement?
Identify When There’s Friction
Pooja said, “Nobody can answer these questions for you and everybody’s going to have a different take on it. I know some folks might say, ‘well you’re making the wrong choice’ and we all have to make our own choices.” Amen. We can’t live in fear of reprisal from others. She added, “I want to be really present for my book launch and say yes to whatever media requests come in. That’s important for me and that’s a tradeoff. It all comes back to your values, where you are in your life and how you think of yourself and your identity.”
And Continue to Ask Yourself the Deeper Questions
Pooja said, “The pandemic turned everything upside down. And many people started asking different questions. To be clear, there were plenty of folks in America asking these questions, pre-pandemic. But a more affluent, whiter swath of the population, started asking these questions. Because they didn’t have childcare anymore and were directly impacted. There’s despair and this sense that ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ And the solution unfortunately, again, has to come from us.”
Remember to ask yourself, the big questions, for yourself. And develop your strategies for a sustainable life that includes ‘Real Self-Care.’
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Pooja Lakshmin!
Check out her amazing new book, Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included)! And follow Pooja’s great adventure on her website, Instagram, Twitter.
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Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, MD, finished her psychiatry residency training in 2016, and joined the faculty at George Washington University School of Medicine, where she’s a clinical supervisor in the Five Trimesters Perinatal Psychiatry Clinic. She has a private practice where she applies an integrative approach to taking care of women suffering from maternal mental health conditions like postpartum depression and anxiety, as well as non-moms who are dealing with depression, anxiety, burnout and identity loss.
She writes regularly for The New York Times and is a medical advisor to Peloton.
In 2020, frustrated by the systemic forces that thwart women as well as the gaps in the mental health system, she founded Gemma, a physician-guided women’s mental health community, centering impact and equity. In 2022, her colleagues Dr. Kali Cyrus MD MPH and Dr. Lucy Hutner MD joined the leadership team of Gemma.
Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included), is her first book.
She lives in Austin Texas with her partner Justin, their son, and their two cats, Kitty and Fifi.