During the past year there has been a lot more concern expressed about mental health but little mention of the higher risk of women developing poor mental health due to a range of socio-economic factors. For example, during their lifetimes women are likely to have greater caring responsibilities, spend more of their time on domestic tasks, be in lower paid work, experience violence or sexual assault, and have lower self-esteem than their male counterparts. Women frequently face greater discrimination and often have to work harder to achieve the same goals, rewards and status attained by men. A 2016 UK study showed that one in five women compared to one in eight men had a mental health issue.
The pandemic has led to an increase in stress levels for the majority of adults in the UK, and women’s wellbeing has been more negatively affected. Women have been employed in 60% of key worker jobs in health, education, public services, food, public order and transport, whilst many women in other occupations have had the added stress of homeschooling their children during lockdowns. High stress levels for a long period of time will impact on both physical and mental health.
However, we can be pro-active in looking after ourselves and reducing the risk of developing a mental health issue. Here are 8 positive ways that women can look after their mental wellbeing:
LOOK AFTER YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
We know that if we don’t get enough sleep, if we skip meals or binge on sugary foods, or if we spend most of our time sitting down in front of a screen, it will affect our physical fitness. We’ll probably have less energy and be less productive. But it can also affect our emotions and thought processes; we might feel more tense, irritable, anxious, sad, unmotivated, pessimistic or less able to concentrate than usual. Regular physical activity, a healthy balanced diet and plenty of restful sleep can help reduce the risk of developing both physical and mental health issues.
TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
As part of the training that I deliver I frequently ask participants to spend an hour of their evening doing something that they enjoy. Sometimes people say that they don’t have enough time for this, usually women, and most often mothers. After a busy and stressful day we all need some time to relax and unwind. The more we are stressed, the more we need time to de-stress to prevent our stress levels from rising and impacting on our health. Physical activity, relaxation or meditation, hobbies, pets, talking to others, being creative, spending time in nature etc., are all ways that can help us to de-stress.
CONNECT WITH OTHERS
Spending time with other people, whether in person, on the phone, or online is important for everyone. Social isolation is a known risk factor for poor mental health. When we connect with others to talk, share, socialise, smile, laugh, do things together, it has a positive effect on our mental wellbeing, and on theirs too. People with strong, supportive relationships are likely to be more resilient, better able to cope with difficult life events and less likely to experience poor mental health. It's also important to recognise that not all relationships are positive and some might be damaging. If that’s your experience keep in touch with other people that you believe will be supportive. I have also listed some national helpline numbers at the end of this article.
TALK ABOUT HOW YOU'RE FEELING
Not only is it beneficial for our mental wellbeing to have good, positive relationships but there are times when we need to offload about things that we have found difficult or distressing. A chat with a supportive friend or relative where we can share our feelings can often help us to de-stress and feel comforted. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk to a counsellor or contact a helpline and find out about other types of support that might be available.
ASK FOR AND ACCEPT SUPPORT
However much we might aspire to be a superwoman there will always be something that we can’t do on our own, and we can sometimes find ourselves doing more than others around us. We all benefit from support and encouragement whether we’re doing something for the first time, trying to keep on top of the day-to day stuff, or needing a shoulder to cry on. Maybe some tasks can be delegated, a rota drawn up, or maybe there’s a need to take a break and step back for a while. If you’re going through a difficult time, or there’s just too much that you’re having to deal with, it’s a good idea to ask other people for help and support before reaching a point where you feel overwhelmed, unable to cope or unwell.
IT'S OKAY TO SAY NO
There’s a saying that I’ve heard several times: “If you want something doing, give it to a busy woman”, but however efficient and capable someone might be, there is always a limit to how much time and energy they have available. Women can often find it hard to be assertive, especially when they are feeling stressed and worn out, but there are times when we all need to say no. No, I haven’t got time. No, I’m already doing too much. No, that’s not part of my job. No, No, No, No! (It’s good to practise).
When times are tough and we’re dealing with difficult situations it can be hard not to perceive everything from a negative viewpoint, when we’re more likely to feel annoyed or frustrated by ourselves or others, or start to expect that things will go wrong before they’ve happened. To develop a healthier, more balanced outlook we can counteract negative thinking by actively focussing on the positives. Notice the simple things that make you smile. Keep a record of what you achieve, of the things that you’re grateful for, of praise or compliments, of the things that you enjoy doing.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
You are amazing! If you are struggling to believe that then you are not alone. Many of us have experienced more criticism, more put downs, than praise or approval. We might find ourselves being self-critical; thinking that we’re not good enough, because that’s the message that we’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. We live in a society where women are expected to take on multiple tasks and roles, whilst pressured to look flawless, and be an ideal daughter/sister/partner/mother/aunt/grandmother etc. It’s unfair, unrealistic, and can seriously hamper women from achieving their potential. Don’t let it hold you back. You know what you want to do. Keep telling yourself that you can do it. You can do it. Of course you can do it. You will do it. You are amazing!
Jude Houseago is a Mental Health and Wellbeing Trainer with 20 years experience of supporting people with mental health issues in voluntary sector services.
Jude can be contacted via her website: https://www.judehouseago.co.uk
If you are in immediate danger, please phone 999 or visit your local A&E department.
Samaritans - 116 123 (national 24-hour freephone)
National Domestic Abuse Helpline - 0808 2000 247 (24-hour freephone)
Rape Crisis - 0808 802 9999 (national freephone - 12:00-14:30 and 19:00-21:30 every day.)
Victim support - 0808 16 89 111 (national 24-hour freephone)