If there is a miracle elixir that could instantly make all troubles away – both real and imagined – will the world be a little bit easier to live in?
Sometimes, it is nice to daydream of ideal scenarios where stress, problems, and struggles do not exist. Life, after all, can be complicated and overwhelming at specific points. The effects of daily stressors can manifest in different ways. Still, the reality is that it will not be as grueling in every other aspect as it is on mental health - especially these days when you cannot open the television, newspaper, or mobile phone without being reminded of how chaotic and tumultuous the present world is.
But we will not dwell on that; otherwise, we risk falling headfirst into a downward spiral. We will focus instead on ways to fortify the mind against stress, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and negative energy. The goal is to achieve optimal mental wellness through small, doable steps. We are talking about simple steps that we can follow and not those grand, supposedly life-altering steps that we write on a journal under a To Do header, only to be forgotten and buried beneath other more pressing tasks. If baby steps are needed to achieve balance and clarity in life, we are taking baby steps toward our goal.
Before we begin, let us define mental health first.
According to the CDC website, mental health “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being” and “affects how we think, feel, and act.” Our mental health also determines how we manage stress, communicate and relate to others, and make sound choices.
In recent years, mental health has garnered lots of interest due to its importance for overall health, which means it is not a taboo subject anymore (rejoice!). The days when mental health was discussed in hushed tones are over, and the stigma against mental health issues has been slowly lifted away by an unknown force. It is a good development, but work is still to be done.
The CDC estimates that in the United States alone, more than 50% of the population will be diagnosed with a mental health issue or disorder at some point in their life. One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year, and one in twenty-five Americans is currently living with a serious mental health condition like major depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. The numbers are grim, so the fight is far from over.
Women face unprecedented challenges when it comes to mental health: there are body image and self-esteem issues fueled by society’s obsession with physical appearance, juggling different roles and responsibilities at the same time (women are faced with the enormous task of balancing career with household chores, child-rearing, studies, and caring for extended family), identity shifts across the lifespan (roles change from childhood to adulthood, from daughter, friend, partner, mother, worker, caregiver), biological changes, social comparison, and lastly, the crushing weight of expectations (whether they are cultural, social, externally, or self-imposed).
Combine these factors, and you will understand why women’s mental health suffers, or why about 15% of women have anxiety or an anxiety-related condition and 10% have had depression. According to research, it does not help that women are less likely to seek medical help after experiencing symptoms of mental illness because of internalized stigma, which is rooted in their self-image formed by the way others perceive them.
It is never easy to recognize the patterns of a problem and do your best to stop the cycle, but there are ways to let women take charge of their health and wellness. Most mental health issues of women can be prevented by making simple changes to one’s lifestyle. Some of these changes include:
Practicing self-care: Self-care is more than just a buzzword that people throw around to get an extra 15 minutes of sleep on a Monday morning or another helping of dessert at lunch. Self-care works if you do it properly. It does not have to be overly complicated, too. Anything that makes you happy and helps you lessen stress and that you can squeeze in between tasks should be enough. Let self-care be a 30-minute nap in the afternoon, a warm cup of tea that you sip while reading your favorite book, a massage, a new aromatherapy candle, or a quick dip in the pool during weekends – the choice is yours. Do something that makes you happy, anything, big or small. The plan to take care of your health should always begin with doing things that make you happy. Period.
Meditate: Yes, you can meditate at home! If you do not have time or resources to go to fancy spas and meditation facilities, that is okay because you can do it in the comfort of your room. Meditation is an excellent way of managing stress, so make sure to allot a few minutes each day to clear up your mind and breathe.
Eat well and stay hydrated: A balanced diet benefits not just the body but the mind as well. Choose healthy, homecooked meals over fast food meals and junk food. The idea of cooking meals may seem daunting at first, but it can also be therapeutic! You can buy fresh produce at the grocer and try to prepare a simple meal – a sandwich, soup, or simple salad, nothing too elaborate – and you will be surprised at how soothing the process of peeling and chopping (not to mention the best part, which is eating) is. Do not forget to drink plenty of water!
Schedule routine check-ups: It does not matter if you think you are in tip-top shape; you should see a primary care doctor regularly. Most women’s health issues can be prevented with early detection and diagnosis. If you are proactive with upholding healthcare measures, your chances of beating diseases and making a full recovery are much higher. Remember that!
Exercise: Being physically active benefits mental health more than you can imagine. Aside from keeping the body in good shape, exercise aids digestion, strengthens bones and muscles, improves brain health, and keeps depression away. So even if you are busy, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. And it does not have to be limited to the confines of a gym; you can also take up activities that you enjoy like brisk walking, dancing, swimming, or even yoga.
Mental wellness is not a myth – it is real and can be achieved using simple steps. Taking care of it as much as you take care of your responsibilities is important. The last (and probably most important) piece of advice I can give is not to be afraid to seek help when you need it – from your partner, family, friends, or a professional. The world is tough enough, and the best way to survive is by helping each other out.
If you’re experiencing overwhelming stress or symptoms of anxiety and depression, consider making an appointment with a therapist or visiting a trusted healthcare professional to discuss ways to improve your mental health.