Women and self-care: Prioritising our own mental health and wellbeing

I mentioned in my recent newsletter that I am writing a book on women’s mental health and wellbeing, and so the topic is constantly on my mind at the moment. This blog will explore women and self-care, as we can struggle to prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing.

The 2018 Australian National Health Survey of Women found that ‘women are trying to do too much or they think they’re expected to do so much’. Where does this come from? Women learn to nurture their family, and often times the needs of the family come first. However, putting others first and ignoring our own needs often goes way beyond this.

The reasons for ignoring putting others first:

There are a number of reasons for ignoring our own needs. First of all, women are influenced by their family and the society in which they grow up and live, and are often trained by these influences to look after everyone else first. This can result in a sense of wanting to please others most of the time and to be of service.

People pleasing can also arise out of our response to there being many demands on us, or experiences of trauma, and the stress response that results. This is why we often struggle to say ‘no’ to demands. What can then result is taking on too many tasks and becoming exhausted, and it can mean not including enough time-out in the week.

Additionally, we are human and as a result, naturally compare ourselves to others. Comparison and a sense of lack (we are somehow lacking in beauty, body or something else in life) is fostered by media and advertising. Social media commonly focuses on ‘the perfect woman’. This mystical creature leads to unrealistic ideals for women and contributes to a lot of harm in our society for women.

At the centre of women not prioritising themselves can be a sense of having less importance than, or being inferior to, others. Humans make sense of the world by creating stories in our minds. Unfortunately, a ‘not being enough’ story about ourselves, can develop as we go through life.

So what do we do about putting ourselves up the priority list?

Prioritising our own self-care is the answer. This approach is not selfish, as is often suggested by society. It is necessary! We need to take the much-needed time and steps to look after ourselves. Then we will see the benefits for ourselves as well as for our loved ones.

Any small steps to address this issue are useful, and we must consider our own personal situations to identify what might help. Here are some ideas to contemplate:

  • We only have so much time and energy in life, so we need to focus our efforts in areas that are most valued.
  • Any small steps towards self-care are helpful.
  • Learn to have more boundaries, and to say ‘no’ more often.
  • We might need to teach others that we practice self-care, and won’t always be available to care for their needs.
  • Disconnect from phones, tablets or laptops regularly. Our brain needs time away from being stimulated by technology.
  • Our brain needs quiet time too. So pause and do nothing for a while and breathe.
  • Be mindful in everyday activities, and perhaps try some meditation.
  • Get out into nature regularly (e.g. walk barefoot on the beach).
  • Be grateful for the good things that happen in life, and laugh often!

It is vital to recognise that women are important and enough!

We may need to change our story to one of being ‘enough’ and deserving of self-care. Our mental health and wellbeing needs to become a priority in our own lives, and we need to begin to take, or take more, steps towards this. Remember: Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind (Doldinsky). We can achieve this together!

References:

ABC News. (2018). ‘National Health Survey of Women reveals many feel anxious or are clinically depressed’, www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-01/national-health-survey-australian-women-anxious-depressed/10188498.

 

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