You’re always taught to be the guardian of your home, caregiver to all, but now it’s time to learn to be there for yourself too

6 Ways to prioritise your mental health as a woman and why it’s important

Mental health is an issue that is increasingly affecting everyone irrespective of their nationality, age, or gender. However, women are more prone to internalising disorders and hence the way they suffer psychological distress and disorders is also different from that of men. According to the World Health Organization, Indians are among the world’s most depressed and the burden of depression is 50% more on women than men.

Take a minute to let that sink in. It’s a scary and infuriating statistic, but even if you ignore that and think about the women around you, you’re bound to know at least one who suffers (or has suffered from) clinical depression at some point in their life. Women get the short end of the stick in many aspects of life, and this is yet another. 

If you’re wondering what makes women twice as likely to suffer from depression, here are some reasons:

Gender bias: Patriarchal family systems where women have little or no say, fewer education and employment opportunities, and societal expectations all make women more prone to mental disorders like depression. What’s more, women’s illnesses and their symptoms are taken less seriously than men’s, and blame tends to be placed on them. For instance, it is often seen that if the husband were to suffer from mental illness, women have to automatically assume the role of the primary caregiver. However, if the wife were to suffer the same, she would be expected to continue with her familial responsibilities despite the state of her mental health.

Abuse: As per a UN report, about two-thirds of all married women in India have been victims of domestic violence. Moreover, about 70% of married Indian women have been victims of sexual assault. Most women in India, at some point, are victims to some form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. 

Hormones: At puberty, and then again during menopause, your reproductive system and hormones affect your mind and body significantly. Anxiety, sadness, restlessness, sleep disturbances etc. are symptoms linked with the menstrual cycle. Post-partum depression is a form of depression that affects most new mothers in the country. 

Related: Why do we need to focus on women’s mental health?

The above factors are deeply interwoven into the social, economic, and political systems of our country, and women find it hard to be unaffected by them. At a more personal level, you may be more vulnerable to mental health issues because of family and work stress, failing to maintain a work-life balance, being too harsh on yourself, giving too much of your time and energy to others, etc.  

That, however, is not a very sustainable way to live. Burn out – emotional and physical – is inevitable if you keep ignoring your mental health needs. While you may have familial and work duties that cannot be ignored, your first and foremost duty is to yourself. That is your most sacred duty because only when you’re healthy, happy, and whole can you contribute in any way to anyone or anything. 

Here are 6 things you must commit to for your mental health:

1. Schedule ‘me time’

Whether you’re a friend, sister, daughter, mother, wife, or girlfriend, there are people who rely on you and reach out to you for little and big things. While it’s good to be there for those you care about, it can also be emotionally draining and exhausting, and you need to refocus your energies occasionally. 

Going on a ‘self-date’ or scheduling ‘me time’ is basically spending time by yourself doing something that you enjoy or helps you unwind. It could be something as simple as having Sunday brunch at your favourite restaurant or going to the cinema alone. Time by yourself gives you an opportunity to introspect and reflect, relax, and be re-energised to take on whatever life throws at you. 

No matter how busy you are, scheduling some me-time should be a non-negotiable. Once a week or once every two weeks, you should ensure that you give your undivided time, energy, and attention to yourself. 

2. Set boundaries 

Women are thought to be more agreeable and polite than men, which often works against them. Remember, it’s important to set boundaries because people will always push you as much as you let them – personally and professionally. 

An important thing to note is that every time you try to set a boundary, people will try to push it. If you let them, it will become a suggestion and cease to be a boundary. Hence, you must be firm and assertive and follow through with the boundaries you set. 

3. Rethink your priorities

As you start working, it’s easy to get lost in the rat race like everyone else. Overworking yourself, not getting enough sleep, relying on coffee, alcohol, or smoking as stress-busters, eating unhealthy food, etc. are easy traps to fall into. 

Hence, it’s crucial for you to take a step back and rethink your priorities. You’ll have to unlearn a lot of coping mechanisms and relearn habits you were taught as a child. Sleep for eight hours every night, eat breakfast on time, indulge in some form of physical activity, and have a support system. All these habits contribute greatly to your long-term mental health and well-being. 

4. Don’t be self-sacrificing

Thanks to inherent patriarchy, women are taught to sacrifice from a young age. It’s a given that when women get married, they leave their home and change their name and adopt a new lifestyle. It’s a given that women are to be mothers, and when they give birth, they must give up their career to focus on their children. It’s a given that if the husband finds a job in another city, the wife must uproot her whole life, leave her job, and move. 

Even if these things aren’t explicitly expected of you, they are ingrained in everyone’s minds. This often translates to women adopting a ‘sacrifice mentality’ for the greater good or to please people. Remember that you matter too. Ask yourself, ‘Why must I?’ when people expect you to do something that negatively impacts your life. Put yourself first and learn to say no. 

5. Know your worth

It’s important to know your worth because people are going to insist on making you feel less. Less of a good partner, less of a good friend, less of a good employee. Often, two people’s interests clash, or someone’s insecurity and ego make them act this way. 

It’s therefore important to know your skills, qualities, and strengths so that you can play your cards right. This will also ensure that you don’t seek validation from external sources, and make you less vulnerable to co-dependent relationships. 

Related: Impostor Syndrome and women: What is it and how to fight it?

6. Indulge in positive self-talk

You’re constantly in conversation with yourself and how you speak to yourself is important. If you’re constantly saying things like, ‘you know nothing’, ‘you’re so stupid’, ‘nobody likes you’, etc. Then you’re being a bully to yourself. 

It’s essential to monitor the way you talk to yourself and make a conscious effort to be positive. In the beginning, it may prove to be challenging, so you’ll have to be patient with yourself. But eventually, this will help you with your confidence, mindfulness, and inner peace. 

While these commitments are complementary, undertaking all of them together may not be possible. Start with the one you think you most certainly need at this point in your life and then build on it from there. Committing to even a few is a huge step towards self-awareness and self-care. Your body and mind are your forever soulmates; taking care of them lays the foundation for a healthy life. If you're experiencing anxiety or inexplicable sadness for a prolonged period, you can see a psychologist. A professional is best equipped to help you navigate through those feelings.