A mindful approach to managing the complexities of being female
Originally posted 2015
I am terrible at maths.
I blame Miss Drummond – my third grade teacher. She spent more time shaving her legs in class than she did teaching, and believe me, when it came to multiplication, subtraction and especially division – I needed lots of teaching.
My maths difficulty aside, after some very rough calculations – I estimate that around 70% of my close female friends, across both America and Australia are on anti-depressant medication. 70% does seem rather high, especially when we are talking about a group of well-educated, intelligent, creative and passionate woman, most are in long-term relationships, many are mothers, some have busy and rewarding careers but they are all battling the troubles of anxiety and depression. Of course, the other possibility is that being a psychologist I am attracted to interesting, complex and slightly mad people in my life so my sample group is significantly skewed. Regardless, I sense there is a bit of a problem so I ask you what is going wrong? Why are these women needing to turn to medication to ease the chattering of their minds? What can we do as a society to ease some of the a) stress of being a woman and b) stress on our medical system as a result of the number of women seeking treatment and medication?
I propose the following areas could be woven into both our formal education system as well as our parenting classes:
1. Build Emotional Management Skills
Research tells us that women are likely to be more emotional beings than men – with this comes great strength (emotional intelligence) and some weakness (greater incidence of anxiety and depression when these emotions are not well managed). What are we doing to support women to manage and leverage the plethora of emotions they are genetically wired to experience? Science tells us that practicing mindfulness can enhance both emotion regulation and feelings of general well-being. The implementation of formal “awareness and observing” practices into both school and home life would be an invaluable addition to all.
2. Develop Relationship Skills
In my thesis (gosh the stats were a grind), I found that one of the biggest predictors of girls’ happiness is the quality of their relationships. What are we doing to support young girls and teenagers to manage the complexities of their relationships? I sense that woman are evolutionary wired to invest time and energy in relationships, however it may be possible that our prehistoric mind has trouble managing the complexities our modern era have introduced to us in this area.
Practicing mindfulness can help us to build deeper a connection within ourselves – to learn to love and accept ourselves as we truly are. It can also free us to build deeper and more genuine connections with others so we feel truly supported in this wonderful journey of life.
3. Set a Realistic Standard
The messages women are sent today about their role in society are so mixed and so complicated. I believe it is actually harder to be a woman now that it has been at any other time in history. According to the “pretend world” of media we are supposed to be the perfect wife/partner, be in great shape, have no wrinkles, be in a successful career, have well adjusted children, be a good cook, have a clean home, have lots of girlfriends and a fabulous wardrobe. The reality for most of us is that all of these combined are simply unachievable, something, somewhere has to give. And so we turn to medication because we are not living the perfect life we feel like we “should” be living. It is only the likes of Angelina Jolie (who we all know is a little bonkers anyway) who may be able to pull all of these off, but I am sure she does it with a lot of help and probably a great therapist.
Sadly, other women can be our worst enemies too. We can be so harsh on each other, some of us paint the picture that we do have it all together, leaving the rest of us feel inadequate on some level. Come on girls, what happened to the sisterhood?
So, as a women and a mother (of 2 boys!), I believe it is our role to do the following for our girls:
o Teach them that it is OK to be vulnerable – after all that is how we build deep connections within ourselves and with others (refer to Brene Brown’s wonderful TED talk on vulnerability)
o Help them to clarify their values and live within these – that is where true, deep happiness comes from
o Encourage them to set their own goals rather than be guided by others’ expectations
In closing, I believe women have the capacity to really shape and shift the state of the world as we live in it today. They have the emotional intelligence, the great relationship building skills and the drive to succeed that will support us into the next century. We just need to support them to manage these strengths more effectively. And, as far as my maths skills go, I have accepted I have strengths in other areas and have employed a great accountant!