In the last few weeks of school, the muggy summer air already starting to creep into the trailer-housed classroom, twenty-eight sixth graders in my creative writing class read and grappled with themes present in the Yellow Wallpaper, a short story written in the late 19th century by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I circled around their desks, pleased and amazed at how they dug into the literature. That day, not only was I impressed by my students’ willingness and excitement to engage with the story’s themes, but I was drawn into reflections of what it means to be a woman in society and what it means to be well. Watching more than half my class – girls who would be women in just a few years – debate with their male peers about the issues present in the story – repression, mental health, madness, freedom – inspired both pride and frustration. Their fight would not end after the 45 minute class. It would not end when they turned in their final group projects a few days later – a project that required the collaborative effort of all genders in the group. It would not end when they transitioned into high school, or walked across the stage at graduation, or entered college. It certainly would not end when they went into their careers in the maths, sciences, and liberal arts. No, they were at the beginning of their fight and they had been given a taste – through literature – that it has been a fight that has been going on for centuries.
Gilman picked a fight with the publication of her story in January 1892. Here we are now in March 2017 and still we fight. We are fighting hard to maintain rights to make decisions for ourselves in the most intimate of ways; we are fighting hard to achieve financial equality with our male counterparts ; we are fighting to protect our bodies from physical harm; we are fighting alongside our trans-sisters to live in our skin with pride and with respect. We continue to fight for our place in a society that has historically attempted to displace us from positions of power. We all come from a long history of fighters; we ourselves fight – sometimes just by merely existing – and we will cultivate, support and bear witness to fighters for many generations to come. Just as many of the women in generations before us had to pull upon every resource to make their voices heard, so do we today. Our voices reach across oceans and deserts. Our voices are worldwide.
Taking care of oneself is as crucial a piece of the fight as the fight itself. It begs the question, as fighters and as women, how do we stay well? How do we keep our minds and bodies healthy – that they may allow us to continue fighting in whatever way we choose? If you’re asking yourself that question, you’re already on the pathway to wellness.
Below are some key considerations for maintaining a healthy mind and body.
Mental Health & Emotional Wellness
Taking care of ourselves mentally and emotionally is a big deal. Women rate higher in incidences of anxiety and depression than men and 1 out of 5 women in the US has a mental health problem such as depression, an eating disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.1 Taking stock of your mental health is as important as looking after yourself physically. Healthy behaviors and activities such as regular exercise, yoga, journaling, and talking with a professional counselor can go a long way in treating many mental health disorders. Creating habits that allow you to routinely conduct an emotional check-in can lay the foundation for emotional wellness. This may include setting time aside every day to do something for yourself as well as checking in to note what activities, people, and environments may be causing you to expend yourself. Check in with the relationships in your life. Are there any relationships in which you are taking on too much of the emotional labor? Are there ways that relationships could be altered to help you feel better emotionally supported? Your mental health and emotional needs may change over time which makes it all the more important to create myriad opportunities to tune into what your mind and your heart may be requesting. See my blog post on Practicing Self-Love for more ideas on how to habitualize mental health and emotional self-care.
Sex sometimes gets left off the checklist when discussing factors that contribute to wellness, but it is an important component to consider as it is a part of so many of our lives. Sexual wellness looks a bit different for everybody (and every body) but below are some considerations when addressing sexual wellness.
- How in tune are you with your body? Engaging in non-sexual self-pleasure as well as sexual touching can broaden your understanding of your likes and dislikes as well as encourage comfort and confidence in your body.
- How in sync are you with your partner/s? A safe environment is key to pleasurable sexual experience and the ability to share desires with your partner/s can lead more intimate and enjoyable sexual experiences.
- Physical safety is important as well! Scheduling routine visits to the gynecologist and doctor for sexually transmitted infections screening, HIV and HPV tests, pap smears, and to discuss birth control and reproductive health are all important factors in maintaining a healthy sexual life.
- Get familiar with different types of protection. There are a variety of choices that can be used to help protect you from STIs. Talk to your doctor about your options and try out different types so you know what works best for you.
- Know your ‘mones. Knowing your moans is fun too but knowing how different hormonal changes affect your body can help you get a better handle on how to navigate sex and intimate moments before, during, and after hormonal-influencing events like menstruation, changes in birth control, and hormone therapy shots. Read more about everyday things that can impact hormones at Bustle – 11 Everyday Things That Can Affect Your Hormones
While this is the one that’s likely front and center when most people think of wellness, there are some key considerations for women that help us keep our physical vessels in prime form – ready for today and many days to come. Scheduling a well-woman visit is an excellent way to jumpstart your wellness practice. This routine visit provides an opportunity to talk with your doctor about family history, predisposing factors to diseases, and participate in important tests that will give you and your doctor significant information about your health. Knowledge is power! Armed with information about your body, you and your doctor can make key choices in addressing your physical health.
Knowing what to put into your body and how to use your body are also critical pieces of the physical wellness puzzle. In the US, almost 2 out of 3 women die from chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.2
This can be preventable by knowing your risk factors, paying particular attention to what you eat, and engaging in physical exercise regularly. Exercise is also great for lowering the stress hormone cortisol, lowering the risk of breast cancer and heart disease 3 and assists with regulating sleep.
Finding a doctor that you feel comfortable with can help with keeping well-woman visits at the top of your to-do list each year. Try out different doctors to ensure that you feel confident and comfortable with the doctor that will be working with you. For individuals that are members of the trans- community, finding a doctor who is trans-knowledgeable and trans-affirming is a key consideration. Centers such as Callen-Lorde specialize in serving the LGBT community.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about financial wellness. This might not be something that comes to mind when thinking about wellness. In fact, it may be something that you simply prefer not to think about or talk about. The fact is, financial wellness is a crucial factor to consider as finances can impact all the other components of wellness. Poor financial health can contribute to increased stress, may limit your ability to engage healthy practices that influence your physical health, and it could negatively affect relationships.
Financial wellness will look different depending on your individual circumstances but the overall goal in achieving financial wellness is to get a better grasp on what your financial goals are and to know enough about your financial situation to make decisions that move you closer to your goals. Working with a financial advisor can provide an up close and personal way to get a grip on your dollars. There are also informational workshops offered at low or no cost around the city, such as the free financial/credit counseling services offered by the New York City Public Library, geared towards helping you improving your financial literacy.
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I started this post talking about a fight and ending it on a note of wellness but I see the two as being intimately intertwined. In order to maintain our capacity to raise our voices for issues that affect women – that affect all of us – we need to take care of our minds and our bodies. For more about how to take care of yourself, tune in May 14 to May 20, 2017 for the National Women’s Health Week.
1. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services (2017). [Infographic illustration Pay Attention to Your Mental Health]. National Women’s Health Week. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw/tools/infographics/
2. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services (2017). [Infographic illustration Eat Healthy]. National Women’s Health Week. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw/tools/infographics/
3. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services (2017). [Infographic illustration Get Active]. National Women’s Health Week. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw/tools/infographics/
© Copyright 2017 FreshPathNY.com. All rights reserved. Contributed by Deanna Richards, LMHC