Exhaustion, saturation, stress and frustration become the feelings most associated with the daily challenges of modern life. Problems grow multifold for women who have been trying to balance things both on the personal front as well as the professional space. They are constantly juggling a delicate routine of work, play, family and everything in between. Self-care therefore becomes an important element to combat daily stress and anxiety. More so, now — a time when the pandemic has sparked a ‘self-awakening’ among many — spending time for and with oneself, and letting that help in centering one’s own thoughts and aligning with them, has found many takers.
Most women grow up with the ideology that building a strong threshold and being more adaptive and resilient is required of them, and is good for them. They are often not told that it is perfectly fine to unplug at times, take a pause and just relax, and carve out some ‘me-time’.
This is the reason self-care guilt is widespread in women, and comes unannounced in various forms. “It shows up in ways like apologising for taking out time for yourself, or pushing a task aside because you have more productive things to do but feeling guilty about it later. Women feel uncomfortable to suddenly shift the balance from others (which includes parents, in-laws, spouses, children and even pets) to their own selves,” says Shradha Lohia, co-founder, Ekaanta: Mindiversity on the Ganges.
The chronic stress women usually go through while switching between multiple roles not only affect their everyday relationships, but it also makes them susceptible to many health ailments including a weak immune system, heart diseases, vulnerable mental state and many more. Delhi-based Ananya Malhotra, an IT professional and mother of two, suddenly started experiencing psychological changes, sleep disorders and weight gain. “Initially I ignored it and then when it became worse, I thought it was just because of lack of exercise and the work-from-home scenario during the pandemic,” she says. When it started affecting her immune system leading to gut-related issues, her husband convinced her to seek medical help. Her physician diagnosed her with suffering from stress and anxiety.
Her friend, Madhulika Shrestha, a Gurgaon-based psychiatrist advised Malhotra that she needed to focus on self-care in a guilt-free manner. “Self-care should always be part of the daily regime for women to keep stress at bay. Every woman needs to take time out to treat herself with love, respect, kindness and discipline,” says Shrestha.
A North Carolina-based Families and Communities Rising study conducted in May this year says that self-care is extremely important in maintaining and enhancing everyday life. In essence, self-care is an intentional action one takes to enhance health, restore energy, or maintain a positive mindset. In developing a regular self care routine, one is bound to spend more time with oneself, understanding what brings a personal moment of joy and peace, all of which can contribute to, as research says, positive outcomes. This includes fostering resilience and becoming better equipped to manage stress.
Work, whether it’s household or career-related, takes away the majority of our energy and time. This routine leaves us with no time to spend with ourselves. “Treating ourselves compassionately increases the production of oxytocin—a hormone which helps us feel safe and loved. With mindfulness [through self-care activities], we can be self-compassionate without waiting for others to reach out to us in order to lend a caring hand. It is imperative to treat ourselves with kindness just the way we do with others. But sometimes this task becomes difficult for women because we feel that it is selfish on our part,” says Lohia.
Amidst maddening work deadlines and looking after the family, women often forget to take a pause and listen to the signals their mind and body send them. At the same time, it is important to remember that over-indulgence is not self-care. Sleeping 12 hours a day, taking a luxurious vacation or ordering a lavish meal does not entail self-care. “The idea is to let the mind and body unplug, relax and rejuvenate,” Shrestha says. In stressful times, it is imperative for people to invest their time and energy towards activities that can help them grow as an individual rather than focusing and attracting negative vibes from people and surroundings.
Self-care is relative and can vary from person to person. For some, just sitting in the balcony unwinding without any gadget can be self-care, while for others, simply talking to a friend, going on a walk, or even cooking can count.
“I have finally understood that women just need to be aware of the fact that ‘burnout’ is not a badge of honour and the onus is on them to care for themselves before caring for everyone else,” says Malhotra, adding that she has picked up pottery as a hobby to de-stress and explore her own joy and happiness.