Women: Be mentally healthy with social support and positive habits

Julia Samton, MD Director of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric and Board Certified in Psychiatry & Neurology Manhattan Neuropsychiatric

Women experience a number of gender specific life events that can affect their mental health. Many of these events are accompanied by rapid hormonal shifts and emotional vulnerability. Menarche, pregnancy, breast feeding, perimenopause, and menopause are some examples of the dramatic life events that women experience that can negatively impact their mental health. In addition to the physical and hormonal challenges that women endure, there are tremendous pressures to fulfill the roles of mother, wife, nurturer, and/or career woman. The media can further contribute to women’s stress by creating pressure to reach a physical ideal that is rarely attainable in real life. Lastly, there are societal risk factors, such as high rates of violence towards women, that can also negatively impact their mental health.


Do set limits

Make sure to set limits to preserve your mental health. There might be no end to the demands of family and career life, but you can acquiesce to the demands you place on yourself. Understand when you are feeling overwhelmed and take time to unwind. Identify ways that help you relax. Do not neglect essential processes such as exercise, sleep, relaxation, and healthy eating.

Do recognize vulnerable times

It is common to become more emotionally vulnerable during rapid hormonal shifts. Examples of these periods include postpartum, weaning a child from breast feeding, perimenopause, and right before your period. During these times, the fluctuations of hormones can make you feel more irritable, moody, and fragile. If you recognize when these periods are occurring you can prepare for them. Realize that although you feel less anchored, it is not necessarily due to something in your environment.

Do seek help

Women are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and somatic complaints. It is unclear why this discrepancy exists, but there are likely many factors including societal pressures. One in six women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. There are many expectations on women today. Many women are expected to contribute substantially to their family income, without an appropriate reduction in responsibility. It is important to seek help if you notice your emotions are growing worse and out of control. Speaking to a mental health professional can help sort out the different contributors to your low mood and get you the treatment you need.

Do know the signs of an eating disorder

Because there is a tremendous amount of pressure from the media on women to have an ideal body, eating disorders are particularly prevalent. Learn the signs, and if you notice them in yourself, your tween, or your teenager, seek medical attention. Excessive dieting and calorie restriction, compulsive exercising, binge eating, and purging by self induced vomiting and laxatives are all indicative of an eating disorder. These behaviors are unhealthy emotionally and physically. Seeking help from a mental health professional is the first step towards health.

Do choose help that works for you

When you are choosing a mental health professional, seek a place you can trust. If you do not feel comfortable with one therapist, try another. If your issue is gender specific, you may feel more comfortable speaking to a woman. Perhaps you would be more comfortable talking in a group setting. Whatever it is, realize that there are many mental health resources available, and select one that suits you.


Do not wait for bad times

Do not wait for the bad times to take care of your mental health. Try to establish regular sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet during periods of strength. These will help sustain you through the negative times. Maintaining a structured health routine adds balance and can anchor you through difficult emotional periods.

Do not turn to alcohol

If you are feeling depressed and down, recognize that you can seek help rather than turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as using drugs and alcohol. Women who drink are more likely to experience liver damage and alcohol related cardiovascular disease. In addition, research has suggested a link between drinking and breast cancer. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding have to be especially mindful of the toxic effects of drinking on the fetus and newborn infant.

Do not keep your worries to yourself

Share your feelings and experiences with your friends. Seek their help and support when you are feeling lost and down. The more social support you have, the less likely you will feel isolated. When we keep our negative thoughts and emotions to ourselves, they grow and become even more removed from reality. Friends can be there for you in a crisis, and sharing your experience can help remove you from repetitive thought patterns that deepen your sadness and anxiety.

Do not judge your feelings as abnormal

Some women find pregnancy the most joyful and calm time in their lives, while others find it to be uncomfortable and tethering. Midlife can be a time of career growth and family cohesion, or a period marked by divorce, unemployment and illness. Some women find the senior years to be the most joyful, while others experience a tremendous amount of anxiety and depression. The only certain thing is that there is no “normal.” Mental health can be affected at any life stage and any one of us can experience unanticipated hardship. Do not waste time judging yourself instead of getting the help you need to feel better.

Do not forget to be a role model

Children and teenagers need to see positive female role models so that they can learn the behaviors that might protect their mental health in the future. Be a good listener to the younger girls and women in your life. Try to be present and communicate regularly. Help young girls and women to develop healthy friendships and interests that might ultimately build mental wellness across her life.

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Women are faced with a number of unique challenges that can affect mental health. These include the influences of hormones during certain periods such as menarche, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause. Societal factors such as pressure placed by the media to achieve an ideal body weight and high rates of sexual assault are possible risk factors. Learn to recognize the signs of mental health. When you experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, seek the appropriate help from your social supports and a mental health professional. In addition, develop healthy habits that endure through good times and bad to maintain physically and mentally fitness.

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Julia Samton, MDDirector of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric and Board Certified in Psychiatry & Neurology

Dr. Julia Samton is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Neurology and is currently the Director of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric, P.C. Dr. Samton is a voluntary faculty member at New York Hospital Weill Cornell and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York Cit...

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