Great expectations

Go easy on yourself:  Women are expected to be considerable breadwinners, sexually desirable wives and creative moms. PIC GETTY IMAGES

Talking therapies are undoubtedly fashionable, but the way we value emotional health may not have changed as much as we think. In a stressful society, achieving a work-life balance is tougher than ever, and pressures on women to have careers, families, relationships and an indispensable support network, can mount up. Although we may be more willing to seek help, 46 per cent of women who took park in a survey said they wouldn’t talk about having counselling openly, suggesting that mental health problems, and seeking support for them, is still not viewed in the same way as physical issues.
“Mental health problems still have a significant stigma attached,” says Cat O’Neill, services manager of Anxiety UK. “People worry that others will think they are incompetent or can’t cope. They are scared of showing weakness, particularly in a highly competitive workplace.”

O’Neill stresses that women’s emotional health is as important today as it ever has been. “Recent reports show that anxiety disorders have increased by 13 per cent in the past 15 years,” she says. “Common issues that cause this are divorce, bereavement, work-related stress, financial insecurity, scare stories in the media, managing the work-life balance and choosing a career or family. We’ve also noticed an increased number of women calling with regard to debt, or worrying about missed mortgage payments.”

Jim Phillips at the Expert Patients Programme Community Interest Company, says that women often struggle with mental health issues because they are so busy looking out for everyone else. “Women clearly value and worry about their mental and emotional wellbeing, and give it thought, but put their own needs second to those of family, and others around them. A common theme we hear is that women have no time for themselves, or space to talk about what affects them. Many do fear that if they talk about their feelings they will be judged or deemed a bad parent.”

Eliza Meredith is a teacher at the Hoffman Institute and has her own psychotherapy practice. She says that increasing numbers of women do view their emotional self as something that needs to be nurtured. “We recognise that emotional health is fundamental to our physical and mental wellbeing. Many illnesses have been scientifically connected to unresolved emotional needs, so we ignore them at our peril.”
“There’s an expectation on women today to be considerable breadwinners, sexually desirable and creative mummies, but being at peace with who we are makes a challenging world an easier place to live in. Having self compassion allows us to be kind to ourselves and those we connect with in our lives.”

Although she encourages women to take care of their emotional health, Cat O’Neill does sound a note of caution: “Everybody experiences ups and downs from time to time and people shouldn’t become too preoccupied that there is something wrong with them. Many people with anxiety think they are losing their mind or losing control, which isn’t the case.”

The perfect antidote

Women are bombarded with images of perfection, and yet the survey revealed that 58 per cent of respondents are neither happy or unhappy with the way they look. Is ambivalence a healthy reaction to the pressures of the wider world, or something we need to worry about?

“Women hear messages about the importance of being attractive throughout their lives,” says Carla Miller, life coach and founder of spacetobe.co.uk.

“It starts with fairy tales and is continued through TV shows, films and magazines. It’s impossible to live up to and trying to reach this ideal can be a threat to your mental and physical wellbeing.”

“Many of us waste hours of our lives focusing on our flaws when we could have been out enjoying life instead,” says Miller. “Acceptance of ourselves, flaws and all, is the key to enjoying life and having healthier relationships.”

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