Ask the average woman if she’s satisfied with where she is in life. Chances are she’ll say no. Not because she’s unhappy. But because she’s not happy enough. And what that means is that she just thinks she’s not good enough. Her body according to her is nothing like the models’ in the magazine on her living room table. Her career isn’t going the way she planned. She’s unhappy that she doesn’t have the time to make five-course meals for her children. And as a result, she always thinks she isn’t not enough. And all of this leads to that monstrous emotion we’re all aware of – stress. In 2011, a report stated that Indian women were the most stressed in the world. You could argue that this is a decade ago, but not much has changed, especially given that I write this two years into a global pandemic, which has ensured levels of stress in women have remained the same, if not worsened.
And it doesn’t help that very often, society elevates and puts us on a pedestal. The notion that as a woman – you must be a superwoman, has been fed into us since forever. Ghar bhi, office bhi, bacche bhi – we must be pros at every single thing. Not faltering even once, living up to all (sometimes even unrealistic) social expectations. Right from looking a certain way, to being able to multitask, like a clock that never stops.
And what that’s done is make us perpetually unhappy with ourselves, and always desire for more. While it’s a good thing to be self-competitive, it’s made us chase 100 goals at the same time. And sometimes we’re so focused on the goal, we forget to stop, take a breath and celebrate just how far we’ve come. And when that doesn’t happen, we get stressed.
The woman who is making a six-figure income is unhappy because she doesn’t have the time to hit the gym and maintain a size zero. The homemaker woman is unhappy because her cousin just raised funding on her new startup. And the entrepreneur is sad because she’s unable to give time to her children. And all of this leads to one thing – stress. And of course, the world outside doesn’t help either. Constantly pitting us against another. One beauty company after another that takes all your insecurities, and bottles them into a product – marketing it as the solution to whatever it is that you’re facing. Self-gurus who ask you to meditate and self-love your way into happiness. And the yesteryear Tulsis and Parvatis of the 90s, who were worshipped as the ultimate symbol of what a woman must look, behave and talk like. Sanskari, obedient and so ready to attend a wedding at the drop of a hat. (because even at night a sanskari woman must be decked in her finest sari, with OTT hair & makeup!).
And if this constant feeling of not feeling enough wasn’t enough, we’ve also been told to almost always brush our feelings under the carpet. Irrespective of what we’re going through – physically, mentally and emotionally. At thirteen, when our first periods set in, and hormonal changes give us everything from mood swings to cramps – we’ve been told to not be overly dramatic about it. As we go through teenage years to our twenties, experiencing everything from acne and dark circes to sexual activeness – they tell us to not make a big deal about it. When we get married and embrace a completely new family, household and social system and even identity (suddenly the sabziwala goes from addressing you as bhabhi instead of didi like you’ve always been used to). At childbirth, when our bodies create a completely new life. At menopause, when our bodies feel drained. In every situation, we’re told to put on a little makeup, smile and pretend as if nothing ever happened. As if we’ve got it all under control. Because the responsibility of owning it all is always on the woman.
And if we even choose to acknowledge the problem, we refuse to do the most important thing – talk! We stay silent – wiping away tears, putting on makeup, saying ‘I’m fine’ even when that is the last word we would use to describe ourselves. Only because we think that talking about it will make us appear weak, vulnerable, maybe even incapable of handling situations by ourselves. And by doing this, we only make things worse. Our mental health goes for a toss, and our feelings and emotions pile up like food in a pressure cooker – waiting to explode.
Whether it is emotional stress stemming from a broken relationship or sibling rivalry or just anything else, or an actual medical condition leading to stress (think postpartum depression, PCOS, miscarriage or menopause), the one thing we need to stop doing is pushing this into sheer silence. And talk about it. Scream if you must, but don’t stay silent. Ask for professional help if you think you will benefit from it. Ask your personal network. Ask your mother, mother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law and everyone around – whether it is advice, a shoulder to cry on, or simply just help with household errands. You don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to glorify yourself. Not if it affects your mental health. You don’t have to be the caregiver who forgets to put herself first, but in the end is exhausted because there’s no mental energy to manage her own emotions and feelings. It’s just like what they tell you on an aeroplane – put your mask on before you attend to anyone else. Because to fill someone else’s cup, yours must be filled to the brim in the first place.
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