Impact of Gender Based Pay Gap on Women’s Mental Health in India: A Critical View

By Ashika Jain & Krupa Naik

What is a gender-based pay gap? It is the average difference between the remuneration for men and women working the same job.

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Research indicates that for every rupee earned by a man in India, women earn 81 paise for the same work done, interestingly this widens across higher skill level dropping down almost up to 70 paise for the women for high skilled occupations.

Some glaring statistics indicated by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap 2020 Report, there are 72 countries where women are barred from opening a bank account or obtaining credit, and there is no country in the world where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as men, countries with the lowest ration it is still 2:1. This brings us to an important aspect of the gender gap – unequal pay.

Gender-based pay gap is an all-pervasive phenomenon affecting women in all industries – from the glamorous movie industry to the hourly labour industry. The basis for such an unequal pay scale lies in the stereotypical gender roles enforced on ‘females’. The social power imbalance perpetuated by these stereotypes is always working against individuals identifying as female.

Let us examine how this came to be. Historically, women have been considered to be the gentler, ‘weaker sex’ who are required to focus their energy on unpaid work of caring for their spouse, children, other family members, home and then if they wish, they may or may not be allowed to invest some energy into paid work. Now because women traditionally have not always been available for full-time paid work, their wages were understandably lower than that of their male counterparts usually doing full-time work. The disparity, based on the patriarchal assumption that women are not available to invest their full energy and or resources into paid work as they are mandatorily having to invest some (if not most) of their energy into the unpaid work demanded of them, became more glaring when more and more women were getting into full-time roles.

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This false assumption stood the test of time and failed hardworking women time and over again. The patriarchal society has made it difficult for women to thrive outside of their traditional role within the household.

Over time, these stereotypical gender roles have given rise to multiple biases which additionally work against women. One such bias is the ‘Brilliance Bias’, which assumes that men are promoted based on their ‘potential’ versus women are promoted based on their ‘current capability’. Simply explained, women have to work much harder to be recognized and seen as capable of rising through the ranks whereas men simply have to “show promise” to be seen and monetarily rewarded/validated.

Since a lot of women’s self-esteem and self-confidence is derived from their work – after all, they spend a great deal of time and invest a lot of energy in the workplace – it can be deeply upsetting to see their time and effort being undervalued and underappreciated simply because of peoples’ ingrained biases.

This gives insight into the incorrect and unhealthy set of roles and biases that are failing women and their brilliance every day. The unequal social structure we live in breaks down resilience and hampers the wellbeing of women world over. Add to this, unequal reward structures can potentially impact women’s mental health as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) comments that risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include income inequality. The extent of harm and suffering caused by a simple act unequal pay is grave – affecting not only women but also adversely denting the lives of those attached to them. A 2016 study by Columbia University has found that when women make less money for the same work compared to their male counterparts, they are 2.4 times more likely to experience depression and four times more likely to experience anxiety.

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When we speak of equal opportunity, addressing and bridging the gender gap is a non-negotiable area. There is much need for social reform in this area and some silver linings have been witnessed. Along with activism led by women, crucial support has also been received by those whom this pay gap does not directly affect – the men. Some men belonging to the movie industry have refused to accept movie offers until the female leads were promised equal pay. These are much needed acts of solidarity that women the world over need, after all, one of the key factors highly protective against the development of mental health problems issupport from family, friends and peers.

Living in a world where there is a lopsided representation of one half of the population in economic participation and opportunity, we need legislation to change along with changes in societal/cultural attitudes towards unpaid work and childcare – starting with educating the younger generation. As long as this is not corrected, women’s career opportunities will continue to be undermined and the resultant gender pay group will be left unresolved.

Resources:

  1. ‘Brilliance’ Bias Favoring Men Affects Gender Parity At Work: Study
  2. How the gender pay gap affects women’s mental health
  3. Gender Pay Gap Contributes to Increased Rates of Depression and Anxiety Among Women
  4. The gender pay gap is harming women’s health
  5. Gender and women’s mental health
  6. Uncovering the hidden impacts of inequality on mental health: a global study
  7. Unequal Depression for Equal Work? How the wage gap explains gendered disparities in mood disorders
  8. The missing 235m – Why India needs women to work | Leaders
  9. Global Gender Gap Report 2020

The Queer Life: An unfair journey in a distorted hetero-normative world

By Kavina Kothari and Kajal Makwana

Sexual orientation is a person’s sexual identity concerning the gender assigned at birth and sexual attraction. LGBTQ++ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and stands for all the sexuality which is non-binary, questioning, and non-confirming included in the community. LGBTQ++ community till date is trying to find a voice and acceptance as many cultures still believe that heterosexuality as normative. The LGBTQ++ community tends to face many issues (physical, mental, emotional and verbal) due to their gender identity and sexual preference not being considered as normative by the society despite being supported by scientific evidence.

Studies have shown that youth from the community are at elevated risk of facing mental health concerns, suicide, abuse, and violence and in the current pandemic times they may be facing more concerns than ever. Being stigmatized by major societies in the world, facing a lack of acceptance from family and peers and societal pressure threatens their overall survival. They ail from ‘minority stress’ that is faced by individuals at margins.

Family acceptance plays a huge role in the lives of queer individuals, who are often at the receiving end of homophobic family members attempting to disapprove, deny and dismiss them. They may even resort to conversion therapy. Such unethical conversion practices are traumatic and founded on the faulty belief that the queer individual’s gender or sexual identity is not normative and needs to be corrected. Family support and acceptance is imperative to stop bullying, violence, abuse and even conversion in the community.

Due to lack of acceptance and insecure attachment traits, queer individuals may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as co-dependent relationships or substance dependency or spending their lives pretending to be heterosexuals. This may have devastating effects on their psyche, ranging from isolation, fear and ignorance of being seen as different, depression to social exclusion. The lack of safe spaces then extends beyond their home to the locker room, school washroom and gym where they may encounter unsafe practices or be cornered for their identity.

In early childhood parents need to allow children to experience gender without stereotyping. Family members need to know it is okay if a boy tries on his sister’s dress or mother’s lipstick or that girls are not ‘supposed’ to do household chores only. Instilling shame in children for trying things different from their assigned gender is in effect violation of their person and sense of self. Similarly judging a boy for being too sensitive or a girl for not being sensitive enough can cause them to question their emotional capabilities or suffer in silence.

It would do well to remember that just like health, sexuality functions on a continuum. It is not static and may change throughout one’s lifetime, varying from person to person. It cannot be boxed into predetermined categories irrespective of our assigned gender.

Whatever be the assigned gender by birth, parents can assume a supportive role, assuring children, being there to validate them and make them feel safe and comfortable about their choices.

Some common issues faced by the queer community at large:

1. Lack of acceptance

Parents and family are the primary caregivers and children rely on them for acceptance and attachment. A queer child that has been made to feel otherwise or where the primary caregiver was inaccessible or rejected them is likely to suffer from mental trauma and may turn out to be avoidant or rebellious. They may even conceal their true identity for fear of being rejected or grow up with feelings of shame and self-loathing.

2. Bullying and harassment

Bullying is quite prevalent in all social institutions towards any individual who does not adhere to the binary interpretation. Bullying ranges from verbal, physical, emotional to cyberbullying. It is quite certain that almost every individual of the LGBTQ++ community has at some point faced derogatory remarks or name calling around their appearance, starting from their own home. This experience of bullying in the formative years, rejection from their primary care givers and abandonment in their own home is a scar they often carry throughout their life time.

3. Marginalization

Being on the receiving end of negative public and societal attitude, queer individuals are marginalized with little control over their lives and lack access to resources, including education and health services, income, health and justice facilities, leisure activities and employment. Lacking other means of support can also push LGBT youth further onto the margins.

4. Heterosexual bias in language

Heterosexual bias in language is very common when people address queer individuals, using unclear terminology or associating it with negative stereotypes. This may entail jokes, name calling, creating a hostile environment and even negative media representation. Such bias prevents visibility of queer individuals. In the same way that our names, identities and pronouns hold importance, for queer individuals too these are a symbol of their identity

5. Homophobia and discrimination

Homophobia is at the root of bullying and discriminating against people that do not fit into their box of ‘normal’. Discrimination may begin at home and continue in the outside world in various forms – treating one child differently from the other, asking the child to leave home, mistreatment at school, disowning the child, unequal job opportunities, being denied homes on rent etc. Homophobic family members can create challenges for queer individuals, suffocating their existence with regressive beliefs that are further endorsed by religion or culture e.g. terming queer practices as ‘evil’, ‘satanic’ or ‘paap’. The normative definition of gender, sexual identity, and relationships is at best a distorted one, failing to take into account the scope of gender that spans beyond giving birth or binary practices.

6. Psychological distress

Queer individuals can cope with the daily stress in their lives with the support of family, friends and social networks. Facing stigmatization, discrimination and harassment can have a negative impact on their mental health leading to psychological distress, self-harm and even suicide, particularly in younger individuals who may be more vulnerable having faced challenges at a critical time of their social or emotional development. Anxiety and depression is more common among the community than their heterosexual counterparts. Being gender variant in a patriarchal society can cause them to feel intense sadness, loneliness, discomfort in social situations. Similarly facing rejection, being closeted in some or all aspects of life can cause them to have poor emotional health.

Some guidelines that could serve as basic LGBT manners to help us become more inclusive of gender and sexual diversity in our personal and professional life:

Modify the ‘normative’ in your head to consider the existence of non-binary individuals and freedom of gender, sexuality and expression

  • Be aware of and understand your own sexual orientation and your comfort with it
  • Educate yourself about sexual diversity, LGBT culture and norms so that you can dispel myths and address misinformation
  • Educate caregivers so that the child learns to be self-reliant and unafraid of exploring at the correct age and the home becomes a safe space to enhance their confidence and resilience
  • Ask a queer individual how they would like to be addressed, for their preferred name and pronoun, acknowledging and respecting their unique identity
  • Use inclusive language and take an anti-heterosexist stand to show your support for the community
  • Affirm and respond with sensitivity if a LGBT person comes out to you, similarly respect their choice if they wish to conceal their LGBT identity
  • Avoid probing their sexual practices or expression or questions like “When did you know you are queer?”, remember no-one ever asked you “When did you know you are not queer?”
  • Avoid presenting a moral judgment of what you think is correct or incorrect, it may adversely impact their self-esteem or instil self-hatred in them

Despite the decriminalization of homosexuality by the Supreme Court in 2018, a lot is yet to be accomplished for the community including the change of mindsets of individuals around us.

The law can help normalize the situation but cannot eradicate the stigma – which is in the hands of each one of us if we really wish to be an ally for the queer community.

In conclusion, we can say that gender and sexual identity is not a personal failure or abnormal, it is a colossal human failure if we are unable to recognise and respect differences. As Chris Colfer rightly said, “There’s is nothing wrong with you, there’s a lot wrong with the world you live in.”

Creating safe spaces

By Kavina Kothari & Krupa Naik

The pandemic has shown us the importance of mental health in a more alarming way than an inspiring one and our intrinsic need to reach out seems to be at an all-time high.

As social animals, we seek validation, approval and reciprocation for all our actions from others and at this time of social distancing the lack of being able to see or touch our loved ones is causing tremendous distress and feelings of isolation; add to this the fear of economic loss, unemployment, constant news of death and we have damaging repercussions on our psyche. Each one of us may feel differently about the situation, some may be usually stressed or anxious while others may be sinking into depression.

Some people may not even realise they are suffering from depression or may try to conceal it from others. Typical symptoms that all of us need to be aware of include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness, isolating oneself, lack of interest in pleasurable activities, severe mood fluctuations, heavy reliance on alcohol or substances, giving away possessions, passive death wishes and engaging in self-harm.

The World Health Organisation has predicted the rise of a mental health crisis, more specifically anxiety and depression, due to the current situation – a prediction that seems close to manifesting with the number of suicides taking place nationwide.

While there is no definite cause of suicide, it may result from many aspects including genetics, socio-economic factors and underlying mental illness. It is easy to link suicidal tendencies to socio-cultural or economic factors, what is hard is to break the stigma around seeking help.

Suicide is a cry for help which often goes unheard. Each time we hear of someone dying by suicide, it is a wake-up call reminding the world of the temporary vanity that we are living in where there’s more than we see behind the mask.

As we are propelled into a fast-paced world that has no tolerance or appreciation for ‘less-thans’ or ‘trying-to-make-a-marks’ or ‘not-there-yets’, a single judgmental comment or rude glance or mocking joke can hurl us into dark dungeons of loneliness with no return.

And when we don’t know how to deal with issues around our mental health or rely on healthy coping mechanisms, we may feel most vulnerable. What we need from the world is ‘normalisation’, a ‘safe space where we are comfortable to be who we are’ without the pressures weighing us down and forcibly fitting us into acceptable moulds. We can help ease each other’s burdens by simply reaching out.

We also require a shift in perspective each time we hear of a suicide from ‘why did they do this…did they not think about others in their life?’ to ‘what if we let them down or overlooked the signs that were there all along?’

So can we create such a shift? Here are a few ways in which we can start in this trying time:

  • Call or text friends or family you haven’t spoken with in a while
  • Check-in with a loved one to see how they are doing or coping and help them open up or even introspect on their thoughts
  • Be someone in their circle of support in case they need to reach out
  • If someone has a pre-existing mental health condition, don’t mock them or discriminate against them
  • If someone is taking medical treatment for a mental health condition, ensure you encourage them to continue to follow medical advice
  • If someone shares their feelings, don’t dismiss it listen non-judgmentally
  • Don’t hesitate to ask them openly about suicide, if they share a need to give up on life
  • If something looks amiss, seek professional help immediately
  • Prepare a list of helpline numbers in case you need to manage an emergency

Remember any one of us can undergo a mental health condition at any point in time, and it’s okay to seek help. When each one of us starts to normalise issues related to our mental health and remains available to lend a hand, we can create a world that is a safe space for everyone to be.

Are you stress drinking?

By Ashika Jain & Kajal Makwana

Coping with the pandemic has served as a challenge for us all – neurotypicals and neurodivergents alike. For some of us, old concerns and distresses have resurfaced, while for others, pre-existing concerns and distresses have been aggravated. With reduced access to support some have struggled, faltered and succeeded in supporting themselves, others have found recourse to professionals and some have found support in the bottle. Turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism for emotional/psychological distress can only drag us downward spiralling from distress to despair.

An occasional drink isn’t harmful – in fact, we have all heard of the benefits of red wine for the heart – but the mindless, unrestricted consumption of alcohol needs to be addressed. Interestingly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19 and therefore it is imperative to understand when and why we are turning to alcohol.

So, are you drinking to unwind? Or are you stress drinking? Here’s a quick checklist to help reflect and evaluate if you are drinking alcohol as a coping mechanism to elude difficult feelings or manage stress at this time:

1. Do you find it hard to stop drinking after you have had the number of drinks you intended to have?

2. Do you find yourself drinking when you have been thinking of something distressing (the future, the past) and or are in an uncomfortable situation?

3. Are you drinking because you have a lot of stock of alcohol at home?

4. Are you drinking because there are repetitive thoughts in your mind due to the uncertainty around the pandemic?

5. Do you drink alcohol to numb yourself from the situation or because you want to end your day joyfully?

6. Do you think your alcohol consumption has increased in the pandemic time?

7. Do you think you are consuming alcohol as a coping strategy?

8. Do you often feel bad the next day for consuming more than the expected level of alcohol?

9. What would be your core reason for drinking?

10. Do you often think of drinking during the time when you are at work or in unusual/unexpected times (while cooking, on a walk etc)?

(Note: These questions are not a screening tool)

If you found yourself in the affirmative for most of the points, it may be time for you to reconsider your coping strategies. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.    Set healthy drinking boundaries: Firstly, be aware of your reason for drinking alcohol, – is it to relieve stress, frustration, overcome boredom or uplift mood? However, here is the warning sign, this is a common way to form an unhelpful pattern and in worse cases, get addicted. Hence it is important to set some boundaries. Avoid drinking in order to cope with stress. When you drink, set a limit on how much you are going to consume and do so slowly. Set up external controls (family members, friends etc.) to help you stay on course and stop after the designated count. Do not get influenced by the sheer availability of alcohol.

2.    Find other ways to cope: Drinking alcohol is not the only way to cope with your stressors, even if it may seem to be the easiest route. The truth cannot be denied – the pandemic has brought with it a lot of personal and professional stressors. While drowning away your problems in a bottle seems like a good idea, it is a short-term avoidant strategy which will not bring us any closer to problem-solving. Delay giving in to your craving, one day and one hour at a time. Try other strategies like distraction and mindfulness to help you cope.

3.    Logical analysis: This is an important tool to help look at a situation as is – realistically & rationally. Ask yourself, “Is my approach towards dealing with the stressful situation efficient? Or is the incorporation of some healthy tactics required?

4.    Reframing: Make attempts to reframe the distressing situation positively. Use the “helicopter view” to see your situation from a third-person perspective. See the bigger picture of your situation, and evaluate objectively things that you find helpful and unhelpful. Looking at your problems from a distance can help you find a healthier perspective.

5.    Adapt practical problem solving: Drinking will not make the problem go away, it will just allow you some respite in having to deal with it. While some time away from the problem is great to analyze, it is wasted time if your mind has been too consumed with alcohol to analyze. It is advisable to problem solve by – understanding the practicality of the solutions at hand by evaluating the outcomes of each, mobilising your resources and using your strengths to your advantage.

6.    Emotional management by seeking support: If you find that alcohol has become your preferred manner of dealing with emotions and you are finding emotional regulation by yourself too overwhelming a task for you, please reach out to qualified doctors and mental health professionals for support. There is no shame in admitting if you are struggling to kick the habit, seek help immediately.

Lastly, it is important to understand that, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” John C. Maxwell 

Disclaimer: This article does not substitute medical advice for people with prior addictions or dependence on alcohol/any other substance. It is general guidance intended for those who have recently found themselves turning towards alcohol more than usual and wish to examine why that could be.

Resources

1.    https://www.newhopereha.com/3-best-tips-to-avoid-alcoholism
2.    https://books.google.co.in/books?id=VtxW_NtYm2QC&pg=PT331&lpg=PT331&dq=%22stressed+drinking+alcohol%22&source=bl&ots=3VOJLu8Nc8&sig=ACfU3U2-qdZF23VOvwmunhULuAsPkq_DoA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj_rYqMn5XqAhXlxzgGHWUxCrgQ6AEwDXoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22stressed%20drinking%20alcohol%22&f=false
3.    https://www.sandstonecare.com/resources/substance-abuse/alcohol/alcohol-use-as-a-coping-mechanism
4.    https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisfurnari/2020/04/30/are-americans-drinking-their-way-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic/#4d5e898a3195
5.    https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_p0xim6x3
6.    https://nationalpost.com/life/food/if-youre-drinking-more-during-the-pandemic-youre-not-alone
7.    https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200507-why-you-might-be-drinking-too-much-during-lockdown

Mindfulness: An antidote to lockdown blues

By Kajal Makwana & Ashika Jain

As the third-month wheels in wearily, you may realise that the pandemic has given all of us a dose of lockdown blues. We seem to be placed on a roller coaster of emotions ranging from anger, frustration, happiness, sadness to even grief.

As each one of us is trying to manage the swing on this spectrum, perhaps using techniques best known to us like distraction or relaxation or building and fostering connections to ease the collective pain, many of us are being caught off guard by the frequent spikes and dips e.g. feeling thrown off by a seemingly sudden bout of anxiety and racing thoughts or spiralling downwards due to a low mood.

While access to professional mental health support is advisable where these spikes seem out of hand and unmanageable, you can rely on mindfulness as a powerful technique to battle mild to moderate psychological distress and learn to better manage your emotions.

Along with clinical concerns like anxiety and panic, mindfulness can also reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mindfulness has physical health benefits like lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease, alleviating chronic back pain and improving sleep and the ability to do daily tasks. According to a Harvard study, half an hour of daily mindfulness meditation can increase grey matter in the hippocampus of your brain, positively impacting memory and learning, visuospatial processing and executive functioning.

Despite known short and long term benefits, if it still feels difficult to get a handle on, you need to re-evaluate your technique – maybe it’s not the right fit for you or you need to spend more time practising it or you need to be aware of how the benefits are showing up.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as, “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. Simply put, being mindful means being in the here and now, being aware of your breath, observing thoughts, feelings, emotions and body sensations as they arise.

Here is our pick on the five most widely prescribed mindfulness techniques – what they are used for, how to use them and some quick tips to ensure you are doing it correctly:

1. Box Breathing

What is it used for?

This breathing technique aids in instant regulation of heightened emotions. If you are just beginning with mindfulness, start with this.

How to use it?

Sit comfortably and place both your feet firmly on the ground. Inhale to a count of four. Hold your breath to a count of four. Exhale to a count of four. Pause for four counts before your next breath. Visualise drawing the four sides of a box in your mind as you do these four steps.

Quick tip:

Make sure your stomach expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. Keeping one hand on your belly and the other on your chest while doing the box breathing can help you get it right.

2. Grounding

What is it used for?

This coping technique is very useful to bring your mind and body awareness into the present moment to combat feelings of panic and anxiety.

How to use it?

Look around you. Find and name five things that you can see. Next, touch four things around you. Next, listen to three things that you can hear around you. Then, acknowledge two things that you can smell. Lastly, find one thing that you can taste.

Quick tip:

Focus on using your senses fully and exclusively for each step. Make sure that all the things you list out are different from one another.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

What is it used for?

This relaxation technique can help you calm your mind and body, especially useful when you have trouble falling asleep because of stress.

How to use it?

Lie down comfortably with your arms by your side. Close your eyes and bring your complete attention to your body. Take in a few deep breaths. With each deep breath systematically relax your body, focusing on your toes first as you relax them, then move on to your calves and knees – relaxing each body part as you go. Slowly move your focus one by one to your thighs, abdomen, chest, hands, forearms, arms, shoulder, neck, jaw forehead and relax. Stay in this pose for a few moments, focusing on your breathing and gently open your eyes.

Quick tip:

Your mind may wander, accept it as normal, gently bring your attention back to your breath and continue the process.

4. Being a Passive Observer

What is it used for?

This technique is beneficial for taking down ruminating thoughts that may be the cause of incessant worry and discomfort.

How to use it?

Be a passive observer to your thoughts. Sit comfortably and place your feet firmly on the ground. Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting by a flowing river. Now pay attention to your thoughts. Witness each thought as it comes to the forefront of your mind, place it on a leaf and let it float away. Simply observe and allow the thoughts to come and go. As soon as you experience a sense of lightness, gently open your eyes.

Quick tip:

Refrain from stopping or judging your thoughts, learn to look ‘at’ your thoughts not ‘from’ them.

5. Self-Soothing Visualization

What is it used for?

This soothing technique comes to your aid when you need to find some solace and peace – especially when your physical and or emotional environment cannot offer you that.

How to use it?

Create a conducive ambience with some comforting music and fragrance in the room. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Visualize being transported to a place you like – maybe a place you imagine going to someday or a cherished memory you would like to revisit. Take in and absorb the sensory inputs of that place and time – the temperature, the wind, the smell, the person, the feeling. Immerse yourself completely to allow a sense of calm embrace you. Slowly open your eyes when you are ready.

Quick tip:

Use your wise judgment to choose a memory linked with only pleasant feelings and a place that you can easily visualise or recreate in your mind.

Choose a technique and try it out, building on it each day to leverage the power of mindfulness. You could also cultivate this wonderful practice by integrating small moments of being mindful in your day as simple as enjoying a cup of tea by being fully present and using all your senses to experience those moments.

Now that you have more understanding about five of the most widely used mindfulness techniques, you are ready to begin your mindfulness journey!

 

Resources: 

https://disturbmenot.co/meditation-statistics/

https://www.londonmindful.com/blog/mindful-walking-at-home-in-nature-and-in-the-city/

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/meditation-tips-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/03/9578446/mindfulness-during-coronavirus

https://www.antioch.edu/new-england/2020/04/01/9-ways-to-remain-mindful-during-the-pandemic/

https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/04/mindfulness-coronavirus.php

 

Acceptance and commitment: Hope in a crisis

By Kavina Kothari and Krupa Naik

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT as the name suggests, helps one accept and embrace their thoughts and feelings instead of running away from them. It encourages you to slow down and focus on your choices. 

In times like these, when we are overwhelmed with our feelings and struggling with shared anxiety of when things will resume normalcy, accepting can help us learn to deal with the crisis instead of trying to escape and avoid it.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help us accept those recurring thoughts and deal with them. A form of mindfulness-based therapy, it is known to enhance psychological flexibility by helping us evaluate our character traits and behaviours to reduce avoidance and examine our commitment to making a change. Instead of obsessing, worrying or feeling helpless ACT invites you to accept your reactions, choose a healthy response and take action. 

How can we use this valuable therapy technique to ease some of our stress in this troubled time?

white paper on a vintage typewriter

Here are some ideas for applying acceptance and commitment to better deal with the uncertainty at this time:

1. Acknowledge thoughts and feelings

Accept that you may be anxious or restless about the future. Acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable given what we all are going through at this time and that you are not alone in thinking or feeling this way.

2. Commit to staying strong

Acceptance also means letting go and not ruminating in the despair. Identify small steps you can take towards making the most of this time, e.g. rediscovering a skill or talent, connecting with an old forgotten friend, setting a new goal for self-development.

3. Build present moment awareness

Even as you are stuck at home and your mind is spinning in a million directions, try to slow down. Use your breath to become mindful of the moment. Meditate, practice yoga or tai chi to help you enhance your concentration.

4. Decontaminate – inside and outside 

Preserve your safety parameters with sanitizing and sterilizing, and remember to do the same you’re your mind and energy too. Identify toxicity in your relationships and behavior and make a conscious effort to let go of what no longer serves you. Invest in healthy ways of communicating and being to enable your circle to flourish and grow.

green leafed plant on sand
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

5. Go with the flow

Everyone is also grappling with changed routines at this point in time. As you slowly learn to adapt to a ‘new normal’, remember to gently let go of the need to control. Accepting what is and what isn’t in your circle of control can bring a sense of ease. Be gentle with yourself and others as you go with the flow to make things easier.

6. Find meaning

In a dark distressing situation, it is often difficult to find purpose. Use this time to redefine your values and ideals. Identify what is truly important to you – may be meaningful relationships, being authentic to people, offering help and support etc. and then slowly develop consistent behaviors aligning to these.

7. Tap into resources

Face the disruption by preparing for it. Identify needs and trustworthy resources that you can tap into if required. Rely on your circle of support of friends and family to share your experiences with and feel less isolated. Have handy a list of helplines including access to health professionals should you require assistance.

8. Practice self-compassion

Know that it is okay to feel low or angry or less productive on a certain day. Be patient with yourself, hug yourself or engage in small gestures that bring you joy. Cultivate the practice of gratitude to help you appreciate the small things in life. 

This crisis has allowed us to prioritize our physical and mental health. Use this phase of life to also nurture the bonds of your relationships and community. Remember collective care and support can help us tide over any challenge, stay strong and hopeful as we prepare to find our normal again.

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Distress tolerance for dummies

By Krupa Naik & Kajal Makwana

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Emotional turmoil is natural aftermath of every crisis and currently, the world seems to be reeling under it in varying degrees. In the absence of a structured blueprint to help us map through our current distress, we are left to rely on our inner reserves of tolerance and patience to sustain our sense of stability and mental peace.

Everyone is facing some discomfort in the form of worry, confusion, anxiety, overwhelm or loss of control. How we respond to this emotional distress depends on our willpower and conditioning, some of us may find it easy to distract ourselves while others may feel their patience waning at every opportunity.

Social distancing norms and a stretched quarantine period are testing our interpersonal effectiveness in a novel way. Staying cooped up with family members is causing our defense mechanisms to surge at an all-time high and we risk being abrasive with others or dismissive of their feelings. Given the lack of social connections, it is crucial at this time to keep our relationships positively maintained.

As we diligently follow safety precautions, take care of our diet, exercise and sleep we also need to normalize our experience of emotions by accepting that anxiety, fear or worry are likely to arise in unprecedented times like these. We should strive to strike a balance between our emotions and our rationality.

So how do we regulate our emotions? How do we keep perspective and choose healthy responses?

Let’s examine the choices we have:

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1. Problem solve?

Find out what is it that you can control about the situation and work on it – maybe your health and safety, maybe your part in not spreading infection.

2. Alter your feelings about the situation?

You change the way you feel by checking on the facts so that you can be mindful about what is worth worrying about and what is not

3. Distract yourself?

Get through your day by accepting the reality and distracting yourself with various activities whether it’s enjoying a board game with family, reading or watching your favourite show

4. Wallow in the misery?

You still have a choice to continue feeling terrible about the situation and evoking monstrous amounts of self-pity but that really won’t assist you to move forward

Dialectic Behaviour Therapy teaches us to be mindful, a critical skill which helps us go with the flow in this wave of uncertainty. Here are some simple techniques inspired by DBT that we could use to overcome emotional discomfort and respond skillfully:

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Recognise your thoughts and feelings

Emotions are important for our survival and we need not fight them. Simply notice your thoughts and feelings, accept them and gently bring your attention back to whatever it is you are doing at the present moment.

Recognise others’ thoughts and feelings

The best way to show your care at this time is to listen to your loved ones, validate their feelings and experiences. Offer your support as and when required.

Be in the moment

Allow yourself to pause several times a day to observe your breath. You could try controlled breathing to achieve a calming effect. Such moments will allow you to simply be without focusing on past or future anxiety.

Be realistic

Rely on credible sources of information and gain perspective by focusing on the positive aspects of hope and recovery. See reality from the perspective of danger as well as the possibility of fully participating in each moment of life.

Be connected

Reach out to others for comfort and support. Communicate your feelings and allow others to share theirs.

Be appreciative

Celebrate your strengths and those of your loved ones. Appreciating small achievements can empower your self-worth, reduce the intensity of pain and help you focus on strategies for rebuilding your future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Own your emotions before you own your relationship

By Ashika Jain & Kavina Kothari

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As citizens of the new millennium, we were anyways grappling with understanding the finer aspects of relationships or appreciating the small joys of companionship and it took the jolt of a pandemic to bring us back to acknowledging pent up frustrations in our relationships.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have moved our focus to all the flaws and shortcomings of our loved ones. Every interaction with a family member or co-occupant holds the latent potential of flaring a conflict. Couples who were dating are giving in to impulsive decisions and calling off relationships. Married partners seem to be getting on each other’s nerves having no outlet to vent. Tensions simmering during the first lockdown between family members seem to have reached their peak now.

Family members and spouses find themselves holed up together, unable to break free from stagnant communication and behaviour patterns. Whether it is communication clampdowns or incessant nagging that allow problems to fester and breed, all routes point to the stark truth that we fail to own up to our emotions. We fail because we forget that others are a mirror to our internal worlds and instead blame them for making us feel in a certain way.

So how can we nurture relationships that are not solely dependent on wants, expectations and conditional love? How can we see our relationships as an extension of ourselves? How can we be more appreciative of them in terms of how they help us grow?

Maybe the answer lies in a need to reflect on what’s going on inside of us that is making us feel this way. This includes figuring out whether we are projecting our faults onto a loved one or if our response is helping us appreciate them in any way. We need to examine if respect is present in our interactions or if we are shielding our ego under the cushioned covers of our defense mechanisms. We need to understand if old unhealthy behaviour patterns or perceptions are fogging our view of our relationship.

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Here’s what we can do in the current time to prevent our relationships from suffocating:

1. Talk less, listen more

This might be a good time to keep the saying ‘You have two ears and one mouth for a reason’ at the forefront of your mind. The first step to assuage all tension by listening to the other, which includes allowing them to finish and keeps misunderstandings at bay. Listening also allows you to modify your response from an instinctive one to a thoughtful one.

Besides, doesn’t it feel nice to speak without being interrupted, even once?

 2. Divide and conquer with a pinch of accountability

We are all probably doing more than our usual share of household chores at this time. It might be a good idea to divide and rotate tasks among family members and operate with accountability. You could even make a fun game out of it with some rules like timelines and penalties or fun challenges. Go on, get creative.

How much fun would a household environment be, if someone didn’t complete chores at the agreed time and would have to make dessert the next day or even complete a Tik Tok challenge?

3. Tap Into your inner altruist

Well, ‘charity begins at home’ and this might be the best time for you to start becoming charitable. You will be surprised to see how much tension can be released – not just within you, but also within the other – if you simply perform some kind thoughtful acts for each other setting aside expectations of anything in return.

Wouldn’t you like it if someone brought you a glass of water when they were getting themselves some?

4. Silence your inner critic

It’s difficult, yes, we know. Right now, all the annoying habits of loved ones seem amplified – which is exactly why it is more important than ever to silence that inner critic. Vocalising your opinions about their odd quirks will not ease the friction. Keep calm and remind yourself that they are an extension of you. Or better still, for every critical thought challenge yourself to think of a positive one.

Yes, they leave the toilet seat up, but aren’t they also the first one to ask how your day was?

5. Create boundaries

Being in a physically confined space with loved ones can feel emotionally draining. At a time like this enmeshed familial relations can start to feel unbearable. This is why boundary setting is something we all can implement and it doesn’t have to be as harsh as it sounds. It can begin with small things like asking not to be disturbed during your work hours to more difficult things like politely declining from participating in group activities when you don’t feel up to it.

6. Talk about your feelings

Yes, there is a way to do this optimally. Talking about how you feel (e.g., ‘I feel angry when you always leave the lights on’) v/s how someone is making you feel (e.g., ‘You make me so angry because you always leave the lights on’) helps you own up your emotions and regulate them better. Politely sharing how you feel shifts blame from the other and makes them more likely to consider the consequences of their actions.

7. Share and care

We have all heard the saying sharing is caring. This caring can be shown in various ways – which don’t always have to look like a sacrifice. It might be a good idea to learn new things and make a weekly routine of ‘sharing’ these new learning with the others in your home. These could range from trying a new recipe to reading a new book to even discovering a new hobby.

Understanding that we hold the power of control over our emotions can help us step out of destructive patterns before they suck the life out of our relationships. Knowing yourself and knowing your significant other can help us move forward to better compatibility, mutual respect and bonding – the three basic tenets of any healthy relationship.

 

Tackling Resistance in Pandemic Times

By Krupa Naik & Kajal Makwana

Resistance in the therapy process has always been assumed to emanate from the client as direct and indirect paradoxical behaviour. Due to the lockdown, many practitioners are offering service through telehealth mode and are experiencing such resistance from the clients during the process.

How is pandemic anxiety propelling resistance?

This resistance can be attributed to various factors – not feeling safe due to the absence of ‘physical’ therapy space, unfamiliar with the virtual model of communication, having family members around, fear of being ‘monitored’ while interacting on a device, denying reality or feeling afraid to self-evaluate.

pexels-photo-4031867.jpegIn current pandemic times, with the mandate of a continued lockdown looming over us, emotional strife runs high. Feelings of suffocation, boredom, isolation and loneliness set in due to reduced social contact confinement and loss of normal routine.

Remote working for those who are new to it is more of a drudgery trying to balance the many responsibilities of home versus work, figuring out how to fit in by quickly adapting to virtual skills, juggling the blurred boundaries between work and home, and doling out the required productivity that the job role demands.

Financial stability seems to be on shaky ground with markets spiralling and businesses threatened by a grinding halt. Many are left wondering if their employment or income status would be adversely affected post the pandemic. Others are worried about their children’s future.

Losing control translates into fear automatically and frustrations tend to spillover in all aspects of our lives. Rumour mongering, hoarding, complaining or criticizing our loved ones, our resources, public policy – all become natural fallbacks as we are unable to figure out appropriate responses to the situation.

Confusion and uncertainty augment the anxiety and worsen our mental state. We are left grappling with worse case scenarios in our head and find it difficult to regulate the resulting emotions. Past traumas lingering somewhere in our subconscious are unwittingly activated. Rendered helpless and powerless, our functioning is at the risk of failing. In this fragile state, we are afraid to be any more vulnerable, we are afraid to open up. We resist.

How can therapists tackle resistance?

Resistance is a clue for the vigilant practitioner as it bears testimony to the existence of the push-pull of the change process.

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Resistance can also be a result of a faulty interaction, a therapist’s inability or lack of skills to handle client response. If something’s not working in our toolkit, we need to change it. Therapeutic agility is all about the skill to tap into the client’s inner wants, feelings, thoughts and action without facilitating victimhood.

More now than ever, therapists need to drop the idea of enforcing change in the client’s situation – because they can’t. Therapists can also begin with the premise that resistance may be an indicator of the client trying to gain a sense of power in their already crumbling life and therefore it is imperative that therapists shift their focus from change to exploring and understanding the client’s world and responses.

Here are a few questions for you to consider so that you can better explore your client’s perceptions of their current reality and help them make better choices:

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What is this pandemic situation doing to them?

What are the unreasonable demands they are facing as a result?
What do they feel is out of their control?
What do they wish was accepted of them?
What is the immediate problem they would like to focus on?
What is in their control?
What have they been doing to cope?
What is or isn’t working for them?

Ensure you are clued-in to the details of your client’s situation, what they find emotionally compelling or the goals they wish to pursue now. Empathy and dialogue are key here as they help you fine-tune your approach to your client’s changing needs.

In the process, you may facilitate valuable insights they can use to improve their state. After all, managing resistance successfully is the key to the success of therapy.

 

 

Use This Lockdown Period to Build a Closer Bond With Your Children

By Kavina Kothari & Ashika Jain

Locked down at home with your children all day every day? (well, at least until mid-April!)

It might feel exhausting or frustrating to match their energy and enthusiasm levels – you may even sometimes wish they asked fewer questions. Instead of simply finding ways to keep them entertained (cell-phones and iPads?), you can use this time to create an even stronger emotional bond with your children.

A strong emotional bond founded on a secure attachment will allow your little ones to build resilience skills and grow into emotionally healthy and mature individuals capable of handling adversities.

As a parent, you may want to protect them from any and all pain however, in reality, you may not always be around and life is unfair. Our success as adults is largely determined by our ability to survive and thrive through life’s difficult moments starting early childhood.

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Being mentally strong stands at the core of this ability to thrive. So, how can you assist your children to become resilient or adept at handling what life throws at them? How can you form a deeper emotional connection with them, not only to strengthen the bond but also to ensure their ability to thrive in adulthood?

A great place to start is by enhancing your own empathy levels. Empathy can be an effective tool to help foster care and understanding in filial relationships; both of which are integral to secure attachments and healthy socio-emotional development of children.

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Here are the different ways in which you could inculcate empathy in your daily parenting – especially in the early years:

1. Listening
Listen to your children. Being heard is different from feeling heard. Feeling heard is one of the strongest and most positive ways to build emotional health. Feeling unheard leads to feelings of being disregarded or ignored and it can have a direct impact on self-esteem. Practice active listening through healthy conversations by ensuring eye contact when your children are talking, affirming with positive non-verbal cues like nodding or patting and paraphrasing what they say to validate that they are heard.

2. Talking About Their Feelings
Address how a child might be feeling about a particular event, person or thing – offer those feeling words (negative or positive), so that even they can make sense of what they are feeling. Helping them get in touch with their own feelings as well as those of others will enable them to learn that feelings are normal and can lead to deeper insights. Encourage sharing concerns e.g. about the fears they may have or acknowledging if they seem upset by an event.

3. Not Running Away From Difficult Emotions
Your child will feel sad, angry, or disappointed, and you may rush to try and fix it right away because the parent in you wants to protect them from any and all pain. At times like these, allow the child to experience and label these difficult feelings as normal (because they are). Facing difficult emotions will strengthen their ability to tackle challenges head-on. For example, enquire about their anger or disappointment over a recent event at home.

4. Being Non-Directive
During playtime remain as non-directive as possible. Allow the child to choose what they want to play and how they want to play without judging or evaluating. Use this time to observe them as they explore. Refrain from commenting or sharing your approval or disapproval – if a car is flying, let it fly! Simply being present will allow your child to feel acknowledged and help their imagination and creativity to flourish.

5. Offering Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard means showing complete support and acceptance, whether for yourself or others. Ensure that your love for your children is not conditional to their good behaviour or obedience or achieving certain goals and is not withdrawn if they make a mistake. Accept them as they are, with their shortcomings or imperfections. Just as corporal punishment is a no-no, agreeing with or supporting your child for every action or decision is also not advisable. Instead, value and respect them for who they are while teaching them the importance of boundaries. Unconditional love helps in breeding a sense of safety, security, positive self-image and self-confidence.

6. Being Patient
Showing patience, not only towards your child but also towards yourself – developing good emotional health takes time. Your child may not be able to respond in an empathic manner right away simply because you have been using empathy in your parenting approach. Your continued approach will help them over time, to acknowledge, to understand and manage their own emotions in a healthy way.

Try building on these different aspects to exercise empathy and strengthen your relationship with your little ones whilst also helping them grow into emotionally healthy beings. With continued practice of these skills, the bond you strengthen with your children might just prove to be the silver lining in the dark cloud of a lockdown!