Months of home-schooling, extra housework, worrying about the health of loved ones, work pressures, and diminished social interaction have taken their toll. Women are facing an immense struggle with their mental health – here are some tips on tackling this issue…
Far from a time of empowerment and celebration, Women’s Month has seen depression and anxiety skyrocket among women as the boundaries of an already tenuous work-life balance have become increasingly blurred under lockdown.
According to a recent Ipsos poll, 40% of South African women say they are feeling anxious as a result of Covid-19 compared to 32% of men.
According to Johannesburg-based business, life coach and neuro-linguistic programming practitioner Shanaaz Sukhraj, the underlying tenet of Women’s Month, ‘you strike a woman, you strike a rock,’ is, in reality, nowhere near being internalised as women struggle to contain the guilt of floundering under added pressures.
These include months of home-schooling, extra housework, worrying about their parents’ health, and diminished social interaction with close friends while trying to run a business or work a full day.
Marital pressures increase during lockdown
Marital relationships are also taking strain, says Sukhraj, who is experiencing her ‘busiest consulting time’ since starting her coaching journey over 10 years ago.
“Many women are struggling to assign tasks to their partners who, in turn, are unaware of building resentment. Even in 2020, a high percentage of women are still subconsciously modelling their relationships on what they saw in their parents’ marriage, so they often feel ashamed to ask for help or stand their ground as the scales tip unevenly on the home chores front.”
READ MORE: Lockdown divorces – A new phenomenon?
Domestic violence also increased during lockdown
In his address to the nation on 17 June 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that gender-based violence is South Africa’s second pandemic.
He referred to, in particular, the incidents that had taken place whilst the country was in hard lockdown. Gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence, is an overwhelming problem that exists in South Africa.
It is because of this issue that the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA), with input from partner organisations, developed the free GBV Safety Plan that not only provides useful emergency and GBV support contacts, but also offers some real-world suggestions for being safer in domestic violence situations.
“The increase in domestic violence is not exclusive to lockdown,” reveal the developers of one of South Africa’s most-used safety apps. According to the Namola app, an average 10% of all crime reported to the app every month relates to domestic violence.
(See contact details at the end of the article for more help in dealing with domestic violence)
Identity loss among women during lockdown
Many women who grapple with identity issues at the best of times find that this phenomenon has heightened under all levels of lockdown.
“Many of my clients are questioning their career priorities with young kids in the house all day, having to take responsibility for home-schooling and round-the-clock parenting. They say that they’re afraid they’re losing their sense of self.”
Sukhraj believes that there are solutions: “Women have to learn how to stand their ground and tap into their power. Establishing boundaries will help women find some balance. We have to learn to stop over-giving while assigning tasks to our partners if they are not doing their share.”
Learn to ask for what you want:
Sukhraj says one client who hadn’t communicated her dissatisfaction eventually wrote down a list of what she wanted her husband to take care of. The surprise? He didn’t argue or complain. He did as she asked. “Some people just need to be told what to help with, or what to do at home.”
In a classic case of ‘ask and ye shall receive’, Sukhraj says the letter or list idea worked seamlessly in another scenario.
She recently encouraged one client who couldn’t confront her partner face-to-face to communicate about what she needed to change in the bedroom, using this way. “Writing him a letter made all the difference. Far from wounding his ego, he was delighted. When things change for the better sexually, much in the relationship changes for the better.”
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Depression and anxiety during lockdown
Besides depression, anxiety under Covid-19 has spiralled for many women, says Sukhraj.
“Watching or listening to too much news only helps perpetuate the feeling that the world is out of control. It’s not hard to become a sponge for unnecessary negativity.”
A client who thought her childhood anxiety was under control found it was suddenly an issue again. She feared for her parents and her children’s health and was struggling to cope.
“Neuro-linguistic programming which includes first finding out the root of that way of thinking as well as undergoing hypnosis or listening to hypnosis audios, can help change the narrative,” advises Sukhraj. “The client needed to focus on the positives in her life. Sometimes even a gratitude journal can make a difference,” says Sukhraj.
“It’s about reframing the events or helping to rationalise what’s going on with one’s emotions. Sometimes, especially in these last few months, some people need to directly confront a fear of death and move forward that way.”
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Reduce limiting beliefs
While Sukhraj says anyone suffering deep-seated trauma should see a therapist or psychiatrist, those women who want to focus on setting and achieving goals rather than focussing on past events may benefit from coaching work.
“It can involve hypnosis which gets to the heart of limiting beliefs. We usually have to get to a set of core beliefs planted before the age of eight-years-old and reframe these, so we don’t keep repeating past mistakes,” says Sukhraj.
“These, she says, include not being able to ask for help when we’re overwhelmed. It’s about reimagining our relationships so we find inner peace and an abundance not related to just material wealth.”
While sceptics may scoff at concepts like the laws of attraction, Sukhraj says that it’s sometimes just a question of getting in touch with, and challenging our subconscious mind. “It’s not woo-hoo stuff. If you behave differently, your outcomes will be different.”
- Sukhraj will be launching the Goddess Within Membership Society, an online ‘community of women who can support each other’ in September.
- Namola provides 24-hour emergency response for women using the free TEARS USSD service (*134*7355#). The same USSD number can be used by women to find their nearest counselling facility.
- Download the free GBV Safety Plan here