Health

1 In 5 Women Struggle With Their Mental Health—Embracing Stoicism Could Be The Key

By Ramsha Afridi··  6 min read
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In 2022, our modern society is obsessed with pathologizing every feeling, emotion, and sentiment. Our feelings-obsessed culture now encourages us to let our emotions control us, rather than us controlling our emotions.

Mental health disorders continue to be on an unprecedented rise all around the world, and the use of antidepressants has doubled in wealthy nations. In 2020, among select Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, Iceland, Portugal, and Canada were the biggest consumers of antidepressants

Women, in particular, are a high-risk group likely to suffer from mental health disorders. In the U.S., 1 in 5 women has a mental health issue such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or an eating disorder. England suffers a similar fate, with around 1 in 5 women having a common mental health problem such as anxiety, self-harm, or depression.

To dive deeper, there are various societal and cultural factors that put women at a greater risk of developing mental health disorders, even the common scenario of being a working mother. Physical and sexual abuse are other reasons why women are vulnerable to mental health disorders. 

Today, Big Pharma has a pill for every ill, and more often than not the focus is on diagnosing everything, rather than looking for long-lasting changes. 

Life Is Stressful for Women

Let's admit it, for most women, life is stressful. For many of us, our lifestyles are fast-paced and demanding. From juggling our careers to a healthy family and social life to finding some quiet time for our own well-being – it can all get overwhelming. 

Stress, anxiety, and isolation are often the consequences of this. Many women often find themselves panicking, obsessing, and fixating on their thoughts, which only seems to make things worse.

Any form of rationality or optimism is given little room to help things improve as our thoughts seem to suffocate everything else. This is not surprising, as research suggests that women are more likely to score higher on neuroticism than men. In psychology, neuroticism is a personality trait that represents the level of negative emotions. Examples of this include anger, anxiety, self‐consciousness, irritability, and overall emotional instability. 

Your degree of neuroticism determines how well you’re able to deal with the stresses of everyday life.

One of the most well-known studies in psychology, published in 2001 by personality researchers Robert McCrae, Antonio Terracciano, and Paul Costa, included over 23,000 participants, both men and women from 26 cultures, who filled out personality questionnaires. The study revealed that women scored higher on average on the personality trait of neuroticism than men did. 

Your degree of neuroticism determines how well you’re able to deal with the stresses of everyday life. Ultimately, this is why learning to manage these negative emotions and traits is fundamental for not just a good life, but for our health and well-being. 

Why Is Stoicism Useful?

For this reason, the philosophy of Stoicism could be the key to helping women in a world that diagnoses every natural human feeling and emotion. 

Stoicism was founded in ancient Athens in the early third century B.C. by Zeno of Citium, a Hellenistic philosopher. The virtue of Stoicism is that we can begin to possess the daily courage to become tolerant of our emotions and feelings, instead of dwelling on them or feeling consumed by them. This is the idea of embracing the “view from above.”

Marcus Aurelius was a second-century Roman emperor and one of the most influential Stoic philosophers who followed this virtue. He argued that when we “take the view from above” we’re able to gain perspective, which will provide us with some necessary detachment to redirect our thoughts and emotions positively.

Stoicism teaches us to recognize our feelings, put them in proper perspective, and move on.

He described this as imagining your small, limited place in time and space to put things in perspective: “Think of substance in its entirety of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time its entirety, of which a brief and a momentary span has been assigned to you.”

This ancient wisdom is perfect for modern living, as it reminds us that in the grand scheme of things, our worries and concerns are trivial, minor, and fleeting. This way, we can’t feel suffocated by our thoughts and emotions. Stoicism teaches us to recognize our feelings, put them in proper perspective, and move on in everyday life in a productive manner. It reminds us to give ourselves the necessary space to think rationally and clearly about what we want and how we feel. 

This way of life is not just consistent with everyday practicalities, but it goes hand in hand with modern-day psychotherapy. It’s well known that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is often used to treat depression and anxiety, is deeply rooted in Stoicism. This is because CBT is about how our thoughts and cognition link to how we feel. As a consequence, this impacts our behavior. The aim of this psychotherapy is to address our habitual negative emotions by becoming aware of them, in order to take steps to fix them. This evidence-based psychotherapy has been proven to improve the thought processes and feelings of people suffering from various mental health disorders. 

Be a 21st Century Stoic

Whether we admit it or not, we spend a significant amount of our time in our own heads. Our thoughts are with us everywhere – at work, partying with our friends, or even in the dead of the night when we’re all alone.

There are times when our feelings end up controlling us, rather than us managing our feelings. This is why Stoicism is important – it teaches us to accept our circumstances and helps us use our logic to teach us about what we can and cannot control.

We’re able to gain control of our emotions, rather than suppressing or obsessing over them.

Adapting this ancient philosophy to the present day is simple (though not always easy). When you become a “Stoic” you avoid being carried away by emotional extremes. We’re able to gain control of our emotions, rather than suppressing them or, even worse, obsessing over them.

As a consequence of learning to be mindful of our mental state, we become self-aware and wiser. For this reason, learning about Stoicism and applying it is a pragmatic way for women to take better care of their mental health.

Rather than medicalizing every negative experience, we learn that they help us build virtue, tolerance, self-control, and logic. These traits become important components of our thought processes.

Closing Thoughts

Prioritizing our well-being in today’s busy and challenging times is difficult. However, by incorporating the methods and wisdom of Stoicism, we’re not only able to change our habits, but we’re also able to change our moods.

Instead of overly therapizing our emotions and feelings, we should learn to not just accept them, but redirect them in a healthy and positive manner to make the best of our lives. After all, our feelings and emotions are what make us human.

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