Winds of Change

Living well for today’s woman means a lot more than health. It encompasses a broad range of issues in every aspect of her existence.

Winds of changeAll of these tell us a story:

The explosive growth of cultural patterns, including health and fitness centres, products in different categories, and increasing destinations to “flush out” your stresses – these are just some of the many routes to a healthy body, mind, and a happy soul.

The importance that wellbeing holds in the minds of people today world over is unparalleled. Not only is health considered real wealth, but today people are aware of the great mind-body-spirit connection.

No wonder why International Women’s Day seems like a good time to find out what wellbeing means to women.

Conventionally, wellness was referred to as absence of illness. Today, it relates to a multi-dimensional avatar. It is understood as, “A focus on engaging the inner resources of each individual – an active participant in the maintenance of their own health,” and not just an absence of illness.

Women with higher levels of stress experience lower levels of immunity, and consequently show decreased levels of wellbeing. Does this mean, that despite increasing levels of female education, and efforts of social organisations and committed individuals, women still remain less well, happy, and satisfied than men? Or, do they continue to be incapable of actively participating in maintaining their own health?

Multi-dimensional

Whatever one’s perception, women’s wellbeing cannot remain one-dimensional. It needs to differ from the stereotype as a passive, long-held entity awaiting reforms in wellbeing from those in power. Wellbeing is a conscious and well-thought-out approach to an advanced state of physical, psychological, and spiritual health.

For a woman, wellbeing today means a lot more than health; it encompasses a broad range of lifestyle issues that touch upon almost every aspect of her existence.

Incidentally, the use of Internet for health and wellness issues is decidedly a female preoccupation. According to Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, the percentage of women who accessed the Internet, in India, and Latin America, was 22-38 per cent in 2003. It is, of course, fast expanding.

Writes Tom Fergusson, Senior Research Fellow for Online Health and Associate Professor at the School of Health Information Sciences, University of Texas, Houston, US: “Women are more likely than men to look for information related to a specific illness, condition, or symptoms. They are also likely to look for health information on the Internet after a visit to the doctor.” According to another report, women Internet users, on an average, are below 65 years of age [generally, 35-44 years of age], are college-educated, and read a good deal about nutrition and illness prevention.

Researchers Corey Keyes and C D Ryff, to cull another prominent analogy, have divided the concept of wellbeing into six dimensions of wellness: autonomy, mastery over the environment, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. They also note that women scored much higher than men in positive relations with others and personal growth. Today, as the focus of individual’s wellbeing gets keyed to psychological health, researchers also look at how people evaluate their wellbeing in life. The criteria for this are – high positive and low negative emotions, satisfaction with life, and overall personal happiness.

Similarity, not difference

Studies, over the last two decades, have also shown that there isn’t much difference between the levels of wellbeing of women than that of men. Wellbeing includes socio-cultural, psychological, and illness-related factors. Taking into consideration the far-from-perfect conditions of work and living that most women deal with – which also means a higher level of depression and stress – wellbeing has given women something to smile about.

According to behavioural scientists, women’s emotions are more intensely felt. If their sorrow is greater, so is their joy, love and contentment. Positive emotional intensity contributes to higher standards of wellbeing. Irrespective of the kind of hand that life entails, women with their innate optimism, resilience and the capacity to take matters in their own hands, have changed the way we perceive their wellbeing today.

Women’s wellbeing today is not dependent on soy or calcium. Their personal notions of wellbeing include family, career, empowerment, beauty care, emotional health, physical fitness, and daily living items, from over-the-counter products [OTC], to low-calorie foods, and from bath salts to aromatherapy oils. This is not all. Equally important is the wellbeing of the “mind and spirit” in the holistic sense. This is what most women look for in terms of defining their own perceptions of wellbeing and living well today.

Pursuit of Self

Women’s wellbeing is a far-reaching concept. It is linked in its overall approach to how they manage and control their daily lives. This ranges from emotions and attitudes, at one end, to management of health conditions, on the other. Women today are driving a much broader concept of health that extends into wellness, a sense of self, and the pursuit of overall wellbeing.

Pan American Health Organization [PAHO] mentioned, some years ago, that significant improvements in women’s health and wellbeing could be achieved only through general gains in the status of women – in education, employment and decision-making, and also their health. Things have definitely started looking up in all these niches – especially in the last decade.

Of course, this is far from enough. Besides, we always have the tendency to skim over the surface and/or look at things in the developed world, urban areas, and middle and upper class families. Picture this. In the non-urban areas, women still have limited access to and less control over resources and their bodies and lives than men.

Many more mountains are yet to be climbed. However, with the recent increase in research on health and gender differences, we have now begun to change generalisations about women’s wellbeing.

This is not all. Work in women’s health has also attempted to correct many imbalances of the past. Though much needs to be done before we can truly celebrate the spirit of womanhood beyond just one day a year, the changing outlook of women towards their own health now evokes both belief and confidence.

How’s that for a good beginning turning into a fully-expanded movement?!

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  • GAYATRI Pagdi

    GAYATRI Pagdi

    Gayatri Pagdi is a Mumbai-based health journalist. Her areas of interest include emotional, mental and spiritual health.

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