What are some of the most common women’s health struggles?
For some women, gynecological exams are nothing more than run of the mill, routine doctor’s appointments. For others, especially women who are already more naturally introverted or uncomfortable discussing their bodies so explicitly, (even in a medical setting), gynecological health is less simple. Feminine health can become a major stressor, presenting physical pain as well as mental and emotional difficulties as often as once a month with each menstrual cycle.
- PMS/PMDD: According to the Future Medicine health journal, about 75% of menstruating women experience a premenstrual syndrome (PMS). A much smaller minority (about 3-8%) of women experience a far more debilitating and intense emotional slum in the days preceding their periods, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). While PMS and PMDD share the same physical and mental symptoms, such as mood swings or depression, anxiety, anger/irritability, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, etc., women suffering with PMDD experience these symptoms so severely, to the point of being unable to function socially, mentally and emotionally
- Urinary Tract Health Issues (UTIs and UIs): While usually treatable, urinary tract problems can cause some women who suffer from either a UTI (urinary tract infection), UI (urinary incontinence), or other pelvic floor disorder to neglect seeking treatment due to the shame they feel about contracting them in the first place. When it comes to urinary tract health, some women feel somehow responsible for their issues, as if their bad hygiene, hypersexual activity, lack of cranberry juice consumption, or other “mistakes” are what landed them in this position, when in reality, these “causes” of UTIs and other urinary tract issues have proven to be myths and lack medical proof. Even for women who don’t fall prey to these falsities, the negative societal stigmas surrounding these illnesses can often lead women to feel socially isolated and embarrassed. They may even avoid social gatherings or physical activity all together for fear that they will be unable to conceal the symptoms of their illnesses, such as uncontrollable urination, or for older women, mental symptoms like restlessness, hallucinations, aggression, agitation or confusion.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a hormonal disorder that, on average, affects 1 in 10 women and is characterized by cysts in the ovaries (the female reproductive organs responsible for ovulation, as well as producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the male hormone). While all women produce both hormones, women with PCOS produce a significantly higher amount of progesterone than most women, causing them to have fewer, heavier and sometimes more painful periods. The excess release of progesterone can also cause women suffering with PCOS to grow hair in unwanted places, have oily skin and/or severe acne, weight gain, and male pattern baldness or hair loss. In addition to these symptoms, PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility and can put women at a higher risk of obesity, certain cancers and other health problems. Living with PCOS may elicit multiple mental health difficulties due to potential mood swings, depression and body image issues that can interfere with normal daily functioning.
Difficulties in the bedroom are, understandably, some the most disheartening and unsettling issues women can experience, since intimacy, for many, involves the most vulnerable and private aspects of their identities. While women can often see sexual dysfunction as embarrassing, or label themselves “defective” or ”broken,” there are several problems that can cause sexual dysfunction, some of which are not personal at all in nature, and others that, with proper treatment (either medical, psychological or both), can be improved:
- Physical factors that can contribute to sexual dysfunction include: heart disease, diabetes, neurological issues or hormone imbalances.
- Psychological, emotional or mental factors can include: depression, anxiety, stress, relationship problems, abusive or traumatic sexual experiences in the past, or phobias of sex or pregnancy.
- Sometimes, even social factors such as religious pressure to have children or cultural pressure to have a carefree and happy marriage can have a significant impact on your sexual functioning.
As a result of their sexual challenges and the consistent disappointment that can accompany them, some women may also struggle with body image, low self-esteem, self-loathing, or immense guilt for “causing” their relationship strain or partner’s dissatisfaction, even in spite of their own. It is understandable to feel uncomfortable with talking about these struggles or seeking support, but a professional can help you understand and work through your challenges in a warm and judgment-free zone.
Hearing the news that you or a loved one has cancer may be one of the most shocking and dreadful things to happen in your lifetime. Whether you’re feeling uncertain and terrified of the future or grieving the loss of someone who’s passed, it’s important to remain well-supported and aware of your mental and emotional experience so that you can live the life you have to the fullest.
According to the American Cancer Society, some of the cancers that most often affect women are: breast, colorectal, endometrial, lung, cervical, skin, and ovarian cancers. Coming to terms with the concept of potential or past loss can be awful, but so can struggling with the peripheral realities of cancer, which can sometimes be so painful that you lose touch with your identity or lack motivation to keep fighting. For some women, survival means they need to have major surgeries or harsh treatments that could completely change their appearance, such as mastectomies or chemotherapy which causes hair loss and other difficult changes. While the consequences of foregoing these treatments can be worse than receiving them, being unable to recognize yourself in the mirror can be painful, and if these changes are permanent, these feelings can develop into long-lasting difficulties with body image, depression or other social challenges that come with being a cancer survivor.
For some women, getting older means the experience of grieving over the young, vibrant and beautiful women they once were. For others, ageing is not as personally difficult, but the social setbacks and restrictions they may face as a result of ageism in the workplace, dating networks, and recreational activities like sports and entertainment are more challenging. The slew of health issues for which older women are at higher risk like osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and others ,as well as the several unpleasant side effects of menopause certainly do not make the experience of ageing any easier. An older woman may pride herself on having more life experience and accomplishments than most younger women, but it can also be difficult to appreciate and take advantage of the rewarding potential your ageing years have to offer when you struggle to identify yourself, your goals, and your purpose in this new reality.
Issues Related to Pregnancy and Infertility
Deciding to become pregnant often marks a dramatic milestone in the lives of women as they assume or redefine their roles and mentally prepare for a new addition to their families. If it happens, therefore, that they are unsuccessful in conceiving and must invest in the long and emotional stress-coaster of fertility treatments, women may experience serious psychological challenges and emotional distress. These challenges can include depression, anxiety, body image issues and more as a result of feeling defective or inadequate and unsure of their purpose in life without a certain destiny. Some women experience relationship problems, sexual dysfunction, or social isolation in trying to avoid their peers who are happily growing their families and moving onto the next stage of life.
Infertility is not the only challenge women face when having or trying to have children, however. With each stage of the pregnancy and childbirth process, women face several risks of complications, such as complications in pregnancy, pregnancy loss, miscarriage or stillbirth, birth defects, and problems breastfeeding. Enduring any of these experiences as well as their respective treatments can be difficult and/or traumatic, sometimes leaving women with a sense of resentment toward themselves or their bodies, identity crises, anxiety, stress, depression, or strain on their relationships and their bank accounts.
Violence Against Women
Experiencing violence or sexual assault can lead to a number of physical, mental and emotional health problems. Many survivors do not feel comfortable speaking openly about their experiences and it can be emotionally draining to go through what may be a long and scary healing process. It takes an immense amount of energy and courage to cope with the many mental, emotional and physical challenges of being a survivor of abuse or assault, which can range from pregnancy or broken bones to flashbacks, nightmares, and PTSD. Many women also develop trust issues, numbness, depression, confusion, anxiety, fear, and guilt in the aftermath of an assault. For women in relationships, their traumas can threaten their ability to be vulnerable or trusting of others and can even cause sexual dysfunction.
It can be helpful for these women to surround themselves with genuine love and find supportive, nonjudgmental environments where they can discuss their experiences without being challenged or undermined. Often these resources are best delivered by other women who have had similar experiences and can truly empathize with your pain, as well as make you feel a sense of belonging as opposed to the alienation you may feel as you try to navigate regular social environments.
What can I do to help me or my loved ones cope with women’s health struggles?
At Long Island Psychology, we are devoted to helping you:
- Become strengthened and empowered to address your health issues in a way that demonstrates compassion and care for your body and mind as opposed to hatred, shame or embarrassment
- Cope with the current effects or aftermath of potential grief and loss
- Identify and understand your value as more than your physical state and be able to increase and embrace the positive realities in your life
- Find and take advantage of the supportive resources accessible to you in your family and community
Note that some of the cases listed above may require medical advice or help from a specialized therapist, however, consulting with a counseling professional can help to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
To learn more or to speak with one of our psychologists today, call 516-274-7876 or email email@example.com. For more information about our Garden City and Rockville Centre, NY locations, please visit our contact us page.