Embrace Your Moods
“Women are moody.” We’ve heard this all our lives, usually as a criticism, and it’s a sure bet that if you’re a woman and a professional, you’ve spent a fair amount of effort trying to act the opposite of moody in order to succeed in the workplace.
It’s time to stop trying to be like a man and embrace the full range of your emotions. That is the advice of psychiatrist Julie Holland, who points out that being “sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children’s needs and intuitive of our partners’ intentions is not only hardwired into your feminine brain, but is basic to your survival and your children’s.”
In her stunning NY Times editorial “Medicating Women’s Feelings,” Dr. Holland identifies fear of emotions as the number one reason women are overmedicated in the US—with one in four women on antidepressants and antianxiety medications as compared with one in seven men. With so many women on medication, and with pharmaceutical advertisements targeting women talk shows and daytime TV, she is afraid that “a new normal” is being created, encouraging more and more women to seek chemical assistance.
Let me stop here to say that I am in no way against the use of medication when someone is clinically depressed, acutely anxious or having suicidal thoughts. Clearly, it’s vital that a person with chronic depression or chronic anxiety seek the help of a doctor. Medications and therapy can save lives.
What we’re talking about here is the fact that women may cry more than men, may feel more comfortable expressing their anger, or may be labeled “hysterical” just because their moods are more heightened than a man experiencing the same event. And, in comparison to men, women today are overmedicated to control these natural emotions.
That can be bad for a woman’s health and for the people around her, says Dr. Holland.
“When we are overmedicated, our emotions become synthetic. For personal growth, for a satisfying marriage and for a more peaceful world, what we need is more empathy, compassion, receptivity, emotionality and vulnerability, not less,” she writes.
Taking medication to stop feeling our emotions numbs us to pain, but also numbs us to joy. Worse, it can stop us from dealing with the stress in our lives, which is the root cause of depression, anxiety and imbalanced emotions in the first place.
And certainly, stress is key to this discussion. The average woman is confronted with an overwhelming load of stress in today’s world, as she continues to face discrimination in the workplace and lower pay for equal work. Not to mention working mothers who hold two jobs: raising a family and working outside the home.
So how do women embrace their naturally fluctuating moods and at the same time keep the multiple stressors of a cranky boss, a sick child at home, and impossible deadlines from causing healthy emotions to spiral into depression or anxiety?
Many women are turning to the Transcendental Meditation technique to decrease stress on a daily basis. That way, stress cannot build up to color our moods and emotions.
The Transcendental Meditation technique significantly reduces anxiety by settling the mind, calming the nervous system and providing the experience of deep rest and profound inner peace, as shown by research.
Ask Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a renowned cardiologist, a national spokesperson for Go Red for Women, Director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of the life-changing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, who is teaching women a new, heart-centered way to live. She regularly recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique to her patients.
And she practices TM herself. As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about 25 million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do, it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls in place.”
During the TM technique, the mind transcends concrete levels of thought to more settled subtle levels and can experience its silent unbounded nature beyond the subtlest level of thought–the field of pure consciousness. Pure consciousness liberates the mind from stressful patterns of thinking and transforms how we perceive the world. Simultaneously, cortisol (related to anxiety) reduces in the body and there are improvements in brain function–these are likely responsible for the improved relationships, creativity, and focus that are documented with those regularly practicing TM. Overall, by releasing stress, improving brain function and reducing anxiety, TM helps make way for more positive emotions including happiness, emotional stability, self-esteem, and inner orientation.
One of the things I noticed after practicing TM for a few years is that my baseline mood became pure happiness, which bubbled up spontaneously, not because of anything happening in my environment, but just because I felt happy inside.
So my emotions gradually became more positive, but at the same time, I started expressing them more spontaneously. Another way to say this: my inner self started to match my outer self, the self I was working so hard to project to the world. I no longer had to try to smile or be nice or calm, I was experiencing that naturally, from the inside.
So I stopped trying to stifle my emotions, even the negative ones. Stifling emotions is not the answer. That is the path to more stress and anxiety.
Perhaps my newfound spontaneity was explained by research studies that report an increased sense of self, as measured by increased field independence in TM practitioners.
Field independence is the ability to maintain your internal frame of reference even when confronted with external dissonance. For instance, field independence was once measured by how well you can tell, in a dark room, if a line is truly vertical (known as the Rod and Frame Test or RTF). In other words, in a changing field, can you maintain enough independence to make a fine distinction between what is slightly slanted and what is vertical? Another test for field independence is the Embedded Figures Test (EFT), in which a person must eliminate irrelevant data and find the embedded figure. If you can do this quickly, chances are good that in other fields of change you can maintain independence and focus on the relevant information, thus demonstrating mental stability in a changing environment.
Several research studies show that the practice of the TM technique improves field independence, which was previously thought to be unchanging after early adulthood. Greater field independence is associated with a greater ability to assimilate experience, greater organization of mental and cognitive clarity, greater creativity, and a more stable internal frame of reference.
How does greater field independence relate to emotions? When you’re feeling more relaxed, more in tune with your inner desires and more established in a stable sense of self, you can feel comfortable spontaneously expressing yourself, including your full range of moods and emotions.
“TM gives me the space to dream and create,” says Lena Dunham, winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. “Anxiety has always been a constant issue for me and meditation acts as a guard, a sedative, a powerful antidote to darkness, anger and unproductive thinking.” to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.
About the Author
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.
More Posts by Linda
- Tired and Burned Out? Transcendental Meditation Can Help: An Interview with Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, MD
- Worried About the Future? Six Ways to Calm Your Anxiety
- What Do You Carry in Your Self-Care Tool Kit?
- Five Strategies for Family Caregivers
- From the Streets to College in Four Months: The Communiversity of South Africa Empowers Underserved Youth in Cape Town