Do festive celebrations take a toll on the mental health of women?

By Rekha Balakrishnan
October 10, 2022, Updated on : Wed Oct 26 2022 02:42:26 GMT+0000
Do festive celebrations take a toll on the mental health of women?
As Navaratri and Dussehra pass us by, and Diwali and Christmas loom large, experts believe the festive season can take a toll on women’s mental health. Here’s how you can beat the festive blues.
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On the third day of Navratri, I dropped in on a family friend. I thought she’d be enjoying a happy, retired life (later understood that it’s an oxymoron when it comes to women). But akka was busy with the golu rituals, preparing two prasadams a day, inviting other women over, all while taking care of her 93-year-old invalid mother-in-law and everyday chores.


All this, she does without any help. She sounded tired and longed for holidays, but also accepted her situation. Did she really have to go through the rigamarole of the annual celebration while already taxed with familial duties? She understood it was expected of her, and so did it willingly, even though it was a huge strain on her, physically and mentally.

mental health

A neighbour is still busy in the days after Navratri, cleaning the house, packing the dolls, and airing the sarees, one colour worn on each day. She also runs a small catering unit, and was knee-deep in work with orders throughout the festival, besides completing the many rituals at home.


Deepali, a 40-year-old corporate employee in Ahmedabad, says she had to rush home every day during Navratri, and immediately join the aarti at the local temple, and later dance the garba till the wee hours because she’s been doing it since childhood. The next day, she found herself drained of energy, but kept going because it was the festive season and it was expected of her.


The festive season, with Navratri and Dussehra already passing us by, and Diwali and Christmas looming large, is not an easy time for women, especially working women in India. They are not just living up to the label (albeit, wrongful) of multi-taskers, they are living it – juggling work lives with spring cleaning, socialising, and rituals.


Rekha Sahay Ghosh, CMO of Quess Corp, believes the festive season brings it with a myriad of expectations from others, and also from oneself.

“The expectation I hold from myself is more than that from anyone else. I want to be the one who manages everything- who decorates the house, prepares homemade delicacies, dresses up traditionally, and follows all the rituals like others besides managing a demanding full-time career, driving long hours to and from work in the Bengaluru traffic, meeting friends, and also giving enough time to my daughter,” she says.

As a working woman, she feels the challenges of managing a full-time career, expectations from the workplace, and being a full-time mother, wife, daughter-in-law or daughter become so high that they “often overpower our expectations from self”.


“While we want to prepare for the festivities like everyone else, the demand on time really makes it stressful. To add to it, not being able to do certain things sends me on a guilt trip,” she says.


Ishita Saxena, an entrepreneur/influencer says there’s added pressure to introduce “culture” to our children, which makes celebrating festivals an “added responsibility”.


“I have realised that when my parents are around, they take care of the cultural and the festivities aspects. But in a small family, where women juggle multiple responsibilities, it becomes difficult,” she says.


Shweta Papriwal, Vice President, Content, Marketing, and Communications at JM Financial, believes while the festive season is a time to rejoice, it also means work, along with the tasks at the workplace.


“Whether one indulges in festivities and follows rituals or not, women usually tend to feel they’ve been unable to do what’s required of them — mainly if they belong to a traditional or orthodox household. Of course, it helps immensely to have a progressive family, but I think festivals are such a special time that one wants to do complete justice to them. When we cannot, we feel like something is amiss. I’d say we are often harder on ourselves,” she says.

Do celebrations affect mental health?

The need to follow norms and live up to expectations can often take a toll on women’s mental health during the festive season.


Rekha feels that it sometimes makes you doubt yourself, question your abilities, and also tires you physically and mentally as you remain in the “hustle” mode all the time instead of relaxing and enjoying festive moments.


“As the to-do list is always longer than the number of hours you can realistically put in every day, it creates a very strong psychological impact when someone decides to talk about the task that you have not been able to do, instead of all the activities that you have been doing or done perfectly. Your mind goes into hyperactive mode as you continue to work and take stock of things or try to remember the long task list even when you go to bed. You start feeling guilty for going to sleep when so many things are still to be completed,” she says.


Shweta says she’d be lying if she said it doesn’t affect her. But she also suggests taking a step back and be mindful.

“Thankfully, I have a supportive family who understands I cannot be overburdened, even during the festival season. Expectations will always remain, but how you handle them is up to you — do you take them with a pinch of salt or let them bog you down?” she asks.

Dr Roma Kumar, Chief Psychologist at Emotionally, pins the problem on expectations, from family and society.


“As a community, we very strongly believe that the woman is solely responsible for taking care of all the preparations for a festive day. She needs to be involved in deciding what must be cooked, how the house must be cleaned, etc. Especially, in joint families or those with elders and conservative mindsets who religiously follow festive rituals, women are bound to follow 'guidelines' perfectly and prepare for the family, which adds on to their mental burden and can cause stress. “

“Performance-related stress, where the woman is expected to take lead in all activities to successfully complete a ritual, can hamper and play with their mental wellbeing,” she adds.

On the positive side, she points out that several women do take this in their stride as they are the “Laxmi of the house”, and the festive season preps them to naturally shoulder responsibilities.


Sagarika Palo, Counselling Psychologist at YourDOST, says expectations during the festive season cause both physical and mental fatigue.


“Women face tiredness, fatigue, back aches, body aches, headaches and other issues. Add to this, the responsibility to maintain a balance between work and family can create stress, and anxiety and - if things don’t go well - build a sense of helplessness and worthlessness. Women from the age group of 24 to 45 years specifically undergo a lot of stress due to work pressure from all spheres of their life, which manifests itself in psychosomatic illnesses, conflicts in relationships, and other clinical symptoms,” she notes.


Dealing with festive blues

So how can women enjoy the festive season and enjoy it without feeling burdened, overwhelmed, or out of bounds?

Rekha says, “How I wish that festive season for women in real life could be like Bollywood festival celebrations! We can simply focus on decking up and looking good, meeting friends, and break into opulent song and dance when we feel like it.”

Sagarika offers a few simple tips to beat the festive blues:


  • Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people, who can give you a helping hand.
  • Learning to say NO, be assertive, and build healthy boundaries for myself.
  • Setting some ground rules for self. 
  • Keeping “me” time. 
  • Narrowing down expectations and work.
  • Understanding that festivals are seasons for happiness and enjoyment, and not a burden on the women of the family. 
  • Taking a break from work and spending time with loved ones.

 

Dr Roma Kumar says that women must learn to celebrate themselves every day through self-care.


“During festivals, she's focused on keeping the family satisfied; on non-festive days she should instead take out time to satisfy her needs. Keep up with socialisation and surround yourself with positivity and a happy atmosphere. It is an art and skill to make each day count - as important, bright, and vibrant as a festival. Do not only dress up for the sake of a festival; invest in yourself from time to time, be in terms of wearing what you like or having your hair done a specific way,” she suggests.

Support is important

Ultimately, family support makes every celebration worth its while. So it’s important to ask for help when you need it.


Shweta is of the firm belief that festivals are for everyone equally.

“It’s unfair that women have to do all the chores while everyone else celebrates. It’s especially challenging for working women. I think preparations should be divided equally among all family members so women can have a good time instead of being too exhausted to take all the revelry in.”

Rekha echoes the sentiment and emphasises that support should not be restricted to the festival season. It should be an “every time” thing.


“Without the support and understanding of family, it is certainly stressful and difficult to balance everything at once. Here, I am not talking about just married women with husbands and children. I have come across so many single women who are equally inundated with expectations and responsibilities of managing jobs, home, taking care of parents, siblings, etc., who hardly find time to take a break or just decide to put their leg up and relax, meet their friends over the weekend or simply take a holiday. All this can be possible only if families also come forward to support women, share their workload, and do away with expecting her to be a one-stop-shop for all responsibilities,” she says.


Celebrate all the festivals you want, but with all the support you can get! More importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself.


Edited by Teja Lele

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