Health has been on my mind these days and in this post, I wanted to focus on the dimensions of women’s health. Some questions that I seek to answer in this post are:
- What is health?
- How are women uniquely affected?
- What can music therapy do to support women?
In a previous blog I wrote specifically about music therapy and men’s mental health. In this post, I’m going to take a broader perspective and focusing on women’s health and music therapy. While this article is geared towards women, the information can be relevant to men, too.
Dimensions of Health
People are complex and holistic- women especially. This means that there are many dimensions of health. These include physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental. These are the dimensions of women’s health I’ll be focusing on.
Physical Dimension of Women’s Health
When we think of health, it’s easy to focus on our physical health. We want to be free of illness. In this desire we may strive to do a variety of things:
- Get good rest
- Eat well
- All the other things we’re told by doctors we should do to be healthy.
Yet, the definition of physical health is evolving. People are living longer. We’re no longer focused on being free of diseases. “The more accurate definition of physical health could be ‘The ability to perform daily tasks and live comfortably in one’s body’. “ This speaks to the importance of doing the things necessary to feel good in our bodies, such as:
- Eating foods that truly nourish you
- Engaging in physical activities that allow you to remain as mobile, flexible, and strong as possible.
Mental Dimension of Women’s Health
The next dimension of health is mental health. It’s easy to overlook this one. Often people work themselves to the bone without thinking of their mental health. Yet, when you think about it, can you see how one’s state of physical being can affect one’s mental state? Our thoughts and outlook on the world influence how we feel in our bodies, and how we feel in our bodies can affect our thoughts and outlook on the world. Mentally healthy people have good coping skills for stress, relate well to others, and make good choices.  Having such coping skills has a positive impact on one’s sense of health and well-being.
When talking about the dimensions of women’s health, mental health is one of the most important. Although this is a gender stereotype, women are natural caretakers. They give so much of themselves to others that there’s nothing left for them. A woman who falls under this description is not living a mentally healthy life. She needs to be able to recognize that it’s ok to say no – that it’s ok to set boundaries.
Emotional Dimension of Women’s Health
Another dimension of health that goes hand-in-hand with mental health is emotional health. Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time. It simply means that you know how to deal with your emotions, both positive and negative.  Our emotions can serve as indications of how we’re doing and things that might need to change in our lives. Music therapy can support women’s health, especially when it comes to emotional and mental health.
Spiritual Dimension of Women’s Health
Spiritual health isn’t the same as being religious. Spirituality is different for everyone, and for some women, it can be religious in nature. Yet for others, it can be experienced in nature, such as with Pagan belief systems. Spiritual health is important because it helps us to feel connected to something greater than ourselves. When we feel connected with something greater than ourselves, life can take on a greater meaning and purpose. This in turn has an impact on our overall health.
Social Dimension of Women’s Health
Social health is all about relationships. This can be romantic, familial, friendships, or other types of relationships. “Social health can be defined as our ability to interact and form meaningful relationships with others. It also relates to how comfortably we can adapt in social situations.” 
Environmental Dimension of Women’s Health
Finally, we come to environmental health. Environmental health refers to the causes of disease or injury. It is also about the relationship we have with our environment and how we interact with it. Are we living in safe conditions? Are our basic needs being met? 
Again, health is not just the absence of disease. It’s the relationship we have with ourselves, other people, and our surroundings. You can have a chronic illness and still be a healthy person if you tend to all of these dimensions of health. 
The Rhythms and Cycles of Women’s Health
Along with these dimensions of health, women also have unique rhythms and cycles. These unique rhythms and cycles can affect each of these dimensions. Therefore, the cycles and rhythms of women are important to pay attention to. This is because they can provide us with important clues and insights into the state of our health.
Yet, many women may not understand their own rhythms. When we’re younger, we may be totally out of sync with our internal rhythms. Even when we’re older, the lifestyles we lead can cause us to lose our sense of rhythm to ourselves. The most popular rhythms to highlight are the circadian rhythms and women’s menstrual cycles.
Circadian Rhythms and Women’s Health
Circadian rhythms are the various biological rhythms that exist within the human body. They cycle on a near 24-hour clock.  The circadian rhythms affect the sleep-wake cycle as well as fertility and menopause.
Both men and women have circadian rhythms. However, women have different rhythms than men. Women’s circadian rhythms are six minutes shorter than men, which means they complete a full cycle in less than 24 hours. This means that women are often “fighting their inner clocks every day.” 
Menstrual Cycles and Women’s Health
Menstrual cycles are also important when discussing the dimensions of women’s health and female cycles and rhythms. All women, including transgendered women, experience menstrual cycles. However, each woman has a different experience. A woman’s menstrual cycle affects her not just when she gets her period, but throughout the month.
Of course, women’s cycles change throughout our lives. The surge of hormones that exists for adolescent girls is very different than a mature 30-something-year-old woman. And then what happens when women hit menopause? Their cycles change again. This ever-changing rhythm of cycles changing is a larger cycle in itself that is related to being a woman.
Transgender women can also get periods, they just don’t bleed. “The fact that some trans women experience a monthly cycle, has to do with the hormone replacement therapy they’re on. Just like cis women, the period experiences of trans women range from barely noticeable to debilitating.” 
Women are often considered to be more emotional during “that time of the month.” The messages that women receive around their natural cycles can hold them back from experiencing their true femininity and what it means to be female. Trans women have an even harder struggle when it comes to these messages and often need an outlet for expressing their femininity.
Benefits of Music Therapy for Women
At a time when women’s unique perspectives and insights should be recognized and honored, that isn’t always the case. In today’s society, such awareness and respect is often not the case. Too often women have been coerced or forced to disown their power. For women who have internalized such messages, music therapy allows women to express themselves in powerful ways.
Women’s Empowerment and Wellness
One of these ways is that music gives women a voice in a society where we are often told to be silent. This can be done literally by vocalizing and using one’s voice in the form of song circles and singing. It can also be done in more figurative ways, such as through rhythm circles or song-writing. Music therapy also allows women to use rhythm to find power in who they are. Music therapy can help women tune into themselves and what they need to live a healthy life.
Redefining Identity as a Woman
Another way this can be done is by using music to help women explore their identity. Today’s women take on a variety of roles. Some of these roles may have been consciously chosen. Whereas, other roles may not have been. When these roles change in some way, feelings of fear, sadness, or confusion may come up. Changes in how women identify may influence why a women would seek music therapy. Music therapy holds space for female identity exploration.
An example of how a woman’s identity might change is if she has breast or ovarian cancer. Ovaries and breasts are two elements to a woman’s identity. If a woman has a mastectomy it can change her whole perception of herself. The same goes if a woman has a hysterectomy. Women going through these types of life-changing situations may need to redevelop a new sense of identity for themselves as a woman.
Music can be used to help women struggling with identity, particularly as it relates to their health. The goals and the way music therapy works for them may be different. The result is the same- wanting the woman to feel a sense of identity in her new way of being in the world.
Recovering From Traumatic Experiences
Music therapy helps women find their voices, self-regulate, process and integrate traumatic experiences. Many women are survivors of some form of trauma. Music therapy provides a way to express themselves and make their voices, literally, heard. This can be done through a variety of ways, such as through:
- Vocalizing and Singing
- Musical Improvisation
- Lyric Analysis
- Guided Meditation with Music
Music therapy can be provided in a trauma-informed way. The therapeutic use of music can help women who have experienced trauma to feel grounded and safe. It does this by helping bring a person back to their present-moment experience where they are safe. From this safe place, women can heal and grow beyond their painful past experiences.
Women’s Health and Music Therapy at SoundWell Music Therapy
At SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, I work with women of all ages and backgrounds. Through music, I help them find their voices. I recognize that health is complex and acknowledge the variety of cycles and rhythms inherent to all who identify as a woman.
If you’re ready to expand your therapy horizons and explore music therapy with SoundWell Music Therapy, be sure to contact me. I want to help you find empowerment as a woman. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation during which we can talk more about what your needs are. You can schedule here.