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What It's Like To Watch 'The Handmaid's Tale' As A TwentySomething Female

Culture

As a TwentySomething female, I’ve studied the women in history who permitted me to have the privileges I’m lucky enough to live with today. To watch it all stripped away in Hulu’s original series The Handmaid’s Tale has taken me through a complex set of emotions, ranging from pity, to anger, to fear. As I dove deeply into the first four episodes, I realized these emotions were centered around the thought of something like this happening in my lifetime. The unfortunate truth is that though it didn’t occur in my lifetime, everything that occurred in the show has happened during somebody’s lifetime.


Based off Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, the series follows a theocratic society living under a fundamentalist dictatorship in the Republic of Gilead, formerly known as the United States. Here, women are forced to leave behind their previous lives and identities in order to oblige as concubines, useless to their commanders and mistresses until impregnated.

The Handmaid's Tale via Marie Claire

It’s a chilling, humbling, and disturbing plot that packages women as items. Whether the female characters are sexualized through their role as handmaids or as slaves, they all exist in a man's life – and in society as a whole – as voiceless, helpless objects.

The Handmaid's Tale, via TV Guide

Unfortunately, once protagonist Offred, portrayed by Elisabeth Moss, begins to find a voice and to commiserate with her “partner" Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel, she quickly loses Ofglen. Their storylines separate, depicting two very different, though both oppressed, situations: sexuality versus fertility. This enforces how the female body is treated in Gilead.

Like Angelica Jade Bastièn highlights in her recap of the third episode in The New York Times, “Both Offred and Ofglen’s plots underline the ways in which female bodies carry currency in this world and how quickly this worth can change.”

When Offred is presumed to be pregnant, all behavior towards her shifts. She becomes humanized by her mistress, the help, and the men, as they become invested in her best interest and show concern for her emotional and physical state. Yet, upon learning she’s not pregnant, she goes back to being treated like an object. Watching Mrs. Waterford toss Offred back into her room demonstrates poorer treatment than before. I wondered: how do these mistresses have no empathy for their fellow woman, after coming from a society where women had come so far? How could they allow this future to happen, by reverting to traditional and conservative roles?

In Offred’s flashbacks of living with her husband and daughter, we get a glimpse of the past society. It’s also relayed through Offred’s narrative in her present life in Gilead. Her words make comments that will affect all audiences, women and men alike.

Regarding this topic, Elisabeth Moss told GQ, “I do hope – whether you’re a man, whether you’re a woman, whether you’re gay, straight, whatever religion you’re a part of, whether you’re right-wing, left-wing – whatever the hell you are, I hope that you see through your own eyes, and through your own experience, and apply what is talked about through the show through your experience. That’s how we come together, and that’s how we learn.”

And I think that “coming together” is a huge theme in the show. Each handmaid struggles with different issues, but their struggles are what bring them together. Women are much stronger together when they exist as a unifying force. Coming together is depicted both positively and negatively in the cult-esque handmaids, but it’s clear they recognize they have no other choice than to conform, and if they are to survive, they'd have to do it together.

The Handmaid's Tale, by George Kraychik

I have to echo Moss’ words – watching the show isn’t just an eye-opening experience to what women once endured, it’s also applicable to learning and understanding the present and future. It’s about survival as a humanity and a peek into how far we’ve come as a society. We’ve made too much progress to watch that unravel to the circumstances portrayed in the show, and the only way to move forward is to unite as a collective.

5 min read
Health

3 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress Each Evening (Instead of Reaching for Another Cocktail)

When we envision a person who is suffering from substance use disorder (SUD)—defined by having a history of past misuse, experiencing increasing mental health symptoms, or having a family history of addiction—we often picture someone waking up and instantly grabbing their first drink. However, in my experience working with those battling SUD for nearly a decade, I've learned that everyone's relationship with alcohol looks different and having a few too many drinks at night can be just as dangerous.

The time of day, amount, or type of alcohol one drinks doesn't define if they suffer from SUD or not—it's the compulsion to drink. By focusing on healthy stress relievers and implementing them into your daily routine, you aren't just avoiding another glass at night, you are curbing any inclination for SUD that you may have.

While you may feel the desire to reach for another drink after dinner and putting the kids to bed to relieve some of the stress you incurred that day, there are other things that you can do that are much more beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Risks of Reaching for Another Drink

Reaching for another cocktail or glass of wine can feel like a great way to relieve the stress of the day at the time, but over time it can actually lead to the opposite. Excessive drinking is known to lead to increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders such as increased risk of family problems, altered judgment, and worsened sleep quality. These can all lead to increased stress and create a continuous cycle I have seen in many of my patients, which often prove difficult to break.

Increased alcohol consumption can directly impact an individual's mood and temperament, too. In my patients, I've seen a connection between increased alcohol consumption and irritability, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that previously brought that person joy—activities that people should always put time into, especially right now during the pandemic.

While drinking in moderation doesn't have serious implications for some, others are already at increased risk for SUD. One drink per day is considered moderate for women, while eight drinks or more in a single week is categorized as heavy drinking. It's important to monitor your intake—whether you are at increased risk for SUD or not. It is all too easy for one glass to become another, and then another. And if you keep reaching for just one more drink, you can start to build a tolerance, as it requires more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. This can result in dangerous, addictive habits that will alter your life, and the lives of those who care for you.

Three Healthy Ways to Relieve Evening Stress

Stress relief from alcohol is short-lived, but choosing healthier, alternative stress relievers can provide long-lasting benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing. At Wellbridge, our team not only focuses on treating addiction but also on teaching healthy habits to support ongoing sobriety. And many of these learnings can be implemented to avoid addiction by handling stress better as well!

Below are three healthy stress relief ideas you can implement into your routine:

  1. Mindfulness exercises can be a powerful and mentally stimulating stress reliever. Throughout our therapeutic program at Wellbridge, we provide different opportunities to cultivate mindfulness. For example, breathing exercises, such as box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, mindful walking, and progressive muscle relaxation. If you're looking for entry, guided meditation, check out this YouTube channel where experts post mindfulness exercises each week.
  2. Human connection is invaluable. Whether it is your spouse, your children, a friend, or even a therapist, connecting with someone else can be a great way to relieve stress. The additional perspective that another person provides can also help us feel that the anxieties and stressors we are experiencing are more manageable. If you are feeling increased stress from loneliness or isolation, reach out and schedule a Zoom coffee hour with a friend, or call a loved one to check-in and chat.
  3. Physical activity is an excellent stress reliever as well, for so many reasons. Not only can it help us get our mind off of stress, it enables our bodies to release endorphins and provides long-lasting physical health benefits. Physical activity doesn't need to be a full-blown workout if you don't feel up to it, or simply don't have extended periods of time to dedicate to a longer exercise regimen. Even a short walk or some stretching can go a long way towards improving your mood. I enjoy following guided, online yoga practices for both mindfulness practice and physical activity.

Despite my years working in this space, I am no stranger to giving in to stress. However, I've learned that by allotting myself a little time each morning and evening for activities that set a positive tone in my life—like meditation, journaling, and exercise—I've been able to better manage my stress and feel more prepared for heightened periods of stress. Do I manage to set aside personal time every morning and evening? Definitely not—life happens! But by doing our best to take regular time out for ourselves, we're all certain to be in a better place emotionally and mentally.

Putting Your Mental Health & Wellbeing First

It's important to also recognize that it isn't just stress that causes us to reach for another drink at night. With the added pressures and responsibilities of women in today's world, having another glass of our favorite drink at the end of the day can often seem like a quicker and easier option than other healthier ways to relieve stress.

However, it's essential to put your mental health and wellbeing front and center in your priority list—something that many women struggle with. But just like the oxygen masks on an airplane, you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first. By focusing on implementing small, healthy habits and making them a seamless part of your daily routine, you ensure that you can show up in all aspects of your life and for all the people in your life.

If you are struggling with increased stress, be specific and honest with your support system about your need to preserve your mental wellbeing. Prioritizing your needs will help you be there for other people you care about in your life.

I always refer back to a quote from a Dar Williams song—a song about therapy no less! "Oh, how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself." Talk about your needs with others and find time to develop healthy coping habits. And if you feel as though you've already created an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, discuss that relationship with a medical advisor to learn if advanced treatment is the right option for you.