Mental health problems among young people, and girls and young women in particular, are a well-known health problem. Such gendered mental health patterns are also seen in conjunction with stress-related problems, such as anxiety and depression and psychosomatic complaints. Thus, intervention models tailored to the health care situation experienced by young women within a gendered and sociocultural context are needed. This qualitative study aims to illuminate young women's experiences of participating in a body-based, gender-sensitive stress management group intervention by youth-friendly health services in northern Sweden.
A physiotherapeutic body-based, health-promoting, gender-sensitive stress management intervention was created by youth-friendly Swedish health services. The stress management courses (n = 7) consisted of eight sessions, each lasting about two hours, and were led by the physiotherapist at the youth centre. The content in the intervention had a gender-sensitive approach, combining reflective discussions; short general lectures on, for example, stress and pressures related to body ideals; and physiotherapeutic methods, including body awareness and relaxation. Follow-up interviews were carried out with 32 young women (17-25 years of age) after they had completed the intervention. The data were analysed with qualitative content analysis.
The overall results of our interview analysis suggest that the stress management course we evaluated facilitated 'a space for gendered and embodied empowerment in a hectic life', implying that it both contributed to a sense of individual growth and allowed participants to unburden themselves of stress problems within a trustful and supportive context. Participants' narrated experiences of 'finding a social oasis to challenge gendered expectations', 'being bodily empowered', and 'altering gendered positions and stance to life' point to empowering processes of change that allowed them to cope with distress, despite sometimes continuously stressful life situations. This intervention also decreased stress-related symptoms such as anxiousness, restlessness, muscle tension, aches and pains, fatigue, and impaired sleep.
The participants' experiences of the intervention as a safe and exploratory space for gendered collective understanding and embodied empowerment further indicates the need to develop gender-sensitive interventions to reduce individualisation of health problems and instead encourage spaces for collective support, action, and change.
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