Life is stressful. Between working and raising a family, there is plenty to be stressed about on an everyday basis. Throw in the fears associated with a worldwide pandemic, and it’s easy to understand why many people are more stressed than usual these days. If you’re a minority also dealing with the realities of racism, discrimination and stereotyping, your stress levels can be off the charts.
Racism and other race-related stressors are a growing public health emergency. When someone constantly lives in fear of being discriminated against unfairly, simply because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background, it can be traumatic and stressful. And rarely does a person only experience a single encounter of racism. More often, people are affected by an accumulation of discriminatory events over a lifetime.
The statistics are alarming:
- Nearly two-thirds of Black adults report being in situations where people acted suspicious of them simply because of their race or ethnicity.
- Black people are 3.23 times more likely than whites to be killed by police and 5 times more likely to believe they were detained unfairly by the police.
- Hate crimes against Asian-Americans increased 150% from 2019 to 2020, seemingly due to fears that they were somehow responsible for the “China” virus.
- Almost 60% of Hispanics reported that they had experienced discrimination or racism.
- More than one-third of Native Americans say they have personally experienced racial or ethnic slurs and/or insensitive or offensive comments about their race or ethnicity.
- COVID-19 has unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups. Likely explanations for this are healthcare access, poverty and a higher proportion of people who are considered essential workers.
And things seem to be getting worse. A 2019 Pew research poll showed that 65% of Americans thought it had become more common lately for people to openly express racist or racially insensitive views.
Those who say they’ve experienced discrimination consistently rate their stress levels higher than those who haven’t. That stress, fear and trauma builds up and can lead to serious, long-lasting impacts on physical and mental health.
When you feel threatened, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode – a stress response – that causes your heart rate to increase, your breathing to quicken and your blood pressure to rise. Your body is designed to handle some stress, but when it’s chronic, it can lead to medical conditions like headaches, gastric issues, chest pains, frequent infections, insomnia, high blood pressure and more.
If you’re often anxious, stressed or fearful, it’s important to take care of your mental health. This can be difficult to do but is an essential component of your overall well-being.
Some ways to reduce stress include:
- Get plenty of sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Spend time with family and friends
- Practice mindful breathing
- Try meditation and/or yoga
- Indulge in your favorite hobbies or activities
- Talk to someone about how you feel
It may be helpful to seek professional help if you find it hard to deal with your stress on your own or feel like your mental health is suffering. Unfortunately, some ethnicities face stigmas related to mental health disorders and treatment that make it less likely a person will talk about how they are feeling or seek help. In some cases, they also have less access to mental health services. But no matter what your race or ethnicity or how you are feeling, there is no reason to suffer in silence.
Ask your primary care physician, if you have one, for a referral to a therapist or psychologist. You can also ask your health insurance company for a list of covered mental health providers in your area. If you don’t have insurance, community health centers, non-profit organizations and student health centers may provide free or low-cost therapy options.