It is no surprise that the virus has taken over the world by now, and every one of us is feeling anxious about the uncertainty it has caused in our lives. One of the many changes it has brought in our lives is the way we work.
We are all grieving the loss of something. For some people, it might be the loss of their jobs. For children, it might be the loss of being able to go to school. Either way, we are grieving the loss of the joy of going outside without the fear of getting affected by the virus.
We had to say goodbye to our “normal” life. It is okay to feel unmotivated, anxious, and uncertain right now. We are in the middle of a pandemic, after all. It is okay to take your time and figure out your own way of dealing with this loss. You do not have to feel bad about feeling bad, your feelings are valid, and you have the permission to feel.
One of the many things which have changed during this time is that we have to convert a section of our homes into our office. Working from home can be difficult for our mental health and can hinder our productivity. We are all waiting for the quarantine to get over and everything to go back to normal, but the reality is that we might never be able to go back to the way things were before. The custom of shaking hands might be dead even after quarantine is over.
The rules for social distancing will be in place until we find a vaccine for the virus or maybe even longer. The point is that we won’t have the normal which we had before. This might be the biggest change we will have to do collectively across generations. Change is tough, and to accept such a massive change is tougher. But what might help is a little heads up. It would be better if everyone understands that it is okay if we do not get our normal back and it is time to create a new normal.
While the future remains uncertain about the best strategies for reopening the economy, one cannot ignore the panic and the anxiety everyone will go through once people start going outside again. A mass amount of people have yet to develop immunity against the virus. If we reopen without proper strategies and clear rules, there is a chance that we may go into a worse scenario.
What is COVID-19 doing to our mental health?
We all have been reading about the effects of physical health of COVID-19, but there are various ways it has affected our mental health as well.
- Health Anxiety: The fact that this crisis has been so global and uncertain has induced a wave of anxiety which has not only impacted the spiraling thoughts but has also created a pit of fear in our stomach. For the people staying away from their families, the uncertainty of being able to see their families again has intensified.
- Lockdown stress: The biggest effect the lockdown has had on our mental health is the loss. It is the loss of our identity and who we are. Being able to have hobbies and things that we do on weekends are disrupted causing stress because being able to identify who we are is highly associated with our psychological well-being.
The stress caused by COVID-19 has a way worse impact on people who have been diagnosed with mental health disorders than others. Certain situations related to the virus can be triggering. For example, people with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are reminded of the time when they couldn’t go outside because of their illness. People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) could find washing of the hands as a trigger. Hence, one can feel more stressed if you are already stressed.
- Loneliness: The lack of human connection can be tough, especially for the people staying away from their friends and family or living alone in an apartment.
How to prepare yourself mentally for the new normal affected by COVID-19?
- Stress Inoculation: This is a term used by psychologists, which means that if one is prepared for the stress to come in advance, they tend to resist less towards the stress and are more prepared for it.
- Rebuild your rhythm: We all know that our sleep schedules are not doing so great these days. Doing some preparation about a week before going back to work, trying to fix your sleep schedule, or making to-do lists prior to going to bed can help rebuild your rhythm. Maybe this new schedule is better for you because you can now add things for self-care and things that you do to destress every day. Stress starts to interrupt your life when it has been accumulated for a long period of time.
- Keep an open mind: While there are some speculations around how the world would look like post-COVID-19, it is better to keep an open mind for the unexpected. Be prepared for anything that has to come. We have done a great job in surviving a pandemic and isolation and we can do this as well.
- It is okay to GRIEVE: We have all suffered from the loss of “normal” life and it is okay to take your time to grieve about it.
- Going outside for a brunch with friends is still a NO: It would be great to just get the vaccine and go back to normal, but the reality is that it takes time to perfect a vaccine and distribute it to everyone. Unfortunately, we might have to put off brunch with friends for some more time.
- Be more creative: It is time to be more creative around the idea of fun. We are still in the middle of a pandemic. Though the world is starting to reopen because of the economy, it is necessary to acknowledge that we might never be able to go back to the “normal” as before. We can be more creative in thinking of ideas to do at home while we survive this pandemic.
What can you do to help yourself on a personal level?
- Try to do the basics of survival: Eating, sleeping, bathing, putting on clean clothes. On days when you are feeling overwhelmed, doing the basics is enough.
- Building social support: Social distancing does not mean social disconnecting. This is the time to be more active via video calls and joining Facebook groups which share common interests as you. Try to build connections while social distancing.
- Coping strategies: Remind yourself of the coping strategies which have helped you before.
- Limiting your exposure to social media and news: It is okay to take a break from social media and to limit your exposure to the news.
Take one day at a time! It will be okay!
Help is available and you are worthy of it. Please click this link and it will direct to the help available in your country https://checkpointorg.com/global/
~ Pinky Sabhnani
COVID-19 has changed the world and the way we live in it. During this time of loss, change, and uncertainty of the future, everyone is experiencing a multitude of different mental health challenges, struggles, and responses. The experience of high schoolers in particular is a unique one that deserves more space in the news, media, and global conversations. In comparison to previous lighthearted and celebratory ends of years past, I find my current reflections of my junior year to be melancholic and heavy.
It was difficult to comprehend the magnitude of COVID and the degree to which highschool life would be affected when the pandemic was just beginning to come to light in the United States. We were first in denial, carrying on with our lives, treating it like a far away and distant issue. It seemed unreal that life could change in such drastic ways. We clung on to hopes of prom, graduation, and end of the year celebrations that got us through long days in math. Plans for activities and seeing family over summer still seemed possible. When the reality of COVID sunk in, we were faced with insurmountable sadness and the weight of what had been lost.
Since my freshman year of high school, I have looked forward to picking out a prom dress with my mom. My friend Sophie was excited to visit with family in England she hasn’t seen for over a year. My friend Lillie couldn’t wait to graduate highschool with her peers. Yearbook signings, end of the year carnival, taking the SAT. Even a few months in, it is difficult to internalize how forever changed our lives are. We try not to talk or think about it, afraid of what confronting reality will mean.
One of the hardest parts has been the absence of school relationships. For my friend Sophie, motivation to complete school work and stay engaged comes from interactions in class and in the halls with friends, classmates, and teachers. Not having those opportunities to connect with peers on a personal and face-to-face level has made it much more difficult to feel motivated and inspired to finish off the school year. For my friend Lillie, who is graduating her last year of high school, it is incredibly heartbreaking to know she can’t say goodbye to the peers and teachers she spent the last four years building relationships with.
Lillie described a strong sense of regret. Having planned on going to prom, school dances, and important events her senior year, she is distraught over not having the opportunity to create such cherished highschool memories with friends to hold on to for the rest of her life. She also reported a loss in the pride that comes along with being a senior throughout COVID. While school administration and staff has done their best to recognize and celebrate seniors, with no graduation or celebratory parties possible, the end of her highschool experience has felt anticlimactic and lacking.
For many juniors and seniors, the anxiety and uncertainty of what the future will hold and look like is overwhelming. Freshman year in college and senior year in highschool are some of the most celebrated moments of adolescence. We wonder what we will miss out on, and the ways in which our lives and youthood will be impacted. One of Lillie’s friend’s dad lost his job and mom is now working part-time. Due to her parents current financial shortcomings, she can no longer afford the college she has been excited about for all of high school, and will now be going to her 5th choice university. It is experiences like these that exist amongst youth all across the world, and lead to severe mental health concerns and feelings of despair, defeat, and loss.
During this time of heaviness and darkness, however, there has been positivity too. As highschoolers with schedules bursting at the seams full of extracurriculars and school work, it can be incredibly difficult to practice self care with life running at full speed during the normal school year. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association reported that teen stress levels during a normal school year exceed what they believe to be healthy, and pass average adult stress levels. COVID-19 has permitted us to slow down, take a step back, and make ourselves and our mental health a priority. Sophie and Lillie have both turned to exercise and reading to take care and feel better about themselves. Sophie has also enjoyed using checklists for motivation and keeping a balance between family and schoolwork, and catching up on sleep missed due to 1am school nights.
Through all of this sadness and pain, it is so important to take care and make yourself a priority. You can start simple by taking care of your body. Go on walks, eat healthy and balanced meals, and try breathing exercises or meditation. If creativity is more of your thing, try keeping a COVID-19 bullet journal, creating self compassionate art, or doodling with chalk on the sidewalk for your neighbors to enjoy. When especially missing social connection, you might hold a Zoom brunch for you and your friends, try new activities with your pets, or bake cookies on FaceTime with your grandparents.
If you are in immediate crisis or need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. A 2017 University of Cambridge study showed that teenagers who depended on and had greater access to mental health support services were less likely to become clinically depressed later on in life. Talking about the way you are feeling and leaning on professionals and support systems is imperative to taking care of yourself and feeling better. This is a hard time, and you deserve to reach out and receive support.
~ Olivia Nilsson
As an organization that is actively Breaking Taboo around psychological health, we found it difficult to ignore the issue of racism, as racism itself is a psychological bias. In light of the recent racist attacks that have been occurring due to the COVID-19 epidemic, we have a social and moral obligation to shed some light onto the psychology of xenophobia.
Merriam Webster defines xenophobia as: “dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.”
Where does racism stem from?
Racism stems from cognitive biases that are often based on stereotypes towards certain groups of people . Stereotypes are largely based on assumptions and these assumptions are then assigned to all members of the group, without regard to the individualities and variations of the members. Although stereotypes can be positive or negative, they all can have a negative effect. These biases can be helpful and create mental shortcuts for us, but it can also have an adverse effect as it can result in prejudgements . Jumping to conclusions is extremely easy to do, especially when we are judging people who seem different from ourselves.
This is because of something psychologists call the “Ingroup Outgroup Bias,” also known as “Ingroup Favoritism”, “Intergroup Bias,” and “Ingroup Preference.”
As social creatures, we categorize and distinguish ourselves between “us” and “them”. We have a natural inclination to prefer those who are like us, the ingroup, over those who are different from us, the outgroups . This can cause ingroup favoritism, which is defined as “the tendency to respond more positively to people in our ingroups than we do to people from outgroups” . This can lead to the unfair treatment of members in the outgroups. Furthermore, when we view individuals in our ingroups, we see these members as individual entities with unique personalities and traits . However, outgroup members are generalized to have the same characteristics, so it’s easy to label them into one large homogenous group. This is called the outgroup homogeneity effect .
This type of bias extends beyond the scope of race and can be fostered and amplified by social perceptions such as competition.
In the Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment, eleven-year-old boys with similar backgrounds were studied in a mock summer camp situation, in which the boys were divided into two equal groups and encouraged to bond, with the aim of fostering an in-group mentality. Researchers then introduced a series of competitive activities which pitted groups against each other for a valuable prize. Hostility and out-group negativity ensued.
Lastly, researchers attempted to reverse the hostility by engaging the boys in situations of mutual interdependence, an effort which eventually resulted in relative harmony between the two groups.
Sherif concluded from this experiment that negative attitudes toward out-groups arise when groups compete for limited resources. However, he also theorized that inter-group frictions could be reduced and positive relations created, but only in the presence of an overarching goal, which could only be achieved with the two groups’ cooperation. 
When we see people that are different from us, especially when we don’t know much about them, it’s easy for us to categorize them into broad groups like race, gender, etc. When we build up these stereotypes in our minds, consciously or unconsciously, it can lead to changes in how we perceive and treat others.
There is debate on whether or not these biases are intrinsic in nature; and if so, just how much of it is intrinsic versus triggered by social propaganda or even internal self esteem.
In a popular Yale research led by psychologist Laurie Santos, researchers found that monkeys stared longer at pictures of other monkeys who were outside their group, suggesting that monkeys spontaneously detect who is a stranger and who is a group member, and suggesting that human intergroup conflict may be an evolutionary construct. However, it is important to note that the same research also found that although monkeys divide the world into ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ they do so in a way that is flexible and is updated in real time. 
According to Santos, “Pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on.” 
The subject of racism has also long been linked to having high or low self esteem.
Dr. Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK, concludes that racism is a symptom of psychological ill-health. It is a sign of a lack of psychological integration, a lack of self-esteem and inner security. Psychologically healthy people with a stable sense of self and strong inner security are not racist, because they have no need to strengthen their sense of self through group identity. They have no need to define themselves in distinction to — and in conflict with — others .
Racism is far from subsiding and we must be vigilant when we see it happening around us.
Because of COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in racism toward Asian populations. There are many different social influences that are involved in negatively shaping these perceptions. For example, calling COVID-19 the “China virus” insinuates that all those who have a Chinese, or even just an Asian background are carriers of the virus. There is a slew of evidence that invalidates these biases. Based on an analysis of COVID-19 deaths by race and ethnicity, it was found that Asians have a relatively equal or less percentage of deaths compared to Blacks, Latinxs, and Whites . Xenophobia and racism are still happening, and not just towards Asians.
There have been various attacks towards all over the world because of racist motives. Examples of these attacks include: verbal abuse, harassment, physical assaults, and even murder. In Texas, two children were stabbed at a supermarket just because the perpetrator thought they were Chinese and had the coronavirus .
This, coupled with the recent scandal of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black American man who’s killing is currently being investigated as federal hate crime , and the most recent victim, George Floyd, who was videotaped being suffocated by the knee of a police officer named Derek Chauvin , shows that racism, prejudice, and hate crimes are still very prevalent in the world we live in today.
The protests and uproar sparked from the death of George Floyd raise much needed conversations about racism. There are too many people that have been desensitized to racism, choose to ignore it and let it continue, or even worse, take part in it. For example, there is a video posted of Amy Cooper, a white woman, who called the police and falsely accused “there’s an African-American man threatening my life.” simply because the man, Christian Cooper, asked her to leash her dog.
The surge of hate crimes can be attributed to many different factors like ignorance, how race is presented in the media, etc. but racism is a phenomena that has been happening long before the coronavirus outbreak and continues to be a very real issue that needs addressing.
In 2011, the United Nations held a High-Level Meeting, where world leaders adopted by consensus a political declaration proclaiming their “strong determination to make the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the protection of the victims thereof, a high priority for [their] countries” . But that was a decade ago, and the fight continues.
We would like to leave you with a story published in Hayasaki’s article, referred to by Izzy Kalman. This is a story about Angela King, a die-hard racist gang member who ended up in prison for robbery and assault at a Jewish-owned store.
One day, while smoking a cigarette with her back against a wall, King noticed a Jamaican woman eyeing her. King thought she was going to start a fight with her. Instead, the woman asked, “Do you know how to play cribbage?” The woman sat down next to King and taught her how to play the card game. King became friends with her, as well as her black friends. They questioned King about her beliefs while simultaneously showing her compassion and love.
“They were treating me like a human being,” King said. “It blew me away, because I didn’t feel like I deserved it, and I wasn’t expecting it. To receive that, it’s not something that you can ask for or would even know to ask for. It’s a gift like forgiveness, that when you get it, it changes everything.” 
It is common knowledge that problems do not disappear by ignoring them, and while there have been many efforts to counteract racism, the work is far from over. Only through continued education, turning ignorance into knowledge, taking a stand against injustice, activism, speaking out, and giving a voice to those whose voices have been suppressed – can we all do our part to turn over new leaves and break the taboo against racism.
Serena Sun, Founder and Director of Breaking Taboo &
Lucy Li, Breaking Taboo Assistant
National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) is a weeklong health observance led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) .
The week May 10-16, 2020 serves as a reminder for women and girls, especially during the outbreak of COVID-19, to make their health a priority and take care of themselves . It is extremely important for all women and girls, especially those with underlying health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, and women 65 years and older, to take care of your health now .
What steps can I take for better health?
The Office on Women’s Health encourages women and girls to :
- Take care of your body and mind:
- Talk to your healthcare provider:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Log and track your weight to be aware of how your food choices and physical activity are affecting your weight.
- Get and stay active regularly in your home or outside your home.
- During the shelter in place take advantage of technology and use the internet to find workout videos. There’s a whole world out there from Zumba to Pilates.
- Eat heart-healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks.
- Plan your meals ahead of time and make it a family event to prepare meals.
- Take care of your mental health
- Stay connected with family and friends via technology or even writing letters.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress.
- Try journaling or meditating to better understand your feelings.
- Practice good sleep habits to improve your mental and physical health, and boost your immune system:
- Follow a routine for going to sleep – be consistent going to bed and getting up – even on weekends. And try to enforce your children to have the same routine.
- Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Monitor alcohol intake and avoid illicit drugs, including drugs that are not prescribed to you.
- Drink alcohol in moderation and save it for special meals or occasions.
- Look out for your lungs
Good mental health is essential to overall well-being. ‘
Mental disorders can affect women and men differently* . Some disorders are more common in women such as depression and anxiety. More than 1 in 5 women in the United States experienced a mental health condition in 2019, such as depression or anxiety . Many mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder, affect more women than men or affect women in different ways from men . Most serious mental health conditions cannot be cured. But they can be treated, so you can get better and live well.
There are also certain types of disorders that are unique to women . For example, some women may experience symptoms of mental disorders at times of hormone change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression . Perimenopause, the transition to menopause, often begins in the late 40s. Perimenopause can cause sudden hormonal ups and downs which can also affect a women’s physical and mental health .
When it comes to other mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, research has not found differences in the rates at which men and women experience these illnesses . But women may experience these illnesses differently – certain symptoms may be more common in women than in men, and the course of the illness can be affected by the sex of the individual . Researchers are only now beginning to tease apart the various biological and psychosocial factors that may impact the mental health of both women and men .
Mental health resources from the federal government and other websites:
- National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, HHS
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, HHS
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, HHS
Some tips to participate in National Women’s Health Week:
· Educate and empower all community members to advocate for women’s health.
· Encourage those around you to participate in health screenings and create health habits.
· Share your personal journey with family, friends and loved ones to help them take the next step on their personal health journeys.
· Help break the taboo surrounded around sensitive health topics especially reproductive and sexual health.
*Men’s Health Month is in June and will be covered in a separate article.
~ Jasneelam Kaur, MPH