Since it appeared in the news last December1, the coronavirus has managed to shut down nations, wobble economies and seriously alter everyday life. Scientists who study disease still do not totally understand the mysterious ways COVID-19 affects the body but have noted it severely affects people of any age who have underlying conditions (such as diabetes, serious heart conditions, kidney disease, obesity and COPD).2 Yet it can take down perfectly healthy people as well.3
The uncertainty and danger surrounding COVID-19 have left the world wondering, what’s next?
A Troubling Symptom
COVID-19, besides having a growing list of documented symptoms and surprises, has shown another troubling symptom: Outright discrimination and blame toward cultures perceived to have a connection with it. Because it was first identified in Wuhan, China some still refer to it as the “Chinese virus” or other names.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines discrimination as “the unfair or prejudicial treatment of people and groups based on characteristics such as race, gender, age or sexual orientation.”4 The APA names fear and misunderstanding as common motivators. Right now, many Asian Americans are feeling the heat.
At the time of this writing, more than 832 COVID-19-related incidences against Asian Americans have been reported.5 These attacks include verbal harassment and shunning, strangers’ discomfort, physical assaults, spitting and coughing, threats, and possible civil rights violations.6
A Public Health Issue
The APA calls discrimination “a public health issue.” Research reports a link between racial discrimination and depression, anxiety, obesity, high blood pressure, bone demineralization and substance abuse7,8.
The pandemic has given many of us something to stress out about: controversies over wearing a mask, tensions from remaining housebound, strangeness of social distancing, difficulties from wage losses and ever-brooding possibilities of sickness and death. Stress is the natural response to repeated stimulus, and each of us experiences it differently.
Chronic stress — whether from the unknowns of COVID-19 or direct discrimination because of it — causes wear-and-tear in our bodies. This happens because stress causes the body to shift its vital energy from major organs to buff up hypervigilance in case a threat (perceived or real) develops into a full-fledged danger. The result? A weakened immune system and the propensity to develop an underlying disease, two variables that can cause increased risks regarding COVID-19.
The Ins and Outs of Stress
The healthy ways to deal with pandemic-related stress include having a plan in case of infection; taking a break from news and social media feeds; talking with a friend, family or spiritual advisor; incorporating a relaxation technique; and including healthy habits like exercising and eating good foods.9 In the case of discrimination, recognize the racism for what it is, connect with cultural strengths and values, share and utilize cultural resources,4 and report it. The Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council has created a Coronavirus Anti-AAPI Racism Incident Report on their website here.
The APA strongly advises to maintain clear thinking (discrimination can stoke internal emotions) and not dwell on any one incident.4 But when emotions and thoughts become out of control, ask for help. Equality Health’s telehealth service provides medical and mental health consultations through video calls. It’s okay to ask for professional help when worry, fear and anxiety affect our relationships and family roles. Everyone needs a safe space to get support and empathy. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Equality Health for help.
5 Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council