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Taking Care of Yourself: Asian Americans Discuss Mental Health and Wellness During Shelter in Place

by Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor

Social distancing has worsened symptoms of anxiety and depression for many people throughout the world. How do we take care of our mental health while continuing to stay at home?

On Tuesday, the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies hosted a webinar with Dr. Leana Wen to discuss ways people can take care of their mental health at home. Dr. Wen is an emergency physician, the former president of Planned Parenthood and the former health commissioner of Baltimore, Maryland.

During the webinar, Dr. Wen emphasized the importance of recognizing that “mental health is just as important as physical health.” She said it was important that we reduce the stigma and shame around mental health by discussing it the way we would discuss physical health. This discussion could help others heal.

“I think part of it is sharing our own stories as much as we can,” Dr. Wen.

She added that people should check in on their loved ones.

“We shouldn’t assume that everyone is fine just because we look fine,” Dr. Wen said.

While social distancing is critical, people should find ways to connect with others.

“I think we need to keep in mind that physical distancing, social distancing should not mean social isolation,” Dr. Wen said.

Many people are communicating with their loved ones through phone calls and video chats. Those options, however, are not available to everyone. Dr. Wen said that communities must ensure they help those who are more vulnerable to social isolation: the elderly who are unfamiliar with technology or groups who don’t have access to technology.

For many, shelter in place orders have disrupted routines that they feel give them direction and purpose. This can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

“Prior to Covid-19, it common for me to be on the road 3 weeks out of a month. Since then, self-isolation has definitely been an adjustment,” Tim Wang, founder and principal of an advertising agency called TDW+Co, said in an email to AsAmNews.

Tim Wang is now developing new routines. He jogs, spends more time with his son Elijah and connects with loved ones over the phone. He added that he also is re-learning how to balance his personal and professional life now that he works from home.

“Our world of separating personal from professional no longer holds true in these current times, so it’s understanding how to manage these priorities while understanding those you work with also are going through these same challenges,” he said in an email.

For 16-year-old high school student Taylor Wang, shelter in place meant the disruption of her normal school day. Social distancing has also hindered her ability to work on her non-profit initiative Student Art Spaces, which helps students present their artwork in professional galleries.

“I’m the kind of person who struggles to relax because it feels like my self worth depends on my level of productivity, and quarantine has lowered my capacity to produce work,” Taylor Wang said in an email to AsAmNews. “Sometimes, it’s important to remember that taking time to recharge is just as important as hustling.”

Taylor Wang said she is keeping herself busy by creating to-do lists for her various tasks. She added that she is also trying to stick to some elements of her normal routine before shelter in place.

“I try to maintain a routine — waking up around the same time, eating meals, and keeping up on my work,” she said in an email. “Of course, it’s easier said than done. To me though, keeping myself occupied and productive makes me feel fulfilled during these chaotic times.”

Social distancing has also disrupted the celebration of important milestones, like weddings and graduations. Dr. Wen acknowledged that it is difficult to not be able to celebrate those milestones. She suggested that people “adjust [their] expectations,” knowing that the milestone we have imagined for years is “not going to look like what we envisioned it to be.” She added that it is also important to remember that “what we’re doing is so much bigger than us.”

For Dr. Wen, this means understanding that she won’t be able to introduce her newborn daughter to family members in-person. She says for now she has been introducing her daughter to family members via FaceTime.

Dr. Wen, who gave birth to her daughter as concerns over coronavirus began emerging in the United States, also offered her advice for pregnant or postpartum women. She suggested that women contact their doctors to come up with a plan, knowing that plan could change.

Asian Americans must also cope with an increase in anti-Asian rhetoric and attacks on Asian Americans.

“In the weeks leading up to quarantine, I began to feel more and more self-conscious on my hour-long bus commute to my internship,” Taylor Wang said in an email. “When I coughed, I could feel eyes on me — fellow riders would glare or move away.”

Although leaving the house offers mental health benefits, many Asian Americans are now anxious to leave.

“I’ve heard and seen the fear from my extended family, friends and colleagues—that they even think twice to go out to the grocery store for basic necessities for fear of being targeted,” Tim Wang said in an email.

Taylor Wang said attacks against Asian Americans have reminded her how important it is to stand in solidarity with other communities.

“Seeing all those attacks against Asian Americans on the Internet made me uber-aware of my Chinese-ness in public, but it also drew me to the issue of minority solidarity,” Taylor Wang said in an email to AsAmNews. “Black and brown folks are treated in this suspicious manner every day just for existing. I definitely had to recognize that and check my own privilege as well.”

Dr. Wen stressed that everyone must do their part to “speak the truth.” Leaders and public health officials should continue to emphasize that this virus is not associated with a specific group of people. She added that people must approach those who hold anti-Asian views with “empathy.”

Asian Americans can also lift one another up by highlighting all the good Asian Americans have been doing for their communities during the pandemic.

“We can highlight so many of the Asian Americans serving the needs of all our communities, by being our first responders, being our essential workforce, serving on the frontlines as our healthcare workers, caretakers and researchers, small business owners keeping their doors open to serve their local community, warehouse and delivery workers, and so many more,” Tim Wang said.

Tim Wang said he feels thankful for all the people on the frontlines working to keep everyone safe.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story. 

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