En español | Stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact the virus has had on their communities is compelling Black and Latina women who are 50 and older to place a renewed emphasis on inner health, self-care and well-being, according to a new AARP national survey.
"Mirror/Mirror: Women's Reflections on Beauty, Age, and Media,” an AARP survey of 4,851 women over the age of 18, reveals how worry is affecting their sleep, weight and other health issues.
The fear is justified. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Black and Latino adults are at greater risk of contracting coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying from the virus than white, non-Hispanic adults.
"Your health is your wealth,” says Shani Hosten, AARP vice president, African American/Black and LGBTQ Audience Strategy. “It's the number one thing that you really can control outside of the genetic disposition for some of the chronic conditions that African American/Blacks suffer from — high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity. With COVID, the disparities range from access to vaccinations and testing to [the fact] that people in our communities are dying at higher rates.” Yvette Peña, AARP vice president, Hispanic/Latino Audience Strategy, says Latina women are “CEOs of their multigenerational households. They're the ones doing the caregiving, probably doing all of the virtual learning for their children and making sure that there's broadband in the family. They've put all of the material things aside and focused on being well, so that they could take care of their family."
Other key findings include:
Focusing on health over appearance
Choosing inner peace over outer beauty
"You have to be anchored in something, and typically in the Black community it is your faith that gives that grounding, that inner peace,” says Hosten. “If all is spinning out of control around you, at least you'd have something to ground yourself.”
“Christianity is very, very high amongst the Latino community and spirituality,” says Peña. “It's a very optimistic point of view. It's always, ‘Oh my god, this is going to happen Si Dios quiere’ — God willing. God is always first. And it's also the connection with family, inner peace.”
Experiencing sleep problems
"All of the daily routines have been disrupted,” says Peña. “There's so many things that are happening throughout the day — Latina women are thinking about a family member, they are thinking about having to go out to work, about the WiFi signal not being strong enough for a child who has a lesson — they take all the pandemic problems to bed. So instead of relaxing, they're tense, and that interferes with sleep. The brain does not shut down."
Sleep has suffered, says Hosten. “Given the social injustice we’re seeing coupled with impact of COVID-19 in the Black community, it’s difficult to physically sleep as peacefully or as sound as you could. ... And at any given time, you’re thinking, ‘Did my son wear a mask when he was out today? Are [our kids] taking the same safety precautions that we’re taking?’” It’s no surprise, she says, “your mind is racing at night when it’s time to shut down."
Dealing with hair loss or thinning
Having issues with weight or eating
Hosten says in the African American/Black communities, increased time during the pandemic at home meant more opportunities to cook big family meals — and potentially putting on a few extra pounds. “It's the sedentary lifestyle coupled with the more frequent meals,” she says. “You are fearful and you're coping. Comfort foods at mealtime has definitely been a part of the Black community. You express your love through cooking for your family."
"In the Latino community, it all starts with food,” admits Peña. “You enter somebody's home, and they serve you food. You're at the dinner table and they want you to eat everything. There is too much stress eating — eating a little bit more of the cake that you baked or eating a little bit more in general and snacking — that's related to nerves.”
Problems with tooth grinding or jaw clenching
Hosten can relate to the increase in stress-induced grinding and clenching that dentists are seeing across the country. “I suffered from this,” she reveals. “I had to get a new night guard [because of grinding]. It's the stress of things that are in your subconscious."
Overall Hosten is encouraged that African American women are bringing these issues to the forefront. “The Black community — we don't talk about mental health and wellness. A lot of these topics can be very heavy and overwhelming, but talking about it or at least sharing with friends, therapists or trusted sources really shows that you're not in it alone."
Peña agrees. “Mental health and well-being is not ‘dinner table conversation’ for Latina women, as sometimes they don't identify and/or prioritize their issues,” she says. “They are focused on the well-being of their multigenerational family members. Having a study like this helps to drive awareness of what they may be facing, can give them hope and most importantly information and resources to deal with their mental health and well-being."
Nancy Kerr is a senior editor for AARP.org focused on family caregiving and beauty and style. Before joining AARP she was editor of special projects for USA Today; a senior editor for USA Weekend magazine; an assistant managing editor of digital content at The Washington Post and the director of women’s programming at America Online.