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Why Self-Care Has Been Crucial to Black, Latina Women

Four women share how they've learned to cope with grief, unemployment and other pandemic-related burdens

A woman looks off into the distance

Courtesy Nick Onken/AARP

Wilma Consul:

It's been really stressful this past year. It's no secret COVID is to blame. And for certain populations, the pandemic has cost more hardship. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans and Latinos see a greater risk of contracting and dying from Coronavirus than their white counterparts. One thing the pandemic taught us is how to cope in our own ways. A new survey reveals how black women and Latinas are handling pandemic stress.

Penny Jackson:

I dealt with it, just try to meditate, try to relax through prayer and through watching inspirational programs to kind of keep my spirits lifted up…

Wilma Consul:

Coming up coming up next: Mirror, Mirror; women reflect on getting out of their COVID rut.

 

Hello, I'm Wilma Consul, and you're listening to an AARP take on today.

 

Part of the stresses during this pandemic is being cooped up at home. After months of doing interviews in the makeshift studio in my bedroom, I desperately wanted to take our podcast away from Zoom. I've been fully vaccinated, so I felt confident enough to do field reporting. Double masked, I drove around Northeast DC to talk to some women, Latinas and African-American, about how they've learned to distress this past year. For black women, the country's racial reckoning has added to the burdens of isolation, unemployment illness, and grief.

Penny Jackson:

Penny Perry Jackson, the death of George Floyd and the other African-American young man. And the young lady recently in Ohio made my stress level very high, being a parent and a mother of both, a young lady and a young man. There's no guarantee that this would not happen to them as well.

 

Wilma Consul:

How did you deal with the stress?

 

Penny Jackson:

I dealt with it, just try to meditate, try to relax through prayer and through watching inspirational programs to kind of keep my spirits lifted up.

 

Wilma Consul:

And the survey talks about how black women and Latinas are now thinking about self-care. Can you tell me if you've thought about doing any of this, besides your meditation and your prayer? How well are you taking care of yourself in this pandemic?

 

Penny Jackson:

So, I'm listening to classical music and trying to just unwind and, and self-pampering by in different soaps, scented candles. And I will burn them in the morning before I start work and try to get an aroma fragrance through the house, that was very relaxing. And I could just focus on what I was doing and not on everything going on around me.

Gloria Thompson:

Hi, I'm Gloria Thompson Price and I'm 70 years old. The pandemic started the early part of 2020, and I lost my husband in the last of 2019. So I was here all alone, dealing with that. And then what happened was, luckily there was a lot of free giveaways, but unfortunately, I took advantage of them and overate. And I consequently gained a lot of weight behind that.

 

Wilma Consul:

And so how did you deal with the stresses?

 

Gloria Thompson:

Mostly I didn't, I just ate, there was nothing else I could do. I couldn't go out and be with family. I’d talk on the phone, I'd watch TV and I, of course, I go out and get the free foods that, that, that they were offering. And that's all, I mean, I just wasn't myself because everything was just brand new for me. At that time, it was like double trouble for me.

 

Wilma Consul:

Gloria Thompson Price has decided to live with her daughter and the preparation to move out of her home of 50 years and finding a new home for her cat Princess only add to her worries. Her relief comes from above.

 

Gloria Thompson:

I think what I get the most pleasure is helping with the live streams around my church, since the pandemic, they had to do all of their services, you know, live stream on Facebook and YouTube. So I look forward to that and I haven't missed one.

 

Wilma Consul:

That's of service to others, but just for you, what do you like to do? Just, you know…

 

Gloria Thompson:

Well, my favorite hobby is gardening. So I guess I kind of look forward to that even though I'm getting older now and I can't do it as much as I like to. And I, you know, I have a pet, like little kitty cat that makes me happy too.

Wilma Consul:

At La Cocina, a contemporary marketplace inspired by Latino arts and culture, two friends sit down for heirloom chips, guacamole and the peanut, sesame-based Salsamacha.

Ledy Lisama:

My name is Ledy Lezama. I have a daughter 12 years old and she go to school and since the pandemic has started, she has to be at home. So that one was a lot of stressing for me. Cause sometime I can’t do technology. I work full time and also am a student…being on the three roles as well as I came a couple of times went to the hospital because of the stress…

Wilma Consul:

Early this year, Ledy Lezama contracted COVID.

 

Lady Lezama:

I was very ill. I can breathe sometime in. I had no people around, nobody can pass me at least a glass of water. So it really very sad experience for me and very traumatic because I feel like, I feel like I'm going to die and all those kinds of things I say, who am I going to leave my daughter? I don't want to make people sick around me and I will make people die. All those kinds of thought about there was very hard for me.

 

Wilma Consul:

How are you handling your stress now?

 

Lady Lezama:

I'm taking some walks and trying to follow my doctor advice, listen to music. Also, when I go to school is one of my major distractions because I've been focusing on something else and I don't really focus on all the things are having on my back.

Wilma Consul:

Okay. And then I see here sitting right next to you. You keep nodding in everything she says, tell me first, your name?

Thelma Romero:

Oh, my name is Thelma Romero. I am 23 and I'm from El Salvador. Honestly, in the beginning it didn't stress me at all. I had some money saved and I say, okay, I'll be fine if I don't work for a couple of weeks. But then it took more time than expected, of course we can see it.

Wilma Consul:

Thelma Romero came to this country alone and has no family around. She shares that she suffers from a chronic disease that sometimes leaves her nauseous and debilitated. So getting COVID left her feeling more alone.

Thelma Romero:

Oh my God. It was horrible. When the people asked me how you feel, I was like, I'm okay. Honestly, I was basically dying, and I was feeling super bad. I couldn't sleep, but I didn't want it to worry anybody else. I was trying to convince myself that I was okay…

Wilma Consul:

Thelma, recovered, got vaccinated returned to work and went back to school and out of the pandemic, she found something worth celebrating.

Thelma Romero:

I took that time when I was home to know myself, to give time to myself and to grow up spiritually or mentally. And I just had to learn a lot of techniques to control myself because I am too nervous person. I had the operation before. So I understood early that if I didn't control myself since the beginning, it will be a mess.

Wilma Consul:

Talk a little bit about the techniques that you said, so that to handle your stress. What did you do?

Thelma Romero:

Mediation. First of all, I always do yoga. A lot of techniques like breathing. I hear that you can even meditate while you are washing the dishes. So I started doing that, just basically being more present here in the moment and reading, singing at home. I'm not a singer, but it takes the stress out. I learned that as well. That doing things that you enjoy for me, for example, drinking a coffee, it gives me pleasure. So those little details that I had to learn this past year, they, they changed my life.

Wilma Consul:

We've just heard how the pandemic has compelled Latinas and African American women to focus on inner health self-care and wellbeing. We know this because of an annual survey from ARP called Mirror, Mirror: Women's Reflections of Beauty, Age and Media. Here to talk about the findings is Dr. Gabriella Romo. She's a therapist with her own private practice in Maryland. She also hosts a weekly radio show on issues related to mental health for the Latino American communities. Welcome.

Gabriela Romo:

Thank you very much. This is a pleasure to be here.

Wilma Consul:

First. Let's discuss how stress shows up physically.

Gabriela Romo:

Stress shows in many different ways. So it shows in, you know, with physical symptoms, but also with emotional symptoms. So everything is connected. And that's what happens with, you know, human beings. So, for example, with physical symptoms, we see headaches, we see sleep problems, our appetite changes; we can start having also gastrointestinal problems. So in relation to our emotional symptoms, we see, for example, that, you know, sometimes we don't feel like going out, we feel demotivated. Like you don't really want to see people. And the things that we used to like, and, you know, caught always our attention suddenly is like, no, not really, because it's not for me anymore. And so when we start seeing these changes, it really tells us something. And that is what has happened with, you know, all the stress that everybody has been having, but particularly Latina and African-American women.

Wilma Consul:

So people out there might say, well, we're all stressed during the pandemic, right. So why is the stress for African-American women and Latinas different?

Gabriela Romo:

Well, you're totally right. I think that everybody has been affected by, by this, the stress of, you know, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But - here is the but - minorities like Latinos and African American women, the pandemic has had like a major impact. And so there been more stressed and why is this? Because you know, their job loss in a very disproportionate way, also there was an increase in their childcare responsibilities and emotional problems. And so all this particularly affected these groups. So and that's when, you know, as I say, like the changes started. So we have to recognize that these minorities have been really like deeply affected -- women in general, but also African-American and Latina women.

Wilma Consul:

Now This survey that AARP did, it's not just for 50 plus women, it encompasses adults 18 and over now, the study also shows that in, in the African-American and Latino communities, women's focus are shifting from outward appearance toward their emotional wellbeing. Explain the shift.

Gabriela Romo:

Yeah, this is fascinating. And this is very interesting about the study. It shows that they are looking more into their health, into their mental health and less on that physical appearance that it is important. Of course, it's just that, that this time when there is like these high levels of stress, then their attention was focused more on the inner peace, on, you know, like I need to be well in, you know, from the inside. And so there was less emphasis as well on external beauty. And that's, I think that, that it shows very clearly how, you know, suddenly it's like, we know that there's something wrong and that we need to do something about it.

Wilma Consul:

So, during this pandemic, we heard a lot about self-care, right. How can a woman who juggles, like for the population that we're talking about, the Latinas and the African-American women who might be juggling two jobs and caring for the family, how does one do this? How do you take care of yourself?

Gabriela Romo:

You know, when we, when we do self-care is basically when we on purpose, like we do this in a deliberate way, we take care of our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. So just to give you maybe a few recommendations here, you basically just, they can do, for example, to have a much better sleep routine or have a healthy diet, try to exercise, have breaks during the day you know, try to socialize you probably, at that time, you can just like, you know, make a phone call to a loved one to a family member. And so maybe people may think, Oh, these are very small things, but many times in this small thing is, are, you know, those that have like bigger impact. So I would totally say, you know, try different with things because also we're all different, you know, like for some people it might help to go for a run for others. It's like, I really need to you know, socialize with others. I really need to see another person. And particularly I would stress that part of, you know, have that balance. Because as I said before, you know, it shows as well and our physical health, so sleep well, eat well, exercise and socialize as well.

Wilma Consul:

And those are, you know, those are not easy things to do. You literally have to force yourself, right? I've, I've been in meetings on Zoom from eight o'clock, nine o'clock all the way to four. And by four, I was just like, I got to get out. Right. And nowadays, you know, we have social media, you have YouTube, there's so many free things. People are offering free classes for exercise for, for cooking, even for meditation, for all kinds of things during this pandemic. And it's a good time for people to take advantage of that.

Gabriela Romo:

Absolutely. And actually, I would invite people to visit the page of AARP, which is aarp.org/wellbeing because they will find more resources there. And sometimes we just need to be creative. And particularly when we're feeling down, this is where we need to push ourselves, because that means, you know, there's something wrong. This is not your usual you. You know, when we are feeling that way, our options suddenly disappear and we don't know. Right. And so sometimes it's just good to look at, you know, sources where they give you ideas of how to do things. And I would say, just try and, you know, that's sometimes you find something that you never thought you probably like, and that actually helped you to improve your mood. Then now you feel more energized. You find something that interests you when you were feeling like nothing else anymore.

 

Wilma Consul:

I wanted to ask you, you work a lot with immigrants, just going back to this meditation part. I know if, if I told my aunties, my immigrant older aunties, like you gotta take, you know, this do meditation. They probably, what are you talking about? So when, what do you say to, you know, your, your clients, the people who come to you, especially the women, right? When some concept might, you know, might not be there, you know, might be foreign to them or not familiar with?

Gabriela Romo:

The word meditation is sometimes like very alien. So we have to be more like culturally appropriate. And you're totally right. So when I, for example, try to teach is relaxation technique, and everybody can breathe. Let's just sometimes that we don't know how to breathe in order to calm ourselves. And so that would probably use different words and just like remove bits and pieces of probably what meditation would look like. But I just teach what, you know, I think it's more appropriate for that person. So breathing exercise, like deep breathing and, you know, counting, you know, few seconds when you inhale then hold it there for another five seconds and then exhale another five seconds. That's like, okay, I can do this and say like, you know, practice it a few times a day, particularly when you feel like you're feeling anxious or you're not feeling, you know, very well, like you're on the edge do that.

Gabriela Romo:

And you know, meditation many times is like going to a place of inner peace, right? And many times we have to use images and rather than call it, meditation is like, you know, when you're breathing, just try to think of something that you like or a person that you love, or, you know, imagine yourself like having like this, you know, the air coming in. And so that way we just starting around and we were probably like teaching a little bit of meditation, but with something that is more you know, more easy to digest and to, to absorb as well.

Wilma Consul:

One more thing I wanted to talk about is in the survey, there's a, there's a thing that says that some women hope that in this part of self-care, you know, they're hoping that maybe the expectations of women might change after this pandemic as far as physical appearance.

Gabriela Romo:

Well, we've seen that, you know, one in three Latinas, they feel more you know, comfortable and all these are employed Latinas, but they feel more comfortable wearing athletic clothing, not doing their hair. You know, having this more relaxed appearance and yes, I mean they, many of them 20%, actually they think that, I mean, they want, they wish, that these standards remain after the pandemic because they haven't, they have experienced this as something very positive. I just think that the study shows in many ways how this shift has changed and when it comes to that appearance, eh, it shows in this way, like, you know, more relaxed, more natural. Yeah. Let's go for it.

Wilma Consul:

Yeah. What the has this pandemic and pandemic with all the racial things happening in this country? What has this taught us as a society about stress, and self-care?

Gabriela Romo:

I think that what it has taught us is that all the, we are all vulnerable to stress because it, you know, maybe sometimes there was some stigma about it. Now we realize that, you know, it goes to everybody, but it also is showed us that, you know, some minorities like Latinos and African-Americans who have had a, you know, a more profound impact, they also you know, they show it and they have been impacted in a, probably more severe way and that there has been a reaction about it. So that resemble that we will have moments of distress when there is crisis then is when we look, you know, into our, well, our self-care, into the wellbeing. And I think that it's part of what this shows, is studied in a very concrete way.

Wilma Consul:

One of the stresses in this pandemic, besides the racial thing that's happening, a lot of people might also be experiencing grief because they've lost friends and loved ones from this. How does one do self-care when, when you're experiencing a lot of grief in your morning and it continues.

Gabriela Romo:

Yes. I think that we need to accept, you know, and, and first of all, like say, okay, yes, I'm mourning and grieving because it's a very powerful emotion. So sometimes we try to fight it. Sometimes we don't allow ourselves to feel. And I think that we have to normalize it that, yes, it hurts. It hurts deeply. We miss and, and that, yeah, we are human beings. And so when we take that first step of acceptance of being able to, to allow ourselves to feel, then we can move forward and move forward. Doesn't mean to forget, or like, I don't give that much importance anymore. No. But to move forward is what I believe is to, you know, learn to live with that void, with that feeling of, I miss this person that I love, and I don't have this person anymore, but, but try to go on and, and continually being, but accepting again, this is a moment in which most the need to connect with those people that, that make us feel comfortable, that we feel like, yes, you know, I feel like somebody is taking care of me too. And so I would say that do those things. And as this as before go and check the AARP website, because you'll find more resources, more tools, more advice on how to have that balance on our physical and our mental health, particularly at this moment in which you know, there are many things that change for us.

Wilma Consul:

Dr. Gabriela Romo is a therapist specializing in immigrant cases. She has a private practice in Maryland. She hosts a weekly radio show on issues related to mental health for the Latino-American communities in Washington, DC. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

 

That's it for this week show.

Thanks to our news team.

Producers, Colby Nelson and Daniel Alarcon

Production assistant Fernando Snellings

Engineer, Julio Gonzalez

Executive producer, Jason Young

 

And of course, my co-hosts Bob Edwards and Mike Ellison. If you like this episode, shared with a friend and become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Stitcher, or other apps, and be sure to rate our show as well.

You can also email us newspodcasts@aarp.org.

For an AARP to take on today, I'm Wilma Consul.

Thank you for listening.

This week, we hear from four Latinas and Black women who share how they've learned to cope with grief, unemployment and other pandemic-related burdens. And, a therapist joins us to give tips on practicing self-care. 

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