A Licensed Psychologist on the Physical and Mental Effects of COVID-19
Dr. Robin Smith, licensed psychologist and beloved mental wellness guru, is realistic about the mental and physical damages of COVID-19 on women in this country. But she knows how women can become agents of their own improvement — we spoke to her to get her advice and expertise.
What have the past two years been like for women, and especially for women in marginalized communities?
2020 and 2021 have stretched many women past what they thought they had the capacity to endure. And as mothers, as wives, as partners, as workers, as citizens, but really as the caretakers of the world, mothers are the ones who are trying to figure out how to take care of everyone, often forgetting about what it means to take care of themselves.
For Black and Latinx women, there is already a script that was written a long time ago about what they were expected to pull off: That was to put their Super Woman cape on and do the unimaginable when times were challenging. But ‘challenging times’ is not the same as a pandemic, and not the same as an accumulation of national racial harm—remember, people were not only stuck in their homes, but they were also being bombarded by the fact that the country—and the world—seemed to be imploding.
What specifically has caused damage in women’s mental health?
It’s one thing to be socially isolated with resources. You still have to figure out how to navigate, but many Black and Latinx women were socially isolated and didn’t have the other external supports that could’ve softened the blow.
Things they usually did to navigate their mental health were no longer available. They couldn’t see friends, see family, have someone watching kids while the other person gets a break—it stopped at a screeching halt. Women were parenting and teaching their children and all the while trying to hold on to a job.
The terror of what was going on was so real that many were more paralyzed than activated, and even ashamed that they weren’t somehow taking advantage of this horrible situation. But depression, when it has gripped you, and anxiety, when it has gripped you, is something that depletes you.
How is a woman’s physical and heart health then put at risk?
When I think of heart health, from a biological standpoint it’s the arteries and valves, all that makes the heart vibrant and alive and pump with blood. But what we don’t think about is the emotional side of the heart, when our symbolic heart valves are damaged with fear, with resentment, with profound sorrow.
I always tell people that our body never lies, that it doesn’t know how to lie. So even if we say ‘Oh, I’m feeling good,’ well, our body knows what is true.
For Black women and Latinx women, it’s ‘how do I address my physical heart,’ which certainly needs care, but ‘what is it that I can begin doing right here, right now, to unclog where my emotional heart has gotten blocked?’
How do we repair and prevent these types of mental and physical damage?
I have something called the three B’s. That is move your body, move your brain and move your burden. We know when we don’t feel like moving our bodies, it usually is the time that our body needs to move. When we move, the good endorphins start to get awakened. We need to move our bodies so we can help our brains.
Then, we have to really think: Is my brain moving in a way that is giving me strength and encouragement, or is it beating me up? Are my thoughts giving me credit, or do my thoughts discredit me? We need to move our brain so that we can be healthy—mind, body and spirit.
Move your burden: sometimes when you know your body doesn’t move and your brain isn’t moving, then your burden just kind of sits there and stares and growls at us. And when we move the body and we move the brain, what is powerful to watch is that the burden also moves.
And so, we begin as women to recognize however young or old we are, that we may have more agency than we thought. Moving your body, your brain and your burden are all part of the beginnings of being on a truly heart healthy journey.This is a paid partnership between Go Red For Women and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio