As many in the United States (US) stay home and practice social distancing to protect themselves from COVID-19, individuals from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds face heightened barriers and risks. For example, school closures—while preventing the spread of the virus—have required caregivers to consider childcare, which can be costly, and have limited access to regular breakfast and lunch meals. In addition, many individuals from lower SES backgrounds do not have the opportunity to engage in remote work, placing themselves and those in their homes at greater risk for illness, costly medical visits, and heightened anxiety and fear of contracting the virus.
The spread of the virus in US cities has disproportionately impacted low-income communities, deepening already existing inequalities. As SES intersects with areas such as race, citizenship, incarcerated (or formerly so), disability status, and LGBTQ+ identity, it is important to consider the risks these populations face. For example, for undocumented individuals, there is an additional fear of engaging with public support systems due to the current US practices around deportation. The intersection of belonging to a low SES income bracket and another identity can lead to and/or exacerbate feelings of loss, grief, and traumatic response. Consequently, these individuals experience higher levels of psychological distress.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, low SES individuals have been affected by the lack of receiving timely, accurate, and consistent information about the course of the virus and the evolution of public health prevention measures. Low SES individuals often experience lower levels of health literacy and face barriers to access up-to-date information regarding disease prevention. The long-term impacts of this pandemic will continue to impact low SES people economically and may shape the future of children growing up in these households.
Coping Tips for Those Impacted
If you or others you know have been or are currently financially impacted by COVID-19, here are tips for coping with your emotions and the situation:
What can I do? Accept what you actually can and cannot control
- Continue to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Often times, it can be helpful to take a break, and seek out emotional support from others.
- Remember, it is ok to not always be strong and resilient. Have compassion for yourself at times when you are not feeling your best.
- Recognize the resources you and your family already have access to or need, including government aid, food, medications, a savings account, and/or shared community resources. Search your area for mutual aid and organizations that may help you meet your needs.
- Develop a daily routine that is structured yet allows flexibility. Try to accept that this routine is fluid and may change given the uncertainty of this moment and time.
- Reflect on helpful and unhelpful ways of managing financial stressors
How can my efforts to thrive remain sustainable? Take good care of yourself and loved ones.
- Practice self-care when possible. Economic instability is a constant and chronic stress. Self-care can help improve mental clarity, strength for tackling barriers, and energy for continuing important work.
- Recognize that self-care takes many forms. It is not a financially dependent activity as the general media narrative suggests. Try taking walks with loved ones, making traditional family meals, and consider other low or no-cost activities.
Why is this happening, and why is it hard for me to manage? Uncertainty and transitional periods are stressful for all!
- Practice acceptance-based coping: A Practice for Turning Toward Difficulty: Sample guided mindfulness meditation.
- Acceptance-based coping involves mindfully noticing our anxiety and intentionally changing our responses (FACE-COVID) to stressors without judging ourselves and being kind to ourselves.
- Practice learning How to Meditate.
- Practice simple grounding exercises, which can help bring you back to the present moment.
Ways to Support Low SES Individuals
- Limit the amount of goods and resources you purchase and consider sharing with your community.
- If you are able to work remotely, offer extra support to those who cannot, such as offering to take care of individuals and animals and/or assist with chores.
Most importantly, sustain these supportive actions when the pandemic impacts lessen and remember we are all in this together!
About the Authors
Mayte Forte is an advanced doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research and clinical focus include cultural and linguistic adaptations of cognitive assessments and culturally responsive adaptations of evidenced-based treatments.
Alison Chavez is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research interests center around infant mental health, family functioning, and addressing service disparities for children and families from underserved communities.
Bryan Balvaneda is an advanced doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston in Boston, MA. He is interested in studying the interpersonal context of clinical processes and providing alternative mental health service delivery models for reaching underserved populations.
Lorraine U. Alire is a multiracial, Asian American and Latinx, fifth-year doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is co-mentored by Dr. Sarah Hayes-Skelton and Dr. Karen L. Suyemoto. Her clinical and research interests lie in the development and dissemination of racially and ethnoculturally responsive, evidence-based interventions for People of Color, particularly Asian Americans and Latinx immigrant communities, suffering from anxiety-related disorders in the context of systemic racism and oppression.
Dr. Lizabeth Roemer is Chair and Professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Massachusetts Boston, where she is actively involved in research and clinical training of doctoral students in clinical psychology. Dr. Roemer has published over 120 journal articles and book chapters and coauthored four books. With Dr. Susan Orsillo, Dr. Roemer has developed an acceptance-based behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. They have examined this treatment in studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their self-help book, The Mindful Way through Anxiety: Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life, and self-help workbook, Worry Less, Live More: The Mindful Way Through Anxiety Workbook, draw from their decades of research in this area to provide guidance to people struggling with anxiety.