Asian American Women, Anxiety, and Self-Esteem

  • Dreading work or avoiding others?
  • Feeling cognitively, emotionally, and physically exhausted, but not sure what is wrong?
  • Feeling guilty for wanting to say “no”?
  • Starting to question yourself, a lot?

Depending on your family’s immigration history, e.g., if they’re refugees escaping war and/or they immigrated to improve the life for their children, there is often a value of hard work to survive in the U.S., a notion that we “cannot afford to sit still.” Many immigrants have had to start from the beginning to build up economic stability.  Generations have survived and learned to work extended hours to overcome adversities of discrimination and outright racism, as Asian Americans are forever being seen as foreigners and not belonging to this country.  The intergenerational mode of working hard and always on-the-go to stave off threats to survival, may have allowed us to achieve economic stability and advance educationally.  It could also result in the stress response of fight/flight sympathetic system being constantly activated in your brain and your body. And, these responses have been so emphasized and integrated across generations!

Chronic activation of our stress response system could impact not only our physical health but could also contribute toward anxiety and depression.  Your body and mind may actually unconsciously not feel safe to slow down. Such fight/flight (or even freeze) response may be exacerbated if you’ve experienced other trauma in your life (e.g., sexual harassment, being shunned, not feeling safe when parents argued loudly or parents not being very present when you were young).

As women, there is often an added expectation to be caretakers. It may be deeply ingrained to sacrifice self, to not speak up, or not OK to say “no.”  And yet, at some point, we may start to realize that we are completely depleted, not able to think clearly, and we start to learn the hard way that our work and relationships suffer when we are not centered, not fully present or connected to ourselves, but are irritable all too often. 

In addition to gender role expectations, Asian American women also likely had to contend with the model minority expectations both at work and at home, while trying to determine our own values and priorities.  You may also have had to learn to straddle between expectations at home if you have more traditional elders, and to code-switch to find your voice in the workplace.  Gotten conflicting messages  when you switch between contexts–of being too loud, too quiet, too emotional or too cold, not smiling enough, too ambitious, etc.? 

What are some ways that you’re taking care of yourself so that you can be more present, so that you could actually be healthy while being with others?  Are you regularly making time to incorporate what nourishes you, what feeds you?  Do you have a community where you feel a sense of belonging and acceptance for who you are? Do you find it hard to take self-compassionate steps?

Research has found that recognizing how you may be thinking could impact your self-esteem. For example, check in with yourself on how you would like to live your life and notice whether that is similar or differs from societal and cultural expectations. As a child, we are expected to follow parental and cultural rules and expectations. Those of us who do not have traditional cultural beliefs may not have received much support and care in the way that we would have liked, thus starting that training and integration of messages that there is something wrong with us. This is especially true as a minority member. It helps to have a supportive social circle growing up. I highly recommend that you build and stay connected with a support system, a group of loved ones who are caring and compassionate toward you, especially those who are understanding of the challenges of straddling between cultural norms as a minority, those who will allow you to be your authentic self.

If you continue to have difficulties staying centered, finding yourself in tears easily or irritable too often, frequently find yourself drained of energy or not motivated at all, then please seek professional help with a licensed mental health professional.  You deserve to be well, to be who you truly are, to take steps to focus on your own health!  You deserve time to explore your emotions, what depletes and what rejuvenates you, to reconnect with that powerful, centered being in you, so that you can actually feel more present and be more at ease when you’re with others.

Please also feel free to call me at 408-828-8375 or send me an email to inquire further.