For Young Women of Color: Balancing High Expectations with Self-Care

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With the arrival of March, the Steve Fund observes Women’s History Month by shining a light on the accomplishments of women, and in particular young women of color.  It is indisputable that women of color in the U.S. and across the globe have reached the highest levels of achievement in many areas, including, but not limited to, business, media, sports, entertainment, healthcare, humanitarian efforts, and public service. From Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, to the dynamic young women of color elected to Congress in 2018, such as Representatives Lauren Underwood, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Sharice Davids, women of color are making their marks.

As young women of color work hard to achieve excellence in the face of negative stereotypes stemming from sexism, racism, and xenophobia, there is a tendency among some to engage in perfectionism. This can lead to Superwoman Syndrome, when a woman feels that she has to go overboard to do everything at the highest level—as a career professional, a wife, a mother, a friend, a volunteer.  Setting unrealistically high expectations is a type of idealism which makes no room for missteps or bumps in the road.  This places excessive pressure on women and has a negative impact on mental health and emotional well-being, and young women of color are no exception.

In this moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the nation and the world, women will carry a heavy burden performing caregiving roles, as they commonly do, for those who are sick at home, for children home from school, and for seniors who are isolated.  Women who accept responsibility for looking after others during this public health crisis may heighten the demands they usually place on themselves.  These pressures added to baseline tendencies of going “above and beyond” to help others coupled with self-neglect can amount to overload and are a recipe for a superwoman who is worn out and drained.

The old saying, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” applies here. While young women of color break through the glass ceiling and climb the ladder of success, it is important to remember the following tips to help maintain mental wellness on the way up:

  • Perfection is an elusive goal. Instead, focus on doing well and doing good.
  • Superwomen get super-exhausted. Balance your investment of time and effort between the workplace, school, family, friends, recreation, and reflection. Be conscious of your need for rest and rejuvenation.
  • Do, but don’t overdo. Resist the temptation to take on everything. Learn your limits and give yourself permission to selectively say no to requests.
  • When things don’t go as planned, go easy on yourself and let go of things you can’t control.
  • Find joy in your favorite activities and make a habit of celebrating your accomplishments.

Please join the Steve Fund in commemorating Women’s History Month and encouraging young women of color as they surmount barriers and set their sights on a bright future full of opportunity, advancement and quality of life.

Be well,

Annelle Primm, MD, MPH
Senior Medical Director
The Steve Fund

Self-Care Blog: Adapting to New Beginnings in the New Year

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The start of the new year is a time during which many of us celebrate new beginnings by setting goals and thinking about the impact we want to make in the coming year. Once the initial celebrations end, the new year can bring tremendous changes and shifts that require us to adapt and readjust quickly—all of which can increase stress and anxiety.

The return to campus life often means leaving family and home life, a move that causes loneliness for many students. For students of color, it may also result in feelings of isolation when campus spaces do not reflect a variety of racial and cultural groups among students, faculty, and staff, and social events feel unwelcoming.

If you, like many students around the country, are dealing with anxiety around change accompanying the new year and the relocation from home back to campus life, the Steve Fund can help. Our resources aim to provide you with the tools you need such as crisis counseling (text STEVE to 741741) and connect you to peers. Here are a few tips to help you during this challenging time of year.

  1. Stay Curious. Rather than becoming frustrated with your own resistance to change, ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Taking time to be mindful and reflect on your own feelings will help you give yourself the space and respect to work through those emotions.

  2. Imagine. Carve out a few minutes to dream about the best possible outcome for this semester. What do you want your days to look like? Your time with friends? Your study habits? This exercise will help you identify what might be missing and create a positive vision for the days and months ahead.

As we bring in the new year and the new decade, know that the Steve Fund is here for you. I hope these tips will help you manage some of the common thoughts and feelings we all have when it comes to navigating change and handling feelings of isolation. On behalf of the whole team, happy new year. We look forward to another year of working together.

Be well,

Anuja Khemka
Executive Director

Meeting Social Anxiety with Gratitude​

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At The Steve Fund, we welcome every November as a time for practicing and expressing gratitude. With the Thanksgiving holiday and the closing of the calendar year, it is a good time to take account of all that we have to be grateful for—be it health, family and friends, or simply the sunrise.

At the same time, this may be a season when many of us face social situations and interactions that bring feelings of fear and anxiety. These negative feelings, also known as social anxiety, stem from a hyper-social awareness, when one might worry about being judged or called out. For young people of color, social anxiety can also come from the anticipation of everyday racism and discrimination, in addition to misconceptions and stigma associated with mental health concerns. Now, research shows that one way to deal with anxiety is to practice gratitude (The Psychology of Gratitude2015 study). These studies show that by incorporating practices that acknowledge the positive outcomes in life, we can reduce anxiety and build stronger relationships.
This month, we want to bring messages of hope and support to young people of color who may be dealing with social anxiety. Here are a few tips to help you practice more gratitude:
  • Count your blessings—every day! This is the easiest and most effective way to bring more gratitude to your life. Make an extra effort to notice or count a new blessing on a daily basis. This practice will make showing and feeling gratitude fresh, and help to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • Create a gratitude jar. A small box in your backpack or a glass jar on your desk is a great way to capture the little things that make you smile throughout the day. On a scrap of paper, write down the things you feel grateful for, the things that lift your spirits, or the things that make you laugh. As a bonus, when you are feeling down, read what made earlier days brighter.

  • Send a message of thanks. Reach out with a short text to a friend or family member thanking them for doing something that you appreciated–whether it was a thoughtful action or just being a text away. Studies show that this simple practice can help you feel better sooner when you are dealing with mental health issues.

This November, I invite you to look for ways to show gratitude with the people in your life. On behalf of everyone at The Steve Fund, I wish you a relaxing and joyful Thanksgiving Holiday, and I thank you for your support and for being a part of The Steve Fund community.

Be well,

Anuja Khemka

Diverse, Gifted & At Risk Conference hosted at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY – 11/15/19.
More photos.

Self-Care Blog: Raising Awareness about Suicide Prevention

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Every September we observe Suicide Prevention Month. It is a time to learn as much as we can about this alarming public health issue—most often related to mental illness. And it is also a time to listen, to offer help, and to eliminate stigmas around suicidal thoughts and seeking support.

Recent statistics suggest that suicide is on the rise among young people ages 15 to 24 years old, as are incidents of suicidal thoughts. Suicide rates are much higher for some population segments such as American Indians/Alaska Natives and rising for others such as young black males.  Despite the mental stress from dealing with persistent racism, discrimination and exclusion, young people of color are half as likely than the general population to get the mental health care they need. Mental health services, social support, and connectedness are just a few of the approaches that can help prevent suicide.

At The Steve Fund, we want to provide all young people of color with support resources that help meet these specific needs. That’s why we have partnered with some of the most innovative tech solutions, including:

  • Anytime, anywhere, text STEVE to 741741 and a live, trained Crisis Counselor will respond. Whether you’re feeling down, stressed or overwhelmed, this service is specifically designed to help meet the unique needs of young people of color.
  • There’s always someone to talk to via our partnership with the 7Cups platform. Young people of color can find support, therapy or simply someone to speak to.

We also want to share a few reminders to help you deal with challenges and thoughts that may weigh heavily on you.

  • There is no shame in seeking help for mental health concerns. We often hear messages to stay “strong,” but it is important to be honest with ourselves when we or people we care about are thinking in a self-destructive way.  Taking care of ourselves by getting help from a health professional is a priority.
  • If it feels important, then it is important. Whether you are listening to someone around you or dealing with your own thoughts, recognize that suicidal thoughts are serious and deserve your attention.
  • Listen openly, without judgment. One of the most important ways we can help prevent suicide is by listening, accepting what we hear and showing that we care by helping people get the help they need.

On behalf of everyone at The Steve Fund, I invite you to commemorate Suicide Prevention Month with us by taking the time to listen. You never know when someone may need your help.

Be well,

Anuja Khemka
Executive Director

Self-Care for June: Tips To Take You From Feeling Overwhelmed To Empowered

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Tips To Take You From Feeling Overwhelmed To Empowered

“The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.”
― Lorraine Hansberry

Every June, we gather for virtual and in-person celebrations and demonstrations of LGBTQ Pride. We honor the work done by those before us–like the protesters at Stonewall and countless others–to fight for equal rights. We also recognize that many LGBTQ people are still struggling for their civic freedoms and fair treatment. One common and shared experience by LGBTQ young people is the pressure to meet family expectations, to ‘fit in’ socially, and to be something else–all of which also is manifested in phenomena like bullying and micro-aggressions and can affect mental health negatively. For LGBTQ people of color, societal bias against these intersectional identities can compound the adverse impact on well-being and cause a person to feel overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed in many ways is normal. Whether you feel that the burden of your responsibilities is just too heavy, or you feel overcome by meeting seemingly-impossible expectations from others, these experiences can lead to a general sense that you’ve lost your power over your circumstances. Yet, feeling overwhelmed can also carry physiological and psychological risk of stress.

Feeling empowered, on the other hand, has been tied to greater decisivenessgoal-oriented action, and a general sense of control. So, how can you begin to undo feeling overwhelmed when it shows up? Follow these tips to get started.

Evaluate Your Circle. Are the people around you supporting you? If not, it could be time to say good-bye. Know that you deserve positive and supportive people in your life and nothing less.

Work Your Inner Monologue. First, recognize your feelings, instead of denying or burying them. Then, have a conversation with yourself about turning those feelings around. Research suggests that this kind of work–particularly in the form of journaling–can lead to greater health and happiness.

Build Yourself Up. One way to feel more empowered is to recognize your strengths and reaffirm your individual power. Research shows that using affirmations can help. Try these three to get started: I am who I want to be. I believe in me. I am grateful for today.

From everyone on The Steve Fund’s team, I want to wish you all a wonderful Pride month. As Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple says, “History rarely yields to one person, but think and never forget what happens when it does. That can be you. That should be you. That must be you.” I hope these tips help you remember that you can be that person!

Be well,

Anuja Khemka
Executive Director

Self-Care for May 2019: Seeking Work-Life Balance

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“Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be.” —Shonda Rhimes

May is the official Mental Health Month, a time when we turn our focus to raising awareness around the mental health needs of every member of our society. Throughout the month, The Steve Fund community will be spreading the word about the importance of mental health so that this critical area becomes something everyone cares about.

To achieve the mental and emotional wellness we all deserve, we must start by tackling a trend in today’s world: the imbalance between personal life and work and school commitments. People who strike better balance between work and life report remarkable benefits. Surveys show that feeling engaged at work improves the likelihood of overall well-being. At the same time, having more control over your hours and schedule correlate to better mental and physical health (2016 study), as well as better job performance and greater satisfaction (2006 study).

At some point or another, most of us run the risk of letting work and school commitments take on too great a role in our lives, and suffer the consequences. Here are three things you can enact today to achieve more balance in your life.

Know your needs. Do an inventory of what you need to feel good both emotionally and physically. Write down what you come up with, and make an effort to prioritize at least one of those each week.

Establish a routine. Routines can change your life, especially your morning and nighttime habits. Start off with a morning meditation on what you want from the day. End it by taking account of where you went right and where you went wrong, appreciating the journey that brought you to the day’s end and forgiving yourself for what didn’t go as planned.

Hack your schedule. You are in control of how you spend your time, and on what, so take a close look at what you are spending your time on and change it. Research shows that people who plan their free time are happier and have an all-around better quality of life. Check out this TED Talk on time management to get inspired.

This month, as we raise the conversation about mental health, let’s not forget how important it is to take care of ourselves. Work-life equilibrium is a worthy goal to pursue to enhance well-being, so try small changes like the ones listed above. And, check out these tips from our partner, Mental Health America, for even more ways you can work toward greater balance.

Be well,

Anuja Khemka
Executive Director

Self-Care for April 2019: Empowering Yourself Out Of Loneliness

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“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
— Alice Walker

April marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. Temperatures begin to rise, and flowers and trees bloom along with refreshed perspectives. Despite the pleasant weather, many young people may be struggling with feelings of loneliness—dissatisfied by social networks and connections, the people we rely on, and even our sense of belonging (or lack thereof).

Young people, in particular, are far more likely to experience feelings of loneliness (BBC Loneliness Experiment). For young people of color, rates may be higher due to racial discrimination and cultural isolation on campuses, and exclusion in the workplace (2016 study). At the same time, loneliness is complex and carries health risks of depression (2017 study) and cardiovascular problems (2015 study).

If you’re feeling like you have no one to turn to at work, no one to talk to on campus, or simply lonely in what you’re experiencing right now, here are some tips to help you find your way:

Build Your Network. Look for groups of people with which you share an experience, for example, or a cultural connection. Professional associations, alumni, school and cultural groups, and networking events are all great options for connecting with others.

Connect Virtually. The virtual space provides a wide array of options to build relationships with individuals who may be going through the same challenges as you. Check out the virtual support system we built with 7cups.

Reach Out to a Mentor. During challenging, alienating, or new situations, mentors are great sources of strength. Be frank with them about any isolation you are experiencing so they can support you.

And, finally, don’t forget that The Steve Fund is here for you. We hope that these tips help you feel empowered to take on the second half of 2019 and achieve your goals.

Be well,

Anuja Khemka
Executive Director

Self-Care for March 2019: Overcoming Fear of Rejection

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“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
―Malala Yousafzai

March is Women’s History Month, a time to both honor the historical contributions of women around the world, as well as to work to increase the standard of living and political rights of women today. While women have ascended to leadership roles throughout society, pervasive trends such as the gender pay gap illustrate how men and women have not yet fully achieved equality. Inequality extends beyond workplace to mental health and emotional well-being, as women experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than their male counterparts.  For women of color, sexism is compounded by racism and xenophobia in everyday life which can further contribute to psychological distress.

The impostor phenomenon which describes an internal experience of feeling like a fraud was first described in high-achieving women, yet affects men and people of all racial groups.  However, the double whammy of being a woman and a person of color grappling with impostor feelings can heighten concerns about not measuring up.  Even former First Lady Michelle Obama has had impostor feelings. Prevailing negative stereotypes about women and people of color can fuel a high level of self-consciousness about how one is being viewed. This, in turn, can trigger a fear of rejection which makes us hesitate to act or express ourselves in anticipation of a negative outcome–be it failure or social rejection. Biologically speaking, rejection feels a lot like physical pain (2011 study), so it’s no wonder that we go out of our way to avoid it.

Fear of rejection holds us back and can lead to people-pleasing such as agreeing with others for fear of confrontation. It can cause you to bite your tongue and stop short of advocating for yourself.  Ultimately, acting on these fears will make you frustrated. In fact, studies have shown  how women develop greater fear of career rejection because of gender stereotyping (The Clayman Institute for Gender Research) and lower their own self-assessment and career aspirations as a result (2014 study).

Here are a few tips to help you deal with your fear of rejection and carve out your own career achievements:

  1. Focus on You. Rather than focusing on what others will think of you when, as a woman, you ask for a raise or take a seat in a male-dominated classroom where you are in the minority as a person of color, look inward. Do you stand by your work? Do you want to be heard? If you can answer affirmatively to these questions, then you can take on whatever challenge comes your way!

  2. Speak Up. Believe in yourself and believe in what you are asking for, and you will project that confidence onto your audience. Once your audience senses your power, they’re more likely to listen. Check out this TedX Talk to get inspired and learn more.

  3. Stay Positive. Instead of thinking about the terrible things that could result, focus instead on the positive possibilities. By thinking optimistically, you not only project more confidence but you navigate your thoughts and actions toward a better outcome.

Regardless of your gender or ancestry, I hope these tips help provide some encouragement and reassurance the next time you are dealing with impostor feelings or fear of failure and rejection.

Be well,

Anuja Khemka
Executive Director

Our Mission: Promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color