Impact of Discrimination: Coping in Daily Life and at Work

The harm of discrimination cannot be understated. It severely affects people throughout their lives, creating significant emotional, psychological, and physical damage. Education and awareness are some of the ways we can contribute to building a healthy and more inclusive society. In this article, we aim to draw attention to the forms, impacts, and strategies for coping with or helping someone who is facing discrimination.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the prejudicial or unjust treatment of certain categories of people. Some of the most common grounds for discrimination include race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

It can show up as:

  • Exclusion
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Loss of opportunities

Acts of discrimination can be frequent in daily life and may not even be obvious to those who don’t experience it. For example, people who are discriminated against might often feel like they're being treated with less courtesy, respect, trust, or intelligence. It may come across as microaggressions, such as misguided comments, slights, or snubs, that make a person feel as though they don’t belong or that their experiences aren’t valid.

It's not always tangible to outsiders, but it's there, and those who feel it may suffer deeply.

Impact on health

Chronic discrimination can create a sense of heightened vigilance and chronic stress, shaping how the body functions.

Growing research shows that people who perceive discrimination have a higher risk of experiencing certain health conditions. Inflammation, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, obesity, overall mortality, and worse self-assessed physical and mental health are common. An example of this impact is the disproportionate occurrence of cardiovascular disease and depression among African Americans in the United States.

Strategies to cope

The distress, anger, and sadness that come from experiencing discrimination can lead to chronic fatigue and unhealthy coping behaviors. Whenever we're exhausted, we easily lose the energy needed for healthy activities, like exercise, healthy food choices, and sleep. Naturally, this can exacerbate negative mental and physical health effects. Research shows, however, that learning resilience and coping strategies can make a difference.

In everyday life

It takes time and effort to develop coping methods that work for you, but studies show these are some of the best ways to make a positive impact on your well-being:

  • Focus on your strengths. Work on recognizing your abilities and try to approach challenges with a problem-solving mindset. Build resilience with self-compassion and self-acceptance strategies, like writing compassionate statements to yourself every morning.
  • Practice emotional awareness. Experiment with different techniques that allow you to acknowledge and release your emotions, such as journaling, movement, meditation, or other creative outlets.
  • Find social support. Feeling a part of a community truly benefits mental health. Whether online or in person, look up community groups, activities, or events with people who share your values and experiences.
  • Reach out for help. Talk to supportive friends and family — the importance of comfort through emotional connections cannot be emphasized enough. Also, think about professional help, such as a support group or therapist. Check out if there are any services available locally or even online that meet your needs.

In the workplace

When it comes to discrimination in the workplace, it can be helpful to learn your workplace policies and legal rights. If you have an HR team, speak to them to find out more about your options and to make a statement of your experiences.

It’s also important to keep a record of any discriminatory incidents, if possible. This includes any available evidence and dates, times, or witnesses.

Try to create allies in your workplace, whether it's colleagues or supervisors who can support you. See if others share your experiences or if there is anyone who can help you advocate for a more fair environment.

If it’s safe, consider addressing the issue directly with those involved, or ask for mediation from HR, supervisors, or coworkers.

How to help a person who is being discriminated against

For anyone struggling, listen openly and validate their experiences. Avoid judgment or assumptions about their situation, and let them speak freely with a sympathetic ear.

Educate yourself on the forms and impact of discrimination. Work on learning more, and find out what you can do for them or others to make a difference. You may never be able to fully understand what they’re going through, but you can avoid perpetuating the problem and be their support system.

Relationships and social support boost mental health and buffer us from stressors. The more you can engage in active and compassionate listening and offer your support in any way they need, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do to help, even if it’s just being by their side.

Teens and discrimination

Teens often face prejudicial remarks or actions not just in the school environment, but also in social settings and online. You might most commonly notice it as bullying or social exclusion.

It's not easy to escape these situations, and it can quickly lead to isolation, sadness, anxiety, or depression. Teens facing discrimination often struggle with self-esteem and academic performance, face more barriers, and lose opportunities or interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Tips for parents

If your child is experiencing discrimination, try to create a safe space for them to speak openly about it. If they don’t want to speak to you, look up options for them. It could be a support group, community outreach program, or private therapist.

Make the effort to role model inclusive behavior and language around your children. Try to teach them healthy coping methods for dealing with stress. What those methods are will change from child to child — everyone has different needs and interests. Ask them what helps them feel calmer or activities they might like to try. For example, music or painting classes, joining a theatre group, or sports club.

Whether it's for your teen, your friend, or yourself, exposure to different hobbies and groups might offer a stress-relieving outlet as well as new and potentially supportive communities. In the end, building a network of support while focusing on stress-relieving activities and self-compassion for resilience can help to buffer the stress of coping with discrimination.

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