"COVID-19 has caused a spike in post-traumatic stress among pregnant and postpartum women, internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy may help make treatment more accessible and less expensive for kids with social anxiety disorder, and other mental health news from spring 2021.
Pregnant Women Are More Vulnerable to Mental Health Problems Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
What’s New Pregnant and postpartum women in 64 countries, including the United States, have been experiencing a higher level of symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published in April 2021 in PLOS One. Factors that put women at the greatest risk were worrying about their children and medical care, as well as seeking information about the pandemic at least five times a day from any source, whether online searches or talking to others.
Research Details Nearly 6,900 pregnant and postpartum women from around the world participated in an online survey advertised on social media and online parenting forums. The survey found that 43 percent of women demonstrated higher levels of post-traumatic stress, 31 percent of women experienced more symptoms of depression and anxiety, and 53 percent of women had high levels of loneliness. Other key findings:
Why It Matters Psychological distress during pregnancy and after birth can negatively impact both mothers’ and their children’s health. “We know that maternal mental health has adverse effects on a range of outcomes for the offspring — for example, infant outcomes, mother-infant bonding, and later offspring physical and behavioral health,” says study author Karestan Koenen, PhD, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, adding that helpful ways to care for mental health could include:
Mental health screening among pregnant and postpartum women is also key, but efforts shouldn’t stop there, says study author Archana Basu, PhD, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“In addition to screening and monitoring mental health symptoms, addressing potentially modifiable factors such as excessive information seeking and women’s worries about access to medical care and their children’s well-being, and developing strategies to target loneliness such as online support groups, should be part of intervention efforts for perinatal women,” says Dr. Basu."
By: Heather Marcoux | September 02, 2021
"Labor Day began in the 1800s because factory workers were tired of working 70 hours a week. Here we are 200 years later and surveys still show that mothers report working nearly 100 hours a week, and don't get days off. And it's just getting worse.
Before the pandemic moms were tired and burned out. Now, we're desperate. According to the 2020 World Economic Forum the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in women around the world losing paid work hours while taking on more unpaid work.
Studies show the pandemic has resulted in moms working fewer hours in paid roles while dads have only reduced their hours by a statistically insignificant amount. We know millennial mothers are almost three times more likely than millennial fathers to report being unable to work due to a day care or school closure.
"Considering women already shouldered a greater burden for child care prior to the pandemic, it's unsurprising the demands are now even greater," says Gema Zamarro, senior economist at the University of Southern California's Center for Economic and Social Research. "While men are more likely to die from infection by COVID-19, overall the pandemic has had a disproportionately detrimental impact on the mental health of women, particularly those with kids."
Why the work of parenting is even more unequal during a pandemic
Today's mothers are spending more time doing paid work than previous generations did, but we're also spending more time on childcare. Today's fathers, too, are spending more time on childcare than previous generations, but there is a big difference in how moms and dads in heterosexual partnerships spend time with their kids.
This can be seen in the aftermath of COVID-19: In a 2020 study that looked at dual‐earner, heterosexual married couples with children, researchers found "the greater childcare and family demands brought on by day care and school closures throughout the pandemic appear to have caused a major reduction in work hours for mothers." Dads aren't seeing reduced work hours but are seeing the benefit of more time with their kids. Nearly 70% of fathers in the United States felt closer to their children during the pandemic than they did before the pandemic, according to research from Harvard. Meanwhile, pregnant women and moms with young children reported 3 to 5 times more anxiety and depression symptoms.
Why are dads happier now while moms are more stressed? It's in part because mothers are more likely to be doing unpaid care work while spending time with the children—the bathing, the cleaning, the feeding—while research finds that fathers' time with kids is more often spent on play and leisure activities.
If you're a dad, it might seem like having a spouse who does most of the household labor is a good deal (and a growing body of research does prove that fathers are happier parents than mothers) but the research also shows that dads want to be more than the fun, weekend guy because while care work is incredibly undervalued and unequal it can also incredibly fulfilling (if the carer is also allowed to rest).
Mom doing all the drudge work and handing out snacks while dad is at the office (or locked in his home office) sounds like an outdated notion, and that's because it is. When researchers at Boston College surveyed professional fathers in 2015, they found fewer than 5% of the fathers saw themselves as just a financial provider. The survey found most fathers believed they should share their children's caregiving equally with their spouses (but only about 30% said they were actually doing that)."
By Ivana Kottasová, CNN | July 31, 2021
(CNN)-"The Delta variant of Covid-19 is dominating cases worldwide, and health officials in some countries are sounding alarm over its impact on pregnant women.
Several of England's top health officials issued a joint statement on Friday urging pregnant women to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. They pointed to new data showing that 98% of expectant mothers admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 in the country since May were unvaccinated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also previously said that infected, pregnant women face an increased risk of developing severe Covid-19 compared with non-pregnant women of a similar age.One concern is that risk might be even higher with the Delta strain, which has been shown to be more contagious and can cause more severe disease compared to the earlier variants of the virus.Here's what you need to know.
Is Delta more dangerous if you're pregnant?
The Delta variant is more contagious and can cause more severe disease for everyone, including pregnant women.The latest data gathered by the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) showed the number of pregnant women that are being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is increasing in the UK due to the Delta strain.
"Compared to the original Covid virus the new variants (alpha and then delta) caused progressively more severe disease in pregnant women," Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King's College London, said in a statement to the UK's Science Media Centre. "This included need for ventilation, intensive care admission and pneumonia, more than 50% more likely to occur," he added.
The data collected by UKOSS show that around 33% of women in hospital with Covid-19 needed respiratory support and that 15% needed intensive care.
The UKOSS data only includes pregnant women. However, the group said that while the increase in hospitalizations was broadly in line with the current rise in Covid-19 hospital admissions in the UK's general population, the data highlights an increase among pregnant women needing care for acute symptoms.
What about risks to the baby?
Previous studies have shown that Covid-19 infection raises the risk of negative outcomes for both the mother and the baby. These risks include preeclampsia, infections, admission to hospital intensive care units and even death.
According to an April study published in JAMA Pediatrics that looked at over 2,000 pregnant women in 43 medical institutions across 18 countries, babies born to mothers infected with the coronavirus were also at a somewhat higher risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.
The new data collected by UKOSS showed that one in five women admitted to hospital with serious Covid-19 symptoms went on to give birth prematurely, and the likelihood of delivery by C-section doubled. One in five babies born to mothers with coronavirus symptoms were also admitted to neonatal units.
Is the vaccine safe for pregnant people?
Yes. Studies and real-world data have shown there are no specific safety concerns for pregnant people or their babies on taking a Covid-19 vaccine.
"Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women worldwide have been vaccinated, safely and effectively protecting themselves against Covid and dramatically reducing their risk of serious illness or harm to their baby," Gill Walton, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives in the UK, said in a statement on Friday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization in the UK and Australia's Technical Advisory Group on Immunization all advise pregnant women to get a Covid-19 shot. The WHO says that pregnant women should get the vaccine in situations where the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks -- such as if they are living in areas with high number of cases."
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | June 10th, 2021
"When we meet with women for perinatal psychiatry consultations, we now ask about vaccinations. It’s not something we typically do, but after the last year, we are now getting involved in their decisions regarding vaccination against COVID-19. Just as we counsel women to avoid alcohol and to consistently take their prenatal vitamins, providing information on the COVID-19 vaccine is an important aspect of promoting the health of pregnant and postpartum women.
Considering a growing body of evidence indicating that pregnant women are more likely to have certain manifestations of severe COVID-19 illness, including admission to the ICU and mechanical ventilation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has urged the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to include pregnant and lactating women in the high-priority populations for COVID-19 vaccine allocation. ACOG clearly states that all pregnant and lactating people should be allowed to receive the vaccine, and that their decision to do so should be based on a careful discussion of risks and benefits with their healthcare provider.
From our vantage point, there are other benefits to the COVID-19 vaccine. During the past year, before the vaccination was available, we watched as pregnant and postpartum patients undertook the most extreme forms of lockdown. Many of these women were literally housebound: never leaving the house and cutting off contact with friends and family, while at the same time taking on more childcare responsibilities as outside care providers and day care centers were no longer available. And all the while wondering what would happen if they or a member of their family felt ill?
We are yet to fully appreciate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on perinatal women, but preliminary studies indicate that during the lockdown, pregnant and postpartum women reported higher levels of stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. And this is not really a surprise. So many of the things we typically recommend to reduce stress and social isolation, such as exercising regularly or spending time with friends and family, vanished.
While it might seem like the pandemic is fading into the distance, the resurgence of the pandemic in places like India and Brazil where immunization rates are low, we cannot be so sure about this. So far the most successful way to avoid becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.
A recent article in Medscape, however, suggests that mothers appear to be less likely to get vaccinated than others in the general population. According to a recent poll from Morning Consult, about two-thirds of adults in the US have either already been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to do so. In contrast, mothers are the most likely to be hesitant about the vaccine. In this study, 51% of the mothers reported that they are unwilling to get vaccinated or are uncertain about getting vaccinated, at 51% (compared to 32% of other women and 29% of fathers)."
Depression During the COVID-19 Lockdown Highlights the Importance of Social Connections for New Moms
By MGH Center for Women's Mental Health | May 18th, 2021
"Because pregnant and postpartum women face unique challenges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, they may be at increased risk for mental health problems in this setting. In a recent study, researchers from the University College of London surveyed 162 new mothers in London between May and June 2020 using a social network survey designed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Almost half (47.5 percent) of women with babies less than six months of age had depressive symptoms suggestive of postpartum depression assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. This is a huge increase in the expected prevalence of postpartum depression; studies carried out prior to the pandemic have shown that about 10% to 15% of women report depressive symptoms during the postpartum period.
The researchers also observed that the more contact new mothers had with other people — whether remotely or face-to-face — the less likely they were to report depressive symptoms. While this finding suggests that social isolation incurred as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown may have increased risk for depression, another interpretation is that women with greater social networks are less vulnerable to depression (whether or not there is a lockdown). However you interpret the data, multiple studies have demonstrated that social isolation is a risk factor for depression, in general, and having adequate social support reduces the risk for postpartum depression.
We often encourage new mothers to bolster their support networks and often recommend new moms groups. While this is a reasonable approach to managing the social isolation of new parenthood, many new mothers struggle to get out of the house and are unable to establish new social networks. One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been increased access to support groups on virtual platforms. For example, Postpartum Support International or PSI now offers a wide array of online group meetings for women who are pregnant or postpartum. Whether or not a lockdown is in effect, these social networks are so important to a new mother’s emotional well-being and may potentially decrease risk for psotatum illness."
-Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
"Women who had Covid while expecting experienced guilt, shame and unhealthy levels of stress."
By Katharine Gammon | December 14, 2020
"Kate Glaser had chalked up her exhaustion to being 39 weeks pregnant and having twin toddlers in the house. She also wondered whether her flulike symptoms were a sign that she was about to go into labor. But when she woke up one morning with a 100.4-degree fever, she called her doctor and got a rapid Covid-19 test.
Two nurses came to deliver her results to her in the waiting room. They were dressed in full gowns, masks, face shields and gloves.
“I knew by the eerie silence and the way they were dressed that I was Covid positive,” she said. “It was an emotional moment; I felt really disappointed and shocked and, as a mom, I felt a lot of guilt. What did I do wrong?”
Glaser, who lives in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, returned home and isolated from her husband and the twins in her bedroom, where she spent hours mentally replaying all her activities leading up to the positive test result. She also made a public post on her Facebook page about her positive status, and what she was feeling — guilt, embarrassment and panic. The post went viral, and Glaser started hearing from women around the world who were pregnant and worried about Covid-19. The majority of the of the 2,300 comments she received were supportive; a few were harshly critical.
“I was going down a rabbit hole of guilt and stress,” Glaser said, adding that for her, as much as the physical symptoms were bad, the mental stress of Covid was much worse.
Prolonged stress can have real consequences on pregnant people even outside of a pandemic and has been tied to low birthweight, changes in neurological development and other health impacts in children. And the pressure associated with a positive Covid-19 test increases these mental health risks.
The anxiety is not without reason. As of November 30, there have been more than 42,000 cases of coronavirus reported in pregnant women in the U.S., resulting in 57 maternal deaths. U.S. health officials have said pregnancy increases the risk of severe disease for mother and child, and being coronavirus-positive in late pregnancy may increase the rate of preterm birth.
Prenatal care and birth plans are also disrupted by a positive test result. “Women are expressing so much fear about being infected, but also about going to the hospital, delivering and being separated from their child,” said Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski, an epidemiologist who is the primary investigator of HOPE COVID-19, a new study that focuses on the well-being of women who are pregnant during the pandemic.
The study launched in July and will follow more than 200 women around the world, from pregnancy to 18 months postpartum, to understand how Covid-19 and the pandemic response impacts pregnancy and infant health outcomes.
Dr. Jelliffe-Pawlowski and her team have analyzed the data from the first group of women, and they are finding “absolutely incredible” levels of stress and anxiety. “Sixty percent of women are experiencing nervousness and anxiety at levels that impede their everyday functioning,” she said, citing preliminary data. “There are a number of women, particularly lower-income women, expressing how hard it is to choose to stay in a job that puts them at risk versus quitting the job and not having enough food for their baby.”
Nearly 70 percent of the participants reported feeling worried about decreasing family income and more than 22 percent worried about food insecurity (though none had experienced it at the time of the survey). Dr. Jelliffe-Pawlowski worried that women were not necessarily getting the psychological care they needed: “If you can’t feed your family, seeking out mental health care is not your top priority.”
She also said more than 84 percent of women reported moderate to severe anxiety about giving birth during a pandemic. “Many women do not want to get tested because they will be stigmatized or separated from their baby or not allowed to have people in the room to support them,” she said. She added that similar visiting rules often hold true for babies in the NICU after being born preterm during the pandemic: Only one parent can be present in a 24-hour period. “It’s heart-wrenching to see families go through those choices.”
Dr. Jelliffe-Pawlowski is particularly interested in how stress impacts births and long-term outcomes for children as psychological stress is highly associated with preterm birth. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the risk of preterm births almost doubled for people living near or working at the site of the fallen towers. She’s also concerned about long-term effects of stress and anxiety on maternal bonding during the pandemic.
Margaret Howard, a psychologist at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence and postpartum depression researcher at Brown University thinks it is absurd for pregnant women who test positive for an infectious virus to bear any guilt or stress associated with their diagnosis: “Are moms in a special category where they are expected to not get Covid? What about a sinus infection? Hay fever? Cancer? Why is Covid a moral failing for mothers?”
When Erica Evert, a pregnant mom in northern Virginia, received her postive Covid-19 test result, it didn’t make sense. She was near the end of her pregnancy, and hadn’t left the house in four and a half months, except for ob-gyn appointments to check on the baby.
“My first thought was, is this a false positive? I feel fine. And my second reaction was to start bawling,” said Evert. She was scheduled to have a cesarean section with her second baby and the test was merely a formality — until it was a life-changing event.
The hospital gave her a choice: She could deliver the next day and be treated as a Covid-19 patient — separated from her baby with no skin-to-skin contact, per the hospital’s policies. Or she could wait 10 days from the date she received the positive test result and deliver with her regular plan. She had four hours to make a choice she wasn’t expecting. “I kept thinking: am I going to make a decision that results in my child dying?” said Evert."
Opinion| Megan Markle: The Duchess of Sussex
"Perhaps the path to healing begins with three simple words: Are you OK?"
"It was a July morning that began as ordinarily as any other day: Make breakfast. Feed the dogs. Take vitamins. Find that missing sock. Pick up the rogue crayon that rolled under the table. Throw my hair in a ponytail before getting my son from his crib.
After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp. I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right.
I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.
Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.
I recalled a moment last year when Harry and I were finishing up a long tour in South Africa. I was exhausted. I was breastfeeding our infant son, and I was trying to keep a brave face in the very public eye.
“Are you OK?” a journalist asked me. I answered him honestly, not knowing that what I said would resonate with so many — new moms and older ones, and anyone who had, in their own way, been silently suffering. My off-the-cuff reply seemed to give people permission to speak their truth. But it wasn’t responding honestly that helped me most, it was the question itself.
“Thank you for asking,” I said. “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
Sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realized that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, “Are you OK?”
Are we? This year has brought so many of us to our breaking points. Loss and pain have plagued every one of us in 2020, in moments both fraught and debilitating. We’ve heard all the stories: A woman starts her day, as normal as any other, but then receives a call that she’s lost her elderly mother to Covid-19. A man wakes feeling fine, maybe a little sluggish, but nothing out of the ordinary. He tests positive for the coronavirus and within weeks, he — like hundreds of thousands of others — has died.
A young woman named Breonna Taylor goes to sleep, just as she’s done every night before, but she doesn’t live to see the morning because a police raid turns horribly wrong. George Floyd leaves a convenience store, not realizing he will take his last breath under the weight of someone’s knee, and in his final moments, calls out for his mom. Peaceful protests become violent. Health rapidly shifts to sickness. In places where there was once community, there is now division.
On top of all of this, it seems we no longer agree on what is true. We aren’t just fighting over our opinions of facts; we are polarized over whether the fact is, in fact, a fact. We are at odds over whether science is real. We are at odds over whether an election has been won or lost. We are at odds over the value of compromise.
That polarization, coupled with the social isolation required to fight this pandemic, has left us feeling more alone than ever.
When I was in my late teens, I sat in the back of a taxi zipping through the busyness and bustle of Manhattan. I looked out the window and saw a woman on her phone in a flood of tears. She was standing on the sidewalk, living out a private moment very publicly. At the time, the city was new to me, and I asked the driver if we should stop to see if the woman needed help.
He explained that New Yorkers live out their personal lives in public spaces. “We love in the city, we cry in the street, our emotions and stories there for anybody to see,” I remember him telling me. “Don’t worry, somebody on that corner will ask her if she’s OK.”
Now, all these years later, in isolation and lockdown, grieving the loss of a child, the loss of my country’s shared belief in what’s true, I think of that woman in New York. What if no one stopped? What if no one saw her suffering? What if no one helped?
I wish I could go back and ask my cabdriver to pull over. This, I realize, is the danger of siloed living — where moments sad, scary or sacrosanct are all lived out alone. There is no one stopping to ask, “Are you OK?”
Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning."
"Health care workers are still fighting to keep their homes and communities safe."
By: Jessica Grose | December 23, 2020
"When I spoke to Dr. Stephanie Whitener, 41, an anesthesia critical care physician and mother of two, the parent-teacher organization at her son’s elementary school was planning an in-person happy hour for teachers. “I spent yesterday trying to rally all the parents I knew in health care to stop it, because of the risk to them, and also to in-person learning,” said Dr. Whitener, who lives in Charleston, S.C.
Though they did end up canceling the happy hour, “it feels like I live in two different realities,” she said, one where people take the virus seriously, and another where they don’t. That dichotomy can make the emotional and psychological toll of treating Covid-19 patients even harder to bear.
As this strange and difficult year draws to a close, I wanted to highlight the experiences of parents who are medical workers — and thank them for their service. Like so many other essential workers, they have put their physical and mental well-being on the line in 2020 to do their jobs. These frontline workers are at greater risk for burnout and PTSD than the general population. Some have been separated from their children for weeks at a time, communicating only on Zoom.
Like all parents, they’re worried about their own kids, socially, academically and emotionally — while also fretting about the children who are falling behind in school because of the barriers to remote learning, and who may be grieving over family members lost to the virus. And even after more than 300,000 deaths in the United States alone, some health care workers are still trying to convince their communities that the virus is a real threat.
“Some of the first deaths I experienced were people only 5 to 10 years older than me, not 70-year-olds,” said Brianna Tremblay, a 36-year-old I.C.U. nurse practitioner in northern New Jersey. She is also the mom of a 3-year-old and pregnant with a baby due in January. Her distress was especially overwhelming in March and April, when the first surge of the virus was hitting the New York City region. “I came home from work every single night and cried with my husband,” Tremblay said.
“When a patient would crash, we would spend hours in the room trying to save them, and then have to call the family,” to give them the bad news, Tremblay said. Her I.C.U. had a mortality rate of 80 to 90 percent in March and April for Covid-19 patients. “It truly was a war zone.”
Several of the workers I spoke with caught the virus themselves. Cecilia Duran, a 38-year-old midwife in New York City, fell ill in March, when she was 10 weeks pregnant. In addition to fairly intense symptoms — “worse than the flu,” she said — she was also dealing with the nausea and fatigue of early pregnancy. “I was quarantining with my toddler, who was also sick, and my husband was trying to figure out his working from home situation in a small New York apartment,” she said. “It was complete insanity.”
Dr. Mary Thomas, a pediatrician in New Jersey, said that she’s much more worried about many of her young patients than she is about her own three children (her whole family already had the virus and recovered). “I’m seeing so much anxiety and depression, and a lot of it has to do with this terrible year,” Dr. Thomas said. “Parents are unemployed or losing money or stressed on top of it, and kids are on screens for hours a day.”
"The tween and teenage years are already filled with heightened emotions and social pressures – adding a pandemic to the mix only makes things more complex. How can we best support older kids who have been impacted by COVID-19?
Our guest experts will discuss how to help your teens and tweens through this difficult time, how to monitor and care for their mental health, and more."
This webinar is a free event being held on Thursday January 28th from 9PM-10PM (Eastern Time).
"Winter's here - how will we continue to keep our youth active and healthy during the pandemic? Many sports have had to take a time-out due to COVID-19. Indoor activities have been cancelled, and, pandemic or not, weather doesn't always permit us to enjoy being physically active outdoors. The cancellation or delay of sports seasons have also had long-term impacts on the futures and identities of youth and young adults.
So, as parents and caregivers, how do we keep our children active, healthy, and strong, while helping them (and us) mourn the loss of the activities that help them thrive? Join us and our guest experts as we discuss the ways to tackle these issues and help our children cope physically and mentally so that everyone "wins."
This webinar is a free event being held on Thursday January 14th from 9PM-10PM (Eastern Time).
By: Cory Turner, Anya Kamenetz, & Meghan Keane| December 10, 2020
"For the kids in our lives, the last nine months have been many things. Scary — because an invisible, unknown illness was suddenly spreading across the globe. Maybe even fun, when the possibility of school closing felt like a snow day. But for many, that novelty has given way to frustration and sadness — even depression and anxiety. Just like adults, kids are wondering: Will I get sick? Will someone I love die?
It's a lot for kids and parents to handle. So we talked to the experts and came away with five tips for how you can help your kids through this.
Make sure your kids wear their masks
"Kids generally don't get very sick from this virus," says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. But, he says, they can still play a part in making sure others don't get sick by wearing their masks and social distancing.
It might take a little imagination. If you have younger kids, you can explain the spread of the coronavirus by comparing their mouths to a bottle of bug spray. Weird, yes — but it's one way for young ones to visualize the tiny droplets they spread, even when they aren't sick. If they wear a mask, it helps keep those droplets in.
If you've got older kids or teenagers, take this a step further: Encourage them to spread the word. Practice what they might say if they're with friends at the park and someone takes their mask off. Maybe your 13-year-old has been waiting months to see Grandma and could say, "I need to keep my Grandma safe, so do you mind putting your mask on?"
Rehearse it with your kids so the conversation goes smoothly.
Practice positive thinking and mindfulness
In a recent report, researchers interviewed 46 teenagers in California and found that the teens reported a huge sense of loss — similar to the stages of grief. Most of the teens were sleeping badly because of lack of activity and lots of screen time.
Kids of all ages — as well as their parents — can probably relate.
In addition to the obvious prescription — trade in some of that screen time for physical exercise — try some brain exercises too, like replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. You might try saying a few things you're grateful for each night before dinner or before bed. There's evidence behind that: Gratitude boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure and motivates us to practice healthy habits. It may feel awkward or cheesy, but practicing mindfulness and positivity very consciously can help kids and parents too.
It's also important to watch for signs of something more serious too.
"Depression in teenagers sometimes looks like a prickly porcupine. Everybody rubs them the wrong way," adolescent psychologist Lisa Damour says. Don't take it personally; just keep offering them a listening ear."
By Rafael Nam| November 12, 2020
"Like many married and working couples first confronting the pandemic, Bianca Flokstra and Victor Udoewa tried to go on with their lives as normal.
Flokstra continued to work full time while taking care of their kids, ages 4 and 2. She also handled most of the housework, with her husband helping from time to time. It didn't work.
"Those first couple of months were really hard," Flokstra says. "There was ... a lot of fighting. A lot of tears."
The pandemic has upended many aspects of domestic life, and that has brought new attention to one of the most enduring disparities between men and women — the wide difference in handling housework and child care.
It's what Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab, calls one of society's most "stubborn" divides.
"The traditional gender division of labor is very durable," Cooper says. "Even the most egalitarian-thinking couples, after having children, find themselves in a much more traditional division of labor than they ever would have intended."
Cooper, who has studied the issue extensively, says that divide, which is rooted in history and perpetuated by persistent societal norms, has endured even as women have joined the workforce in larger numbers over the decades, making record gains.
Yet even as more families become dual-income households, women still do 30% more of the housework and 40% more of the child care, Cooper says.
The disparity in work done at home is now having a serious economic impact as entire families are forced home with schools closed and no child care options available.
More than 2.2 million women have left the workforce this year, far more than the 1.4 million men who have left as a result of the pandemic, according to the monthly U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Proportionally, more women were employed in sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic, including hospitality and retail.
But Cooper, as well as many economists, says the burden placed on working moms during the pandemic is another key variable forcing many women out of the workforce.
Some couples have adapted.
Flokstra, for example, says she had little choice. She desperately needed sleep after exhausting days at a new job in international aid while also taking care of all of her other responsibilities.
She started sending the kids to her husband, unprompted. Then, she started drafting to-do lists — activities she and her husband would split day to day.
But getting there wasn't easy. It wasn't that Udoewa wasn't willing to help; he was.
Flokstra says she had become so used to doing household chores that she found it hard to delegate — and trust — her own husband to do the job.
That hesitancy is surprisingly common among women, according to Cooper.
It's a complicated mix of "mother's guilt" as well as societal expectations on couples, where men are still seen as the breadwinners."
By Pallavi Gogoi| October 28, 2020
The number of women in the workforce overtook men for a brief period earlier this year. But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare. Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images
"Women are seeing the fabric of their lives unravel during the pandemic. Nowhere is that more visible than on the job.
In September, an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce — four times more than men.
The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on households, and women are bearing the brunt of it. Not only have they lost the most jobs from the beginning of the pandemic, but they are exhausted from the demands of child care and housework — and many are now seeing no path ahead but to quit working.
Women have made great strides over the years: More women than men are enrolled in college, in medical schools and law schools.
The number of women in the workforce even overtook men for a brief period of three months through February this year.
But the uncomfortable truth is that in their homes, women are still fitting into stereotypical roles of doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning and parenting. It's another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying bare."
Already, their parents are getting sick and dying. Their kids are falling behind. So along with doing everything else, working becomes impossible.
"The problem is that right now a lot of women don't really have choices, right?" says Martha Gimbel, a labor economist at the nonprofit initiative Schmidt Futures. "They can't send their kids to school. Someone has to supervise the learning. Someone has to deal with the cooking. Someone has to deal with the cleaning, and it's falling onto them. And so they can't make choices that they want to make because they're being restricted in all these ways."
Women are back in 1988
The pandemic's female exodus has decidedly turned back the clock by at least a generation, with the share of women in the workforce down to levels not seen since 1988.
A growing, prosperous economy depends on a large and committed workforce, with women playing a vital role. If women decide to stay on the sidelines, the very dynamism of the U.S. economy is at risk as many households lose half of their earnings and productive capacity. This trend could even turn back the clock on gender equity, with harmful consequences to society and the economy.
Economists are worried.
"We’ve been through so much together since this summer, and we still have a long way to go as pandemic parents and caregivers. (Remember, psychiatrist and child trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry said it’s a thru-hike, not a sprint or even a marathon).
With our co-founders, Dr. Lindsay Malloy and Dr. Amanda Zelechoski, leading the way, let’s take a brisk walk down memory lane (because nobody has time for a stroll right now) to share some of our most impactful moments so far since our first Pandemic Parenting Exchange."
This webinar is free and will be held on Thursday, December 17th, 2020 from 9:00-10:00 PM (Eastern Time) via Zoom.
"We’ve all been there. Exhausted. Busy. Hungry. Bored. You name it—we turn the [insert electronic here] on. (Warning: The mom/parent guilt around this can be strong.)
But what are the actual, science-based facts on screen time…and too much of it? As the weather turns colder, we explain the fact-based pluses and minuses of screen time to increase our knowledge on this hot topic. Jonathan S. Comer, Ph.D. will join as our guest panelist, and Natalie Hong, M.S. will guide the discussion as moderator."
The webinar will be held on December 7, 2020 from 9:00-10:00 PM (Eastern Time) via Zoom.
"Every family is unique in its own ways, and parents are navigating the pandemic the best way they know how. We want to shine a light on our co-parenting parents and single parents who are experiencing their own set of distinctive challenges during the pandemic and provide resources to ease the burdens they may be experiencing."
The webinar will be held on November 24, 2020 from 9:00-10:00 PM (Eastern Time) via Zoom.
October 15, 2020| NPR Staff
From left: Sawsan al-Ramemi of Amman, Jordan, is a mom of two — and expecting her third child. Her husband is working in the U.S. Nienke Pastoor of the Netherlands has been juggling her job as a dairy farmer and helping her four teenagers with their online schoolwork. Jessica Barrera of Eau Claire, Wis., is finding ways to spread joy with her son, Niko, who's a virtual student these days. Nadia Bseiso, Julia Gunther and Lauren Justice for NPR
"When I was growing up, I marveled at how my single mother was able to come home after a long day of work, make dinner, iron our school uniforms and help me and my sister with our homework.
I can't imagine how she would have managed during this pandemic.
What would she have done if she was laid off from her job at the airport? Would she be able to figure out — or afford — virtual school? How would she keep us safe from the virus?
Around the world, mothers have been struggling with these very challenges during the pandemic. We spoke to three mothers who shared how they've been faring: a mom of two in Jordan, expecting her third child and missing the in-person support from family; a dairy farmer with four teenage children — and 165 cows — to look after; and a single mom helping her son, who is on the autism spectrum, find joy in spite of coronavirus restrictions.
Read their stories, check out our special report on 19 women facing the coronavirus crisis — then find out how to nominate a woman to be profiled at the bottom of the story. -- Malaka Gharib"
"Calm And Juggling On A Dairy Farm
The cows rode around the milking carousel, a circular platform lined with 30 individual holding pens that slowly turn clockwise. In each pen, a black and white Holstein or brown and white Montbéliarde waited to be milked.
In the pit below the carousel, 40-year-old Nienke Pastoor stood at udder-height, attaching the milk-extracting pump to each cow as it passed her.
Pastoor, her husband Jaap and Henk, an employee, need just 90 minutes to milk all 165 of the farm's dairy cows.
Pastoor and her husband co-manage a 336-acre dairy farm. One of her many responsibilities is to help run the daily milking operation. She's also the mother of four teenage children; she cooks and cleans; and she manages the farm's books. She regularly gives tours to schoolchildren from the nearby city of Groningen, taking them around the farm and letting them milk the cows by hand.
For a while Pastoor cherished the sudden quiet and freedom that COVID-19 brought to the "Other World": the name given to the remote farming district in the far north of the Netherlands where the Pastoor family have been dairy farmers for 75 years. "We established a strange new family rhythm during the lockdown," she said on a blustery blue-skied afternoon.
The only set routines were the morning and afternoon milking of the cows, and the e-lessons of her children: Thomas, 17, Daniel, 15, and twins Emma and Paulien, 13, who like many students in the Netherlands switched to remote learning in March.
"There was less pressure," she said. "No music lessons or sports games to drive the children to. And because the weather was so nice, life definitely felt a little more relaxed." The only visitors to the farm during the lockdown, which lasted from March 15 till June 2, were the truck drivers who came by three times a week to pick up 3,079 gallons of milk, and the vet who visited every two weeks.
But the pandemic also added new tasks to Pastoor's farm routine. She suddenly had to help the children with their schoolwork. "I made sure they were sitting at their laptops when they were supposed to be. I told them, 'We all have responsibilities in life. I have to do things. And so do you. You make sure the thing you are doing is done on time.' "
The children didn't mind the sudden shift to learning at home. They were able to sleep longer in the mornings as they didn't have to bike to school. The only frustration was the frequent technical glitches — no sound, the teacher's screen not working.
Pastoor was so busy she couldn't do the books for a month. Work kept piling up on the long wooden kitchen table where she normally sits.
"In the end, I had to tell [Jaap and the children] to get out of the kitchen so I could have some time for myself."
"It was difficult being a mother and a farm manager," she said, reflecting on lockdown life. "Everyone expected me to successfully juggle everything."
But dealing with all these responsibilities didn't concern Pastoor. What truly worried her was how she would cope if her husband were to get COVID-19 and succumb to the virus — and she'd be left to manage the farm on her own. "The pandemic really brought that home."
Dutch News| August 19, 2020
"Researchers at Amsterdam’s UMC teaching hospital and a number of other institutes have found coronavirus antibodies in the breast milk of women who have tested positive for the virus.
The research team are now looking into whether the milk could be used to prevent coronavirus infections in vulnerable people during an eventual second wave, possibly in the form of flavoured ice cubes.
hey have already found that the antibodies are not destroyed by pasteurising the milk, which is necessary to make it usable by other people.
"We think when drinking the milk, the antibodies attach themselves to the surface of our mucous membranes,’ Hans van Goudoever, head of the Emma children’s hospital at the UMC, said. ‘Then they attack the virus particles before they force their way into the body."
The UMC has now started a campaign to find 1,000 women who are willing to donate 100ml of breast milk for the research project. ‘Women who may have had coronavirus without noticing it may also have made antibodies which can be found in milk,’ Van Goudoever said. ‘So we are looking for mothers who may have been infected as well.’ Even if this turns out not to be the case, their milk can be stored for further research, if they give permission, he said.
Women who want to take part are urged to contact email@example.com."
By Tara Haelle| August 16, 2020
"It was the end of the world as we knew it, and I felt fine. That’s almost exactly what I told my psychiatrist at my March 16 appointment, a few days after our children’s school district extended spring break because of the coronavirus. I said the same at my April 27 appointment, several weeks after our state’s stay-at-home order.
Yes, it was exhausting having a kindergartener and fourth grader doing impromptu distance learning while I was barely keeping up with work. And it was frustrating to be stuck home nonstop, scrambling to get in grocery delivery orders before slots filled up, and tracking down toilet paper. But I was still doing well because I thrive in high-stress emergency situations. It’s exhilarating for my ADHD brain. As just one example, when my husband and I were stranded in Peru during an 8.0-magnitude earthquake that killed thousands, we walked around with a first aid kit helping who we could and tracking down water and food. Then I went out with my camera to document the devastation as a photojournalist and interview Peruvians in my broken Spanish for my hometown paper.
Now we were in a pandemic, and I’m a science journalist who has written about infectious disease and medical research for nearly a decade. I was on fire, cranking out stories, explaining epidemiological concepts in my social networks, trying to help everyone around me make sense of the frightening circumstances of a pandemic and the anxiety surrounding the virus.
I knew it wouldn’t last. It never does. But even knowing I would eventually crash, I didn’t appreciate how hard the crash would be, or how long it would last, or how hard it would be to try to get back up over and over again, or what getting up even looked like.
In those early months, I, along with most of the rest of the country, was using “surge capacity” to operate, as Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, calls it. Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.
“The pandemic has demonstrated both what we can do with surge capacity and the limits of surge capacity,” says Masten. When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed. But what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?"
Reviewed by: Lisa Hollier, MD, MPH, FACOG, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
"Please note that while this is a page for patients, this page is not meant to give specific medical advice and is for informational reference only. Medical advice should be provided by your doctor or other health care professional."
"What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new illness that affects the lungs and breathing. It is caused by a new coronavirus. Symptoms include fever, cough, and trouble breathing. It also may cause stomach problems, such as nausea and diarrhea, and a loss of your sense of smell or taste. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after you are exposed to the virus. Some people with COVID-19 may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
How does COVID-19 affect pregnant women?
Researchers are still learning how COVID-19 affects pregnant women. A report released in June 2020 looked at whether pregnant women might be at increased risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. This report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that:
How can COVID-19 affect a fetus?
Remember that researchers are learning more about COVID-19 all the time. Some researchers are looking specifically at COVID-19 and its possible effects on a fetus. Here’s what they know now:
What should pregnant women do to avoid the coronavirus?
Pregnant women should take steps to stay healthy, including:
Should pregnant women wear a mask or face covering?
As of April 3, the CDC says all people, including pregnant women, can wear a cloth face covering when they are in public to slow the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings are recommended because studies have shown that people can spread the virus before showing any symptoms. See the CDC’s tips on making and wearing a face covering.
Wearing a cloth face covering is most important in places where you may not be able to stay 6 feet away from other people, like a grocery store or pharmacy. It also is important in parts of the country where COVID-19 is spreading quickly. But you should still try to stay at least 6 feet away from others whenever you leave home.
If you have COVID-19 or think you may have it, you should wear a mask while you are around other people. You also should wear a mask if you are taking care of someone who has COVID-19 or has symptoms. You do not need to wear a surgical mask or medical-grade mask (N95 mask).
How will COVID-19 affect prenatal and postpartum care visits?
It is important to keep your prenatal and postpartum care visits. Call your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care professional to ask how your visits may be changed. Some women may have fewer or more spaced out in-person visits. You also may talk more with your health care team over the phone or through an online video call. This is called telemedicine or telehealth. It is a good way for you to get the care you need while preventing the spread of disease.
If you have a visit scheduled, your care team’s office may call you ahead of time. They may tell you about telemedicine or make sure you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 if you are going in to the office. You also can call them before your visits if you do not hear from them."
"Do you ever feel like you’re not doing enough as a parent? Like you might be totally screwing this up and maybe even making things worse for your kids? We’re right there with you. Parenting was already hard, and now we're navigating a pandemic on top of it.
In this webinar, we’ll talk about the self-doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty that has come with pandemic parenting. We’ll also share what the research says about “good enough’ parenting, especially in times of crisis. We’ll be joined by guest, Dr. Sharon Lamb, psychologist and author of The Not Good Enough Mother. Agata Freedle will serve as moderator to guide our conversation and pose questions that you submit.
Join us on Zoom at 9 p.m. Eastern Time for this free webinar."
By Josie Cox| July 30, 2020
"As the epicenter of Covid-19 continues to drift around the globe, leaving death and depression in its wake, it’s become increasingly difficult for even the most naive to defend a whimsical assertion favored by the privileged in the early days of the pandemic. Coronavirus is not a great leveller. It never was.
Data made available to The New York Times earlier this month shows that Latino and African-American residents of the U.S. are three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors. Black and Latino people are almost twice as likely to die from it.
Other figures show that states with the highest level of income inequality have had a larger number of Covid-19-related deaths than states with lower inequality. And the gender divide is marked too.
As the epicenter of Covid-19 continues to drift around the globe, leaving death and depression in its wake, it’s become increasingly difficult for even the most naive to defend a whimsical assertion favored by the privileged in the early days of the pandemic. Coronavirus is not a great leveller. It never was.
Data made available to The New York Times earlier this month shows that Latino and African-American residents of the U.S. are three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors. Black and Latino people are almost twice as likely to die from it.
Other figures show that states with the highest level of income inequality have had a larger number of Covid-19-related deaths than states with lower inequality. And the gender divide is marked too.
Almost half of all mothers surveyed felt “rushed and pressed for time” more than half of the time during the lockdown, and 46% felt nervous and stressed more than half of the time. Only 15% of mothers said they had managed to set clear boundaries between work and family, largely on account of the closure of schools and childcare facilities.
“It is clear that parents in particular need more support during school and childcare closures,” says Dr Heejung Chung of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, who led the study.
“There are signs that the increased workload and conflict between work and family has negatively impacted parents’ mental wellbeing, especially mothers,” she adds. “We need a thorough gendered analysis on the economic impact of the lockdown and more resources and policies are needed to support parents especially mothers' labor market attachments.”
Biggest Setback in a Decade
This research adds to reams of existing evidence underscoring the extent to which the pandemic has chipped away at hard-earned progress towards both greater gender equality and women’s economic rights, while exacerbating an already terrifying mental health crisis.
Sofia Sprechmann, Secretary-General of humanitarian agency Care International, recently described Covid-19 as the biggest setback to gender equality in a decade. Research conducted by McKinsey has revealed that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s. The consultancy concluded that because of Coronavirus’ “regressive effect on gender equality”, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector."
By: Catherine Pearson| July 14, 2020
"We're facing a year without precedent in modern parenthood. So why do we feel...so detached?"
"When the pandemic first hit New York City in March, abruptly closing my boys’ school and daycare, I was a wreck.
I was terrified of my kids getting sick. I was so anxious sitting in bed at night, listening to sirens scream past my window down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I’d lose my breath. Then sometimes, I’d have moments of delirious happiness: My family was safe and hanging out together at, like, 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. We never do that! It was emotional and logistical chaos all day, every day.
Now, months into this mess, I move through my days feeling basically ... nothing. When I see friends and family (from a safe distance, outdoors, usually wearing a mask) and they ask how I’m doing, I say something like: “We’re good! We’ve kept our jobs, and no one’s been sick. Also, I’m dead inside.”
This is only a partial joke.
The everyday stresses parents are facing now are arguably worse than they were when the virus first emerged. Where I live in New York City, public schools recently announced they’ll likely open for in-person learning between one and three days a week — as though those are remotely similar. I have no idea if my husband and I are sending our older son in. I have zero idea what we’re doing for childcare for our younger kiddo, because I do not see a solution that feels relatively safe and is one we can actually afford. I have no idea how we are going to get through the fall or winter or any part of next year.
But I’m not freaking out; I’m numb.
And I’m not alone.
“After being on high alert for so long, it’s entirely understandable that numbness would set in. No one can sustain a state of emergency for any length of time. We weren’t built that way,” said Olivia Bergeron, who runs Mommy Groove Therapy & Parent Coaching in New York City. “Fight or flight is supposed to be a temporary state to ensure survival, not a permanent way of living.”
By Pooja Lakshmin|July 29, 2020
"While parents may be feeling unsure about school options this fall, there are ways to feel better as you make the tough decision."
"A combination of dread, panic and sheer exhaustion. This is what I see on the faces of patients (and friends and colleagues) when the conversation turns to the most pressing topic on every parent’s mind: what to do about school in the fall. I’m a psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health, and I have yet to speak to anyone who feels satisfied with the options presented to them, or who feels particularly confident in the choices they’ve made.
The information on children and the coronavirus has been evolving since March, with the most recent data suggesting that children are less likely to become infected by the virus and less likely to have a severe course when infected. But, those words “less likely” suggest that children are at some, albeit smaller, risk. And, the United States still has not come up with an adequate solution to protect teachers, many of whom are high risk.
As I see it, school stress for parents boils down to two main points: Deciding what to do, and then what to do with the uncomfortable feelings that could arise after that decision. As a psychiatrist, I’m admittedly not so helpful when it comes to the decision of whether or not to send your kids to in-classroom learning this fall. Where I can help is how to deal with the uncertainty and difficult feelings that accompany this process.
A risk assessment system, like the one described by Emily Oster, Ph.D., a professor of economics and public policy at Brown University, can be a useful guide when making decisions with scarce data. Instead of focusing on the illusion of “one right answer,” this framework can give you a reliable process for making hard parenting decisions by focusing on evaluating and mitigating risks, and assessing benefits. While no parent is feeling particularly confident about the school options available to them, it is possible to feel good about the process you use to make those decisions.
In an interview, Dr. Oster wrote, “By making clear the choices, the costs and benefits, we can reason our way to better decisions. But I really think even more important is the fact that we can make our way to more confidence in these decisions by articulating a good process.”
Once you’ve delineated a plan, then you’re faced with the task of coping with the onslaught of feelings, like worry, guilt, fear and uncertainty. For this, here are some strategies, many of which come from acceptance and commitment therapy, a form of behavioral therapy that teaches people to accept their difficult thoughts and feelings as opposed to struggling against them, and to prioritize taking actions that are in line with their values."
Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris|Social Psychologists| July 12, 2020
"The minute we make any decision--I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative."
"Members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed by Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake—ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for a refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn’t show the spaceship following the comet. A short time later, believing that they would be rescued once they had shed their “earthly containers” (their bodies), all 39 members killed themselves.
Heaven’s Gate followers had a tragically misguided conviction, but it is an example, albeit extreme, of cognitive dissonance, the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives. This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.
Cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, describes the discomfort people feel when two cognitions, or a cognition and a behavior, contradict each other. I smoke is dissonant with the knowledge that Smoking can kill me. To reduce that dissonance, the smoker must either quit—or justify smoking (“It keeps me thin, and being overweight is a health risk too, you know”). At its core, Festinger’s theory is about how people strive to make sense out of contradictory ideas and lead lives that are, at least in their own minds, consistent and meaningful.
One of us (Aronson), who was a protégé of Festinger in the mid-’50s, advanced cognitive-dissonance theory by demonstrating the powerful, yet nonobvious, role it plays when the concept of self is involved. Dissonance is most painful when evidence strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves—when it threatens our belief that we are kind, ethical, competent, or smart. The minute we make any decision--I’ll buy this car; I will vote for this candidate; I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we will begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative. Before long, any ambivalence we might have felt at the time of the original decision will have morphed into certainty. As people justify each step taken after the original decision, they will find it harder to admit they were wrong at the outset. Especially when the end result proves self-defeating, wrongheaded, or harmful.
The theory inspired more than 3,000 experiments that have transformed psychologists’ understanding of how the human mind works. One of Aronson’s most famous experiments showed that people who had to go through an unpleasant, embarrassing process in order to be admitted to a discussion group (designed to consist of boring, pompous participants) later reported liking that group far better than those who were allowed to join after putting in little or no effort. Going through hell and high water to attain something that turns out to be boring, vexatious, or a waste of time creates dissonance: I’m smart, so how did I end up in this stupid group?"