How I Learned to Stop Glorifying the Hustle and Start Living Intentionally

I was taught to work hard at an early age. Or, more specifically, to be “twice as good and work twice as hard,” as my parents regularly reminded me, foreshadowing the inevitable challenges ahead of me as a black girl from a lower middle-class family.

I watched my father work the night shift throughout much of my childhood while my mother worked a full-time job and moonlighted as a seamstress and hair stylist. When my parents divorced, I watched my mother hold multiple jobs before eventually opening up her own salon and cosmetology school. My grandfather and grandmother owned a commercial cleaning service. My great uncle, the son of sharecroppers, was the proprietor of the only black-owned grocery store in the county where I grew up. I was surrounded by hard workers and entrepreneurs who worked tirelessly to create a better future for the generations that would come after.

All I saw were regular people making their own way. Working from sun up to sun down—and sometimes through the night—to make ends meet. It was no surprise that I’d follow in their footsteps.

I got my first job at 15 and continued working throughout high school and college. After college, I immediately began my first full-time job. I was a junior staffer at a public relations agency cutting my teeth by saying “yes” to every opportunity, working late to assemble client briefs and award submissions, and always, always asking for more work. I was in my 20s and I knew I needed to work hard to assert my value in the workplace.

Then, in 2008, the economy began to take a dive. By then I had a lower-level job in corporate communications. It would look great on a resume, but it was not the most fulfilling work I’d ever done. I compensated for the lack of creativity I got to exercise at work by launching Black Girls RUN!, an organization with a mission to inspire black women to put their health first. Then, in 2009, I was laid off from my corporate communications job. I moved back home with my parents and continued working on my side gig until I figured out what to do next.

This isn’t a unique story. The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 made a generation quickly realize that nothing, at least when it comes to financial security, is guaranteed. In my social and online circles, I noticed that startups and social entrepreneurs began to bubble to the surface, understanding that having a Plan A (a stable job) was great, but having a Plan A and a side hustle Plan B was even better.

This was all happening alongside another phenomenon I saw brewing among my peers: the accumulation of student debt. Having multiple sources of income was not only a safety net, but a necessity for many college-educated people.

This is where the new hustle generation began. We vowed to “rise and grind” and “hustle hard,” while pledging our allegiance to “team no sleep” and consuming copious amounts of caffeine. Sleepless nights were a badge of honor and something to brag about over brunch with friends.

The hustle had become cachet.

How much was this ingrained in my own life? I wore a bracelet that said “HUSTLE.” It was my anchor and a reminder that success meant sacrificing now and reaping the rewards later—much later.

But, as I learned, there’s a dark side to hustle culture.

By 2010, not only was I enjoying a new job at a public relations agency, I was enjoying the growing success of my health and wellness business. It wasn’t long before I turned in my two-week notice to pivot. I was ready to dedicate all my time to growing and nurturing this community of women across the country and inspiring them to live a healthy lifestyle.

Ironically, the more I poured myself into growing the company, the more I suffered physically and emotionally. Gastrointestinal symptoms and mid-day naps became the norm. I’d work from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M., take a short break, and then make my way back to my home office after dinner to put in another four to five hours. Day in and day out, I pushed myself to my furthest limits to maintain the level of busyness and perceived productivity that I thought had served me in the years before. I believed that the only way to succeed was to muscle my way through days with limited sleep, brain fog, and my body’s constant rebellion. I proudly exchanged high-five emojis with my entrepreneur friends rejoicing at our collective ability to squeeze as much as possible into a 24-hour period.

Hustling was no longer a temporary state I entered into in order to meet a deadline or crush a goal; it was just my state of being. It dictated how I lived every moment of my life.

A few years later, I made my way back to a traditional 9-to-5 setting hoping that the structure would create more balance in my life. But like any mindset or habit left unchecked, I returned to my usual modus operandi of grinding myself and my body into the ground. With symptoms that couldn’t be explained by any particular illness, my doctors finally decided on one culprit: stress.

What made this all the more confusing was that I considered myself the poster child of self-care. I was a runner and a newly-minted yoga instructor who not only practiced regularly, but also started my day with meditation. I ate mindfully, avoiding foods that I knew would cause an adverse reaction. I saw an herbalist, acupuncturist, and therapist on a regular basis—doing all of the things that I, someone with socio-economic privilege, could afford to do. Yet, my symptoms were not improving. There were days that I was so fatigued that I couldn’t manage my usual short walk to the train station and hailed a cab instead.

That’s when I realized that no amount of self-care would address the deep-seated belief that the only way for me to be successful was to emulate the generations before me and proudly be a martyr along with the community of hustlers and grinders that surrounded me.

You see, I had internalized hustle culture, the state of mind that was the result of so many factors: being raised to know I’d have to work harder than my peers to achieve the same success, the sinking economy which was making financial insecurity seem pretty permanent, and the “hustle” culture that grew in and around me as a result of those things. As a hustle culture devotee I was talking the talk of self-care, but living a lifestyle so contradictory to what is sustainable for any human being. And I wasn’t alone. I found that so many of my colleagues and friends were moving through the motions of self-care, yet were superficially addressing their complaints of stress, fatigue, and depression without getting to the root of the problem.

Then one day I found myself walking to work with my eyes brimming with tears. I was exhausted and frustrated. I couldn’t understand why my body seemed to be rebelling against me. In that moment, I knew that major changes were in order. Even though I had incorporated so many traditional forms of self-care like meditation and yoga, I needed to accept some hard truths about how much of the hustle mentality was steeped in everything I did.

I began to think of my work, professionally and personally, differently. I took drastic steps that re-centered me professionally, assessing the amount of energy and time I was realistically able to give to my employer. I had many open and vulnerable conversations with my supervisor about my workload, opportunities to create more flexibility in my schedule to work remotely, and how I could ultimately be a better employee if I created more space for mental breaks and removed myself from stressful environments.

These changes were helping, but they weren’t enough. Because my sense of self-worth was so deeply connected to my level of output, all the “self-care” in the world wasn’t making a dent in the stress that had been piling up around me for years. That’s when I realized that it was my idea and understanding of self-care itself that needed some work.

On a recent episode of the podcast, “The Nod,” lifestyle writer (and SELF columnist) Rachel Wilkerson Miller talked about her disconnect with the idea of self-care. She said that if the concept of “self-care” doesn’t resonate with you, think instead about how you can better show up for yourself. It finally clicked: How could I possibly show up for myself if I was stressed, irritable, and overall feeling yucky? How could I show up for the most important people in my life if I felt this way? I realized that feeling better wasn’t about adding more self-care activities to my routine, it was about changing my fundamental understanding of what it means to show up for me.

The first thing I did was remove “hustle” and “grind” from my vocabulary. I set aside more time to be alone, limiting social engagements to just a few events per month as a way to recharge. I used sleep to give my body and mind a physical break, often incorporating naps, especially on the weekends. When I felt like running I would, but if my body told me I needed to rest, I would honor that inner wisdom too.

I could still commit to working hard and occasionally putting in extra hours if I needed to, but I also needed to release the guilt that often plagued me when I needed to rest. I continuously repeated to myself that the art of self-care is simply reminding ourselves over and over again that life doesn’t need to be all or nothing, and in the words of Wilkerson Miller, it’s about assessing how you feel, understanding what you need in that moment to feel better (or to not feel worse). It’s finding the delicate balance of existing in a world that often forces you to choose between a congratulatory slap on the back from your company’s CEO for working on the weekends and following your own bodily signals that serve as warning signs that you’ve stretched yourself too thin.

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) legitimized burnout making it an official medical diagnosis affirming what many of us had already been experiencing for years. Between the costs of paying rent or a mortgage, food, and clothes, not to mention pesky student debt, caring for aging parents, and family planning, this generation might make its mark in history as the age of “get rich or die trying.”

For me, I’ve finally realized how easy it is to fall into the hustle culture trap and what I have to do to avoid it. I know now that no success is worth going without sleep and drinking five cups of coffee a day just to make it through a never ending to-do list. I can still work hard, achieve success, and make money without sacrificing my health and wellbeing.

Nowadays I work hard, but relax even harder. When I rise, my goal is to be productive but also to stop when I’m ready to stop, even if the work isn’t technically done. (Let’s be honest, when is work ever done?). Planning, consistency, and sustainability aren’t as sexy and social media-friendly as “rise and grind,” but that’s fine with me. Letting go of hustle culture means letting go of what’s cachet to focus on what I need to be well.

Toni Carey is the co-founder of Black Girls RUN!, a writer and an all-around creative. She’s been internationally recognized and was named one of the 50 most influential people in running. In addition to working in public health, she collaborates with health and fitness companies to solve some of their most important challenges. You can find her teaching yoga and walking her dogs in, and around Washington, D.C. Learn more about her at www.tonicarey.com.

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More electronic device use tied to more sugar and caffeine in teens

Do young teens who spend more time with TV and electronic devices drink more sugared or caffeinated drinks than others? Yes, they do, says a study of U.S. teens led by McMaster University researchers.

It is a concern because many exceed recommended levels of both sugar and caffeine, says pediatrician Dr. Katherine Morrison, who led the research together with colleagues at McMaster and California State University — Fullerton.

“There is a trend towards reduced energy drink and soda consumption between 2013 and 2016 which is our latest data, but greater electronic device use, particularly TV, is linked to more consumption of added sugar and caffeine among adolescents,” she said.

“Addressing this through counseling or health promotion could potentially help.”

Morrison is a professor of pediatrics at McMaster, co-director of its Centre for Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research, and a pediatric endocrinologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks are linked to obesity, diabetes, dental cavities and poor sleep. Excess caffeine, as found in energy drinks, is associated with headaches, higher blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and chest pain as well as poor sleep. Consequently, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society urge physicians to educate youth and families about the risks, and to recommend against these drinks.

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, found that more than 27 per cent of teens exceed recommended sugar intake and 21 per cent exceed recommended caffeine from soda and energy drinks. Males consumed more sodas and energy drinks than females, and youth in Grade 8 consumed more than those in Grade 10.

Distracted eating has been found to be linked to adults watching TV alone, so the research team looked at information on 32,418 students in Grades 8 and 10 from a national, repeated U.S. study called Monitoring the Future Survey.

The researchers found that despite the trend towards total reduced soda and energy drink intake between 2013 and 2016, it was evident that greater use of electronic devices, particularly TV, was linked to higher consumption of both.

An additional hour per day of TV was linked to a 32 per cent higher risk of exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for sugar. Each hour more per day of TV was also linked to a 28 per cent increased risk of exceeding WHO caffeine recommendations.

Each hour per day of talking on a mobile phone or using social media was also associated with increased risk of exceeding both added sugar and caffeine recommendations.

The researchers were surprised to find video game use was only weakly linked to more caffeine consumption.

“Given the marketing campaigns that target video gamers, we expected a particularly strong association between caffeine intake from energy drinks or sodas with video game use, but TV was linked more strongly,” said Morrison.

However, using a computer for school was linked to a lower likelihood of exceeding sugar consumption cut-offs.

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Materials provided by McMaster University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

College leadership training programs assessed

How effective are college programs designed to train the next generation of leaders?

A new study from psychologists at Rice University found they teach students about leadership, but additional measures are needed to evaluate how they impact students’ real-life leadership skills.

“The state of higher education leadership development program evaluation: A meta-analysis, critical review and recommendations” will appear in an upcoming edition of The Leadership Quarterly. The study evaluates literature from 1951 to 2018 about leadership development programs, focusing on higher education programs for students. It also examines current evaluation methods used by these programs.

“We were particularly interested in higher education programs because so many universities offer some form of leadership development for their students,” said Denise Reyes, a graduate student in Rice’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the study’s lead author. “Also, the student population is unique in that many students have little to no previous leadership experience, so we wanted to know what specific design and delivery methods were best suited for developing leaders at this stage.”

The researchers said their analysis suggests students learn quite a lot from those programs, with students showing a 19% increase in knowledge about leadership topics. The analysis also showed students who participated in these programs were better leaders in real life.

But the analysis also revealed that the evaluation process for leadership development programs is oftentimes lacking. The problem is that the assessment of what most students learn and the real-life impact of their training comes from self-reporting rather than a test of actual knowledge, the researchers said.

The researchers plan to do further research on design, delivery and implementation elements needed for leadership development programs. They hope the study will improve those programs in higher education.

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Materials provided by Rice University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Tradeoffs between commute time, safety

Urban commuters may be less likely to encounter automobile accidents if they are willing to increase trip time, researchers report. A new study from the University of Illinois introduces a tool that helps quantify the connection between traffic accidents and city road networks.

The study, published in the journal Transportation Research Part C, used traffic speed, accident count, and trip origin and destination data collected from New York City taxi services and police reports to build a routing algorithm.

“Zipcars, rideshares — and eventually autonomous vehicles — have led to a huge disruption in transportation,” said Richard Sowers, a professor of mathematics and industrial and enterprise systems engineering and lead author of the study. “We identified a need for a tool that could help city planners, insurers and researchers communicate best practices for traffic-routing problems in different cities — from a safety perspective.”

For this work, the researchers define safety as the number of accidents per mile.

The team approached this issue as a routing problem, Sowers said. “The data shows that the shortest routes between two points, distancewise, often have the most automobile accidents,” he said. “Our algorithm works like a tuning parameter between the number of accidents and trip time to produce a mathematical function, or curve, which visually captures this tradeoff.”

For example, the study showed that a Manhattan commuter willing to increase trip time by about 15% during the evening or morning rush hour might reduce the number of accidents they encounter on their route by up to 18%.

The researchers said the algorithm does not predict the likelihood of accidents and is not something that they foresee being useful as a travel application for average users. Instead, it presents historical data that can be used as a comparative tool by those who study urban traffic patterns.

The researchers hope to partner with others who have similar data sets from a range of cities.

“One possible source of data could be the rideshare, taxi and autonomous vehicle services,” Sowers said. “As cities continue to face the challenges of extra congestion caused by these services, they may choose to introduce new rules requiring these companies to share data in exchange for their use of their roads.”

Other factors contribute to safety in addition to the number of accidents, Sowers said.

“Future studies could look at things like how many billboards are on the side of the road and the distraction they cause,” he said. “For now, at this early stage of our research, we feel that observing the number of accidents addresses the most immediate and socially important concern.”

How to Find a Therapist, According to People Who Have Been There

I have a confession: As someone whose job involves espousing the benefits of therapy and encouraging people to seek mental health treatment when they need it, I have considered giving up on trying to find a therapist multiple times in the past couple of months. Last year, my long-term therapist abruptly resigned, and it was only recently that I decided to get back on the horse and find their replacement. Because, well, finding a therapist can be hard work that requires a lot of trial and error. Frankly, for a while, I didn’t want to put in the effort.

Now that I’m in the throes of my therapist search, I remember quite clearly why I put it off for so long in the first place. Between navigating insurance and schedules and finding someone who is actually a good match, trying to lock down a mental health professional can feel frustratingly like dating. And I hate dating.

All of that said, I’m currently seeing a therapist I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about. And I can confirm: Despite the trials and tribulations of the search, it’s typically worth it in the end.

I’m far from the only one whose therapy journey has had some ups and downs. I asked people how they found a therapist they loved, and their responses show that there’s no right method or timeline. If you’re feeling discouraged or tired as you seek help, let these success stories serve as a reminder that everyone’s road to The Right Therapist is different.

1. “I wanted to break up with her for at least the first four sessions.”

“I found my therapist through my insurance and wanted to break up with her for at least the first four sessions because I didn’t feel the chemistry. I couldn’t get up the nerve, so I kept going. I’m really glad I did! I needed a therapist, not a friend. A lot of people say that the right therapist is a gut feeling, but I’ve realized that for me personally, it’s going to take a while to warm up no matter what. If I hadn’t stuck it out, I probably would’ve gotten stuck in a cycle of dumping therapists before I had really given them a chance.” —Maria C., 25, Fort Collins, CO

2. “He was the complete opposite of what I was used to.”

“When I was getting my master’s degree, I struck out on therapists at my school’s counseling center twice and wasn’t able to fit group therapy into my schedule. After a traumatic event, my psychiatrist had me book a new therapist. He was the complete opposite of what I was used to. Previously, I had my most helpful therapeutic experiences with cisgender women who happened to be devout Protestants. I also later had a Protestant cis male therapist who introduced me to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) work that was very helpful at the time.

This new therapist was cis male, Jewish, and was actually trained in sports psychology. He told me his modality was Constructivist, which I had never even heard of before. He also did not have extensive trauma training as some of my other therapists did. I did not have high hopes that it would be a good therapeutic relationship.

I wound up seeing him almost weekly for two and a half years. He will always be my standard of what a therapeutic relationship can become with time, trust, and incredible work by both parties. I discovered that while certain modalities have been more effective than others for me, it really is the quality of the therapeutic relationship that makes therapy most effective. I’m so grateful that the third time was the charm.” —Teresa P., 35, Houston

3. “It took me months of research to find a place I liked.”

“I’m on my third therapist. The first one broke up with me to become a life guru, the second one I had to stop seeing when my insurance changed after an acquisition. It took me months of research to find a place I liked and weeks after that to actually get the nerve together to contact someone. I found a practice, and the person they paired me with is truly amazing. I feel so understood in a way I didn’t with my other two (older) therapists. Working in tech and being so online, neither of my other therapists got that. My therapist now really encourages me to work through all of my online stuff with her, and it’s been life-changing.” —Amanda B., 33, New York City

4. “She was willing to lower her rate to treat me.”

“I met my therapist through a consciousness workshop. We worked together off and on in that capacity, with me going to workshops and then helping facilitate as a volunteer. Then my life hit the skids (had an injury, had to take off work, got depressed) and I asked if she would be my therapist. She’s actually in Northern California and me in Southern, so we do our sessions by phone. It’s worked splendidly for more than 15 years.

I dip in and out—I might not need help for a year or two, so we talk for anywhere from six months to two years, and then I take a few months or a year or two off. What’s really amazing is that my insurance doesn’t cover her, and she was willing to lower her rate to treat me. All I had to do was ask. She lowered it by a good 40 percent.” —Christina G., 47, Los Angeles

5. “It took a few years of on and off searching’”

“I found a great therapist after a few years of on and off searching. After my first session she said, ‘Did I invite you to my group session?’ and I then did six weeks of group therapy with six other women to learn how to build better boundaries. Group was great because it was like a fast track therapy session on a cheaper scale. Now I go once a month to individual sessions. If you like and trust the therapist, never discount group sessions!” —L.S., 26, Salt Lake City

6. “I took a strategic approach to my therapy search.”

“I took a strategic approach to my therapy search. What I looked for in a therapist: early hours, geographically desirable, sense of humor (I crack a lot of jokes), someone who would talk to me and share experiences rather than just listen, someone young enough to understand the pressures of working in digital, but also not so young that they thought I was cool.

What I love about my therapist: He’s all of the above, he has given me helpful exercises, he is open if and when he’s had similar struggles, and he’s a block away from my apartment.” —Lynae C., 30, Los Angeles

7. “Something about her website was just warm and friendly to me.”

“I was one of the lucky ones. I opened up Psychology Today, plugged in my insurance and location, and found my dream therapist on the first page. Something about her website was just warm and friendly to me, so I felt like we’d get along. And we did! I was instantly at ease, even though I heard intake could be uncomfortable and awkward. She’s really created a safe space for me.” —Sasha R., 29, Portland, OR

8. “She’s digging deeper to help me better understand myself.”

“I’d been seeing my original therapist for about a year before she informed me she was moving out of state. I asked if she had any recommendations and that I wanted a Black woman because I needed someone who would get me and Black cultural references because of shared experiences.

Whereas I spent most of my time talking about my professional ambitions with the original therapist, my current therapist got straight into the heart of matters, immediately asking me insightful questions about my family. That uncovered a lot of hurt I didn’t realize I’d been covering up and holding on to all these years. I started therapy with the goal of navigating a toxic workplace and undoing cycles of not being kind to myself, but my current therapist has taken it a step further by digging deeper to help me better understand myself.” —L’Oreal P., 31, Chicago

9. “Her compassion made me feel truly cared for.”

“Before I moved from D.C. to New York City, I thought I was a pro at finding therapists, but New York is a unique beast. Therapy here is expensive, and the affordable therapists are in high demand. It took me about three months to find a few decent options. The first therapist I tried was a complete bust, but the second? I hit the jackpot. Within a couple of visits, I realized she was just right for me. She had an unstructured style that helped me when I was being stubborn and compassion that made me feel truly cared for.

I continued to see that therapist for four years. Then a series of traumatic events landed me in a psychiatric unit. After I got out, I had a candid conversation with her about whether I was getting the help I needed from her, and she was honest about her methods not being the right fit for my circumstances. She referred me to a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) practitioner. My DBT therapist has proven to be the right fit at the right time, and my quality of life has never been better.” —Meghan W., 32, New York City

10. “She makes me feel like my feelings are valid.”

“Before finding my current therapist, I had two run-ins with therapy that didn’t stick. I made some half-hearted attempts to find a therapist in New York City but was never motivated enough to fight my way off of anyone’s waitlist. It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina last year at age 30 that I finally decided to get serious about seeing someone.

I looked on Psychology Today for therapists in my area who identified as female (as I do), specialized in anxiety, relationship issues, and body image issues, identified as LGBTQ+-friendly (I’m cisgender and relatively straight, but I wanted someone progressive and inclusive, so this seemed like important criteria), and was within a 15-minute drive from me because I didn’t want therapy to add stress. I ended up getting an appointment with the first therapist I called and liking her.

One thing worth pointing out that I didn’t really notice until a few sessions in is that my therapist…kind of looks like me? I haven’t brought this up with her, and I’m not sure if it’s common or not, but it intuitively makes sense that I’d feel most comfortable with someone I perceive as being similar to me.

Anyway, I’m 10 months in, and it’s so much better than I even imagined. What’s been most helpful to me is that I’ll tell her something I think is weird or bad or shameful, and she’ll just nod and ask me to keep talking about it. Talking about things I’m usually afraid to talk about and having someone listen without any kind of judgment really normalizes those things. It’s not even about what she says, just the fact that she listens and makes me feel like my feelings are valid.” —Christine B., 31, Durham, NC

11. “She took it upon herself to research my Indian culture.”

“I’m from India, and I moved to New York City in 2017 for college. Before that, I had been living with undiagnosed depression and anxiety ever since I was a child. There was so much stigma and lack of information surrounding these issues that I had nowhere to look for help. Things got tough in my first semester, and I reached out to my school’s medical center for free counseling. That’s where I met my therapist. I often hear people talk about how hard it is to click with a therapist on the first go, but it really did work for me. She had the task of understanding pieces of my life in India which were very culturally different than the United States. She was so receptive and took it on herself to do that research.” —S. S., 19, New York City

12. “She practices outside the normal realm of therapy.”

“I found my therapist when I was in my junior year of college. I was going to my ob/gyn for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and she gave me a business card for a therapist. I knew just by looking at it that she was the person I was looking for. The card itself was colorful, with soft, blended rainbow colors. Also, her name was gender-neutral, which I only realized later makes me more comfortable with people, probably because I’m not cis myself. It was like I had an intuitive sense that we’d click. That happens to me sometimes. I just feel it. So I went to see her.

She practices outside the normal realm of therapy, at least that I’ve experienced. She’ll tell me about things she’s learned from her own wisdom teachers. We’ve talked about spiritual stuff and the universe. She practices Reiki, and I got my first Reiki treatment from her. We’ve used crystals, animal medicine cards, and other things that have helped me understand whatever it is I’m struggling with at the time. She’s never once imposed an answer on me that pushes me in a specific direction. She offers neutral advice and supports me in whichever way I choose to go.” —Sarah W., 27, Raynham, MA

13. “She taught me how to mourn lost relationships.”

“I found a therapist after having a meltdown that consisted of work drama, family drama, and relationship drama all entering my life around the same time. I thought I wanted to die. My therapist had a three-month waiting list. I know not everyone has the luxury to wait, and those three months did suck. But in my depressive state, calling around and finding someone else who felt right and didn’t have a long wait seemed impossible. So I waited, and it was worth it. She taught me how to mourn lost relationships the same way I would deaths and move forward.” —Tory F., 26, Columbus, OH

Quotes have been edited and condensed.

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9 Organizations Working Against Black Maternal Mortality

My assignment for this story was originally to highlight people who have dedicated themselves to combating the black maternal mortality crisis. But the more I spoke to those very people, the more I saw one major thread: Individuals doing this life-saving work are much more interested in shining a spotlight on the organizations they’ve founded and partnered with rather than just talking about themselves.

These groups—and the people behind them—are crucial in helping to inform systemic changes like legislation and hospital policies, but in many ways, they’re also committed to making sure black parents and children can live their fullest, healthiest lives long after childbirth.

A lot of the conversation surrounding the fact that black moms are dying at over three times the rate of white ones focuses on getting a new parent and their baby home from the hospital in good health. This is just one piece of the puzzle. Ensuring adequate, supportive, and culturally competent care from conception to far past the postpartum period is crucial.

“Nothing is happening in a vacuum,” Carmen Mojica, a doula and community health worker in the Bronx, tells SELF. “We might think giving a mother a midwife is effective, but if she can’t get to that midwife and her housing is unstable and she’s worried about her job and she wants to breastfeed but her job isn’t supportive? Making sure that she’s alive is the bare minimum.”

That reality is incredibly frustrating. And it can feel at times like there is so much to do, so much to fix, and so many unanswered questions when it comes to racial disparities in maternal care. All of that is true, but it’s also true that there are several organizations that are currently and consistently doing the hard work of pushing for holistic solutions. If you’re looking for a place to get information, get help, or get involved, here are nine organizations on the frontlines of this fight:

1. The National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC)

The NBEC is focused on overhauling the systems and structures that contribute to maternal deaths. “We’re not blaming moms or blaming women,” ob/gyn Joia Crear-Perry, M.D., founder and president of the NBEC, tells SELF. Instead, the NBEC is analyzing which large-scale issues are at the crux of black maternal mortality, then addressing them.

For instance, the NBEC provides racial equity training sessions to reduce implicit bias—a known factor that can cloud medical providers’ judgment when dealing with black pregnant and postpartum people. The NBEC also provides training and assistance for other organizations working on black maternal mortality. And to make sure these kinds of solutions will actually work, Dr. Crear-Perry is invested in gathering more comprehensive data not just on maternal deaths, but also on birth outcomes, trauma, and health in the postpartum period.

“We have not done a good job of counting,” says Dr. Crear-Perry, who is also a fellow of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Some of the solutions require us to [research] and get the real circumstances of people’s lives.”

As an example, Dr. Crear-Perry cites a 2016 American Journal of Public Health study analyzing the cases of 85 people who died during or within a year of pregnancy between the years 2010 and 2014 in Philadelphia. Just over half the deaths happened because of medical complications, and of those, most were due to cardiovascular issues—“one of those things you assume happens in pregnancy and you can’t control,” Dr. Crear-Perry says. But there were so many other causes of death that told a different story. After medical complications, unintentional injury was the next biggest cause of death, with people who died of drug overdoses making up the biggest portion of those cases. Substance use was associated in some way with 46 percent of the non-overdose deaths. And even beyond the three people who died by suicide, 39 percent of the people who died had a history of serious mental illness.

This all points to why there needs to be systemic change in how this country treats not only pregnant people but also new mothers, Dr. Crear-Perry says. “We don’t have paid leave in the United States, we don’t have free childcare, and those are structural choices,” she says. So is the glaring lack of affordable, accessible, good treatment and support for substance use disorders and mental health conditions. It’s all connected when it comes to saving black moms.

Learn more about the National Birth Equity Collaborative.

2. Sista Midwife Productions and the Sista Midwife Directory

Certified nurse-midwife Nicole Deggins, the founder of Sista Midwife Productions, originally wanted to become an orthopedist. Then she spent time in the labor and delivery ward while working towards her Master’s of Science in Nursing. There, she saw what she viewed as a largely untapped opportunity to connect with patients in a deeper way, Deggins, who also has a Master’s in Public Health, tells SELF. She immediately realized that she wanted to do birth work, so she pivoted to midwifery. (Quick note: There are various levels of midwife certification, but in general, a midwife is a birth worker with medical training, and a doula is a birth worker who focuses on non-clinical emotional support and advocacy.)

While working in this sphere, Deggins met Shafia Monroe, who founded the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC) to boost the prevalence of midwives and doulas of color and bring down pregnancy-related deaths.

“Connecting with Mama Shafia gave me an opportunity to learn more about the legacy of black midwives and doing community birth work,” Deggins tells SELF. “I decided to start Sista Midwife Productions as an organization to reach families and do childbirth education.”

Deggins offers online and in-person doula training along with community events for people to learn about pregnancy, birth, and more. She also started the Sista Midwife Directory, which lists black midwives, doulas, lactation specialists and more by their geographic location. She says, “[I’ve seen] so many emails and Facebook posts and Twitter posts saying, ‘Hey, is there a black midwife in this city? A black doula?’” Black birth workers can add their information to this database for free.

“There are multiple pieces of the solution, and one small sliver of the pie is having providers that look like you,” Deggins says.

Learn more about Sista Midwife Productions and the Sista Midwife Directory.

3. Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA)

BMMA developed out of a partnership between the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The alliance helps advocate for better legislation to reduce black maternal mortality, highlights necessary areas of research, and spreads information about the social determinants of health that influence outcomes like traumatic birth or maternal and infant mortality. To bolster its efforts, BMMA created an impressively robust toolkit that offers a thorough exploration of factors contributing to black maternal health outcomes along with potential solutions.

The organization also urges legislators and health care providers to center the work of community groups both historically and today.

“There’s almost a complete erasure of black folks who have been doing this work around maternity care for a very long time,” Angela Doyinsola Aina, M.P.H., BMMA co-director, tells SELF. “[That is why] we even came about as an alliance—really wanting to uplift the community-based ways of doing things as it relates to our health.”

Similar to other leaders in this movement, Doyinsola Aina is adamant about where the culpability behind black maternal mortality really lies. “We should always raise that these issues are not about individual blame,” Doyinsola Aina stresses. “It’s the failure of our systems, our environment, our political landscape over the course of 30-plus years. We need to be moving forward and opening up doors of opportunity, resources, and support for those that do this work on the day-to-day basis at the community level.”

Learn more about the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.

4. MomsRising

MomsRising is a nonpartisan organization pushing for cultural and legislative change around various pressing issues, like gun safety, paid family leave, and maternal justice. MomsRising members serve on state maternal mortality review committees, partner with legislators on local and state policies, and call, visit, and write to elected leaders, among other ventures.

“We are working on access to birthing professionals outside of doctors [and] pushing to open up reimbursements so women can use midwives and doulas,” Monifa Bandele, the organization’s vice president and chief partnership and equity officer, tells SELF. As Bandele notes, Medicaid covers nearly half of birthing payments in the United States, meaning that a lot of people giving birth don’t have the luxury of seeking out and paying for the birthing care of their choosing.

MomsRising members also share important and relevant stories at town halls and rallies. Bandele says that this can make a tremendous difference when it comes to spreading awareness and pushing for legislation. We’ve definitely seen this with high-profile women like Serena Williams and Beyoncé publicly discussing their pregnancy and childbirth complications—those stories can reach millions of people who might not know about racial disparities in maternal outcomes.

“People say: ‘Black women are dying because they are not healthy, they don’t know where to go, what to do, what to ask for,” Bandele says. But, as she points out, health care providers ignored even Serena Williams when she tried to advocate for herself, leading Bandele to ask the all-important question: “What’s actually happening in the health care system?”

Learn more about MomsRising.

5. The Shades of Blue Project

When Kay Matthews delivered her daughter stillborn in 2013, she desperately needed support for her mental health. Now, through her Houston-based organization The Shades of Blue Project, she’s helping other new parents in her community get connections to social services, receive referrals for mental health care, and access a support group she runs.

“We help women before, during, and after childbirth, and our focus is maternal mental health in underserved communities,” Matthews tells SELF.

Since journaling as a healing method is a big component of The Shades of Blue Project, Matthews designed a structured journal with prompts relating to mental health. She also runs quarterly programs where eight to 10 parents meet each week to complete journal exercises and talk about what’s worrying them. (Matthews hopes to license this journal program so it can be used by other organizations across the country.) Sometimes she even brings in experts for sessions on topics like sleep or cooking demos. Ultimately, the program’s goal is to build an understanding, supportive community for new parents.

“You’re making a commitment to your mental health, which will be put onto the back burner” as a pregnant person and new parent, she says. “We build off the relationship that women come in needing. They become friends … They are connected to each other.”

Learn more about The Shades of Blue Project.

6. The Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute

Ob/gyn Elizabeth Howell, M.D., is the director of the Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she publishes copious research on motherhood. Dr. Howell, who also has a Master’s in Public Policy, co-authored research on how black and Hispanic women are more likely to report postpartum depression symptoms, why many moms don’t feel prepared for emotional or physical postpartum issues, and how life-threatening maternal complications occur more frequently among black women than their white counterparts, to name a few topics.

“We’ve done a lot of work to look at how quality of care affects severe maternal morbidity,” Dr. Howell says. (This means receiving a possibly life-threatening diagnosis or needing a life-saving procedure during or soon after pregnancy.) One key recent finding: Black birthing folks are more likely to give birth in certain hospitals, and these hospitals have higher rates of severe maternal morbidity overall.

For Dr. Howell, the next question is what is going on at those hospitals to cause these outcomes, whether it’s the volume of patients, percent of patients on Medicaid, the use (or not) of evidence-based practices, communication, all of the above, or other factors, too.

More research is necessary to know for sure. In the meantime, Dr. Howell recommends a slate of strategies for tackling poor maternal health: implicit bias training for medical personnel, gathering more data, bringing more community health workers into the conversation, and standardizing best practices. She also stresses the importance of high-quality and accessible postpartum care.

“Women need to know they need to come back for care, and we need to put things in place to help them to do so,” she says. “This is a care continuum, not just labor and delivery.”

Learn more about the Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute.

7. The Black Maternal Health Caucus

Congresswomen Alma Adams and Lauren Underwood founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus (BMHC) in April 2019 to improve health outcomes for black pregnant and postpartum people. According to a press release from Adams’ office, the caucus “aims to raise awareness within Congress to establish black maternal health as a national priority and explore and advocate for effective, evidence-based, culturally-competent policies and best practices for health outcomes for black mothers.”

The caucus is in its early stages, but several politicians (including 2020 presidential hopefuls) have stated their support. On July 12, the caucus held a stakeholder summit where 32 different organizations focused on black maternal health convened to discuss their recommendations.

“We have so much work to do to solve this crisis and I’m thrilled so many thoughtful leaders and advocates are engaged, willing, and ready to join the Caucus in this charge,” Congresswoman Underwood said in a press release.

8. Mama Glow

After Latham Thomas safely, joyfully gave birth to her son in 2003, she remembers thinking, I have to protect this experience for women. No one told me it could be like this. She wanted all people giving birth to have access to the same experience, she tells SELF.

As a result, Thomas launched Mama Glow, a resource to share information for would-be moms. She also became a doula, and Mama Glow now has a doula immersion program to help train new birth workers. The training focuses on how doulas can work within the existing medical system to help their clients advocate for themselves, ask questions, and seek support.

“When we look at all this, I see it as an atrocity,” Thomas says. “Women need to feel empowered, not impaired to act. My biggest piece of advice to them: This is a really joyful time. It’s an empowering time, it’s a transformative time. Lead with that energy and be prepared for all outcomes, but we don’t want to get paralyzed in the fear of what we read every day.”

Learn more about Mama Glow.

9. Sésé Doula Services

Nicole JeanBaptiste is more than a trained lactation consultant and doula who learned with Ancient Song Doula Services and now owns Sésé Doula Services in the Bronx. (“Sésé” translates into “sister” in St. Lucian Creole, the site says.) She’s also an oral historian with a Master’s degree in the subject from Columbia University. Alongside her birth work, JeanBaptiste is gathering stories about birth work and birthing from black and Native women to provide historical context and help us understand how we got to this point in maternal care.

“Traditionally, the practice of childbirth in this country was led by black midwives,” JeanBaptiste tells SELF, along with Indigenous midwives as well. “My hunch was that, as a result of what became a smear campaign against traditional and lay midwives … we started to lose lots of the traditions that were held for so long.”

According to JeanBaptiste, birth workers from older generations have invaluable knowledge to share about community traditions (like elders talking to younger people about what to expect during childbirth), birthing practices (like how to potentially deliver a breech baby vaginally), and how changes in this landscape may affect maternal mortality and morbidity now that we have more medical knowledge than ever before.

“The feedback [from birth workers today] is that this story needs to be told,” she says. “They are ready. They have been waiting.”

Learn more about Sésé Doula Services.

This story is part of an ongoing series on Black Maternal Mortality. You can find the rest of the series here.

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Escapism: A powerful predictor of internet gaming disorder among video gamers

A new study in Comprehensive Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, is the first to compare professional electronic sport (esport) players with recreational video game players and explores the similarities and differences between what motivates each group. While the two groups are psychosocially different, they found that both esport and recreational gamers run the risk of developing internet gaming disorder when their intense immersion in the activity is tied to escapism.

“Previous research has linked escapism to psychiatric distress and gaming disorder in recreational gamers. While esport gamers have many positive motivators like skill development, our study found that excessive immersion by some individuals can indicate mental health issues,” explained investigator Zsolt Demetrovics, PhD, Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.

Internet gaming disorder (IGD) is described by leading classification manuals (DSM-5 and ICD-11) as severe behavior patterns that significantly impair personal, family, social, educational, and occupational functioning. Although the condition affects only a minority of gamers, it is associated with depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. Gaming motivations have also been found to predict gaming disorder, especially the incidence of escapism when gamers play video games to avoid real life problems.

The present study demonstrated a number of novel findings which can help move the field forward and suggests a number of practical and policy implications.

The investigators surveyed close to 4,300 recreational and esport gamers to gather data about game time, gaming motivations, presence and severity of gaming disorder, and psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, the mediating effect of gaming motivations among esport and recreational gamers between psychiatric distress and problematic gaming was examined.

Their findings revealed that esport gamers spent significantly more time playing video games both on weekdays and weekends than recreational gamers. Esport gamers scored higher on social, competition, and skill development gaming motivations than recreational gamers. In both groups, escapism appeared to be the common predictor of gaming disorder. In the esport group, escapism was the only motivation that had mediating effect, while in the recreational group, competition, fantasy, and coping also showed weak or even negative association with gaming disorder.

The way in which both esport gamers and recreational gamers escape from reality into virtual worlds may be the result of different mechanisms and psychological backgrounds. In some pro players mental health status (stress level, psychosocial well-being, self-esteem) can modify the effect of escapism in the development of gaming disorder.

“Escapism can cause negative outcomes and interfere with an esport gamer’s career just like any sportsman’s career could end with a physical injury or trauma,” noted Professor Demetrovics. “Future studies should focus on exploring escapism’s mechanism in different subgroups of gamers in relation to problematic gaming to help the development of prevention, intervention, and treatment programs. Recognizing their risks can lead to increased support methods, such as mental training, optimal self-esteem, and adaptive coping strategies for competitive situations.”

Further, the results suggest that some esport players might be addicted to gaming like professional poker players being addicted to gambling or professional athletes being addicted to exercise.

The results of this study have implications for esports governing bodies. The investigators contend that there is arguably a duty of care for professional esport bodies to ensure that the individuals who engage in the sport, and subsequently develop problems, get help, support, and treatment if they need it. “While esports bodies like the Electronic Sports League have developed rigorous guidelines around the use of performance enhancing drugs, based on our findings they should also develop a code of conduct that includes guidance and diagnostic checklists concerning problematic gaming and gaming disorder,” advised Professor Demetrovics.

The number of competitive gamers playing professionally has increased steadily since the early 2000s, and they are predominantly male. Esport gamers develop and train their mental and hand-eye coordination skills while using game-based information-communication technology. According to a recent online survey, esport is a popular career option among adolescents and young adults (below 24 years).

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Materials provided by Elsevier. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Rethinking the role of technology in the classroom

Preparing elementary school students for active citizenship in an increasingly digital world requires introducing them to the latest technologies, but engaging those same kids in the classroom and involving their parents and caregivers in the process is more than a matter of providing children with access to the latest electronic devices.

Tablets and laptops have their educational virtues, according to Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, but her research suggests they have limitations as well.

“You can’t simply throw technology at kids and expect positive outcomes,” says Ball, an expert in educational justice and school social work whose new study shows a decrease in academic motivation for students who participated in a technology-based intervention.

Students’ attitudes toward school, how they respond to the challenges of learning, their confidence about managing assignments and whether they work hard and try their best are all a part of academic motivation — or the degree to which a student cares about school.

Though several factors other than the presence or absence of tablets might influence that motivation, Ball says the results of her study point to the need for looking more closely at how technology fits into the early-learning environment.

“The critical piece for me is not about being anti-technology, but to emphasize that even with, or especially with, technology, schools must work on the interpersonal things that happen in schools,” she says. “Schools are communities and we should find ways to help teachers understand how technology plays into the classroom; help kids use it in ways that facilitates their learning; and then help parents understand how to work with their kids.”

Ball’s study, published in the journal Children & Schools, sought to close the broadband gap by giving tablets and home Wi-Fi to students in an urban New York State school district to see how it would affect classroom and parental engagement.

About one in three children from low-income families are without a high-speed internet connection at home, compared to higher-income families where one in 1,200 children are without such a connection.

Previous research has shown that relationship building between families and their children’s schools, known as family engagement, predicts strong student motivation.

“My focus is family engagement research, so I’m always interested in the ways that families engage with schools and how schools try to engage with families,” Ball says. “I’m also interested in changing classroom dynamics to help student-teacher relationships and positive youth development.”

Over the course of four months, Ball studied two fourth-grade and two fifth-grade classrooms. Each student had a tablet for use in the classroom, but students in a randomly selected class in each grade also received a take-home tablet and free broadband access at home. Teachers were interviewed about their students’ participation, and the students’ parents completed surveys.

Ball says this latest work is a pilot study that she hopes will help guide further research.

“These technology programs are being rolled out massively and the evidence on their effects is mixed,” says Ball. “Context plays a role, because teachers reported seeing more collaboration among the kids, so there is something that can be leveraged within the learning context to help kids benefit from these tools.

“We need to do more work to determine what that specifically might be.”

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Materials provided by University at Buffalo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

The spectrum of arrogance

On a first date, people focus on making a good first impression. But when someone brags about themselves constantly, that person is often exhibiting some level of arrogance.

Throughout history, cultures and academia have described arrogance in different ways, such as ancient mythology when King Xerxes’ fleet was ruined by his overconfident assessment of his force compared to the Greeks. Now, a team of psychology researchers at the University of Missouri is providing one of the first comprehensive literature reviews on arrogance, as well as a way to classify the condition on different levels across a spectrum, similarly to how autism is diagnosed. Nelson Cowan, a Curators Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, organized a team of graduate students and two postdoctoral fellows to complete this project, something he had been working on for his entire career.

“We were surprised at the limited amount of modern research we found on arrogance,” Cowan said of the group’s findings. “Furthermore, we found it didn’t all come from one specific area. So we created a one-stop resource to inspire further research, including, but not limited to, possible medical diagnoses of personality disorders.”

The team acknowledges everyone seems to have some degree of arrogance, so in addition to the literature review, the researchers suggest a way to classify the different levels of arrogance a person could exhibit. The team devised a system that identifies three types of arrogance:

  • Individual arrogance — an inflated opinion of one’s own abilities, traits or accomplishments compared to the truth.
  • Comparative arrogance — an inflated ranking of one’s own abilities, traits or accomplishments compared to other people.
  • Antagonistic arrogance — the denigration of others based on an assumption of superiority.

The three levels provide a foundation for how arrogance could be described in the future.

“Our system cannot offer a complete scientific understanding, rather it is intended to provide an analytical perspective on arrogance to help guide future psychological research,” Cowan said. “It could be applied to all types of relationships, such as interpersonal relationships, or even dialogues between nations and political groups.”

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Materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

I’m a Beauty Editor With Sensitive Skin and These Are the 11 Holy Grail Skin-Care Products I Use (Almost) Every Day

As SELF’s beauty editor, one big part of my job is testing out a ton of new, exciting products. As much as I enjoy that, though, I have to be careful. I’ve had sensitive skin for basically as long as I can remember and, when I developed rosacea in my early twenties, it just got even more reactive.

So, in order to do my job without constantly aggravating my skin, I have to take a few precautions. I know my skin’s major triggers and sensitivities, I read ingredients labels closely, I patch test new products before putting them on my face, and I’m careful to only add one new product to my routine at a time so I can monitor the way it’s affecting my skin.

But in the background I also make sure I stick to a solid, consistent routine made up of simple, gentle skin-care products to keep my sensitive skin as calm as possible. And, I make sure to keep an arsenal of calming, soothing, and moisturizing products just in case my skin decides to be difficult and flare up. (In the unfortunate event that does happen, I also make sure to be patient with my skin and hold off on adding anything new until it heals.)

Below is my exact everyday skin-care routine. Although it may change here and there as I swap in a weekly mask, acne treatment, or new product, this is what I always come back to because it does so much good for my skin. Of course, your mileage may vary with these products because everyone’s skin is different. But these are the ones I go back to over and over again because I know I can count on them to my skin at its healthiest every day.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.