Emotional Strength and Mental Toughness of Arab American Immigrants
Moghitha Alkibsi / Arab America Contributing Writer
Our brains interact with our environment and are affected by external events. As we experience the COVID-19 crises, the CDC has declared depression and anxiety at the top of mental health issues suffered by many due to fear of being infected, losing loved ones, loss of jobs and businesses, being quarantined at home, loss of income, closure of many businesses and finally the fear of not finding medical services when we need them.
Americans and most of the population who live in the West, live a very comfortable life and are used to the availability of goods and services, and anything they need. People have become spoiled, wasteful, and not always tolerant of hardship and difficulties. They are often unable to bear the challenges that are considered everyday living for most of the human race on this planet.
Most people in the west are considered privileged by many folks on this planet. When faced with difficulties, they feel powerless and overwhelmed. They see trauma as the worst time of their lives. They often report to mental health clinicians in despair. They are unable to manage and create coping skills for themselves. Ultimately they suffer from depression and anxiety, and later develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which includes depression and anxiety, and will need to be medicated to be able to sleep and function normally.
Mental Toughness of Arab Immigrants
Going through this pandemic is very much like all the trauma and adversities we experienced as immigrants. Faced with many traumas such as losing our home country to displacement and migration from one country to another and the adjustment to a new country and new culture, just to name a few. September 11th was another challenge for us as Arabs and Muslims living in the West, which taught us to develop mental toughness and ‘thick skin’. I want to focus in this paper on mental toughness that one can develop as one goes through hardship, pain, and grief in addition to growing up in autocratic countries.
The American saying ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger’ applies to many of us as the Arab community. The above-mentioned tragedies, challenges, and adversities have taught us many lessons including mental toughness. Our children may have inherited some of our pains and challenges through storytelling and family discussions.
In addition to our traumas as a family, our community has been through the mills, as the saying goes. Having our different identities from religions and being Arabs west carry many implications and huge responsibilities and challenges, and these challenges force us to develop developed mental toughness. We have become accustomed to being inconvenienced and not having our needs met anytime we wished. We have become resilient and nothing seems to surprise us anymore. As an Arab Community, we are raised to follow orders and obey rules. We are raised on the virtue of patience and delayed gratification. We are raised on being grateful to God even in adversity. We are raised to see the home as a refuge, not as a prison. We are each other’s support system. If one of us is experiencing difficulty or pain, we are there for them. We resort to God and prayers for comfort and solace.
“insha’a Allah” – If God is Willing it Will Happen
Another important value stressed in our culture is not having a high expectations. The phrase “insha’a Allah” has taught us since childhood that if God is willing it will happen. This allows us to accept what may come without a great shock that leaves us powerless and helpless. This flexibility enables us to adapt to any roadblock we may stumble upon.
These values and experiences have kept our emotions intact. We can keep our sense of humor and see the positive angle to this calamity which the world is screaming about. We have chosen to seek and rely on God and keep a positive spirit. Positive thinking strengthens the immune system and increases energy.
Despite our values and skills, we must arm ourselves with coping skills and mental health recommendations in case this Pandemic is prolonged and becomes intolerable and overwhelming. Based on Cognitive Behavioral Theory, one must look at what is in her/his control. If we cannot control an event, we must try to learn from it and try to turn it to our benefit.
Also, Cognitive Behavioral Theory teaches us to change our faulty perceptions and how we see the world, and how we translate external information. We do have control over how we feel. As Abraham Lincoln said that “most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be”.
We must keep thinking positively. We must remember that every day we wake up in good health and good spirit, is considered a personal accomplishment and a gift from God. If we are still in good condition, write translates to the fact that we are successful in keeping ourselves safe.
There are also activities that we must do to change this pandemic lockdown to accomplish good deeds for our fellow humans. Philanthropy and kindness are therapeutic. Reading, walking, and eating healthy, as well as getting some sunshine in the mornings are strongly recommended.
Healthy practices include yoga and meditation. However, Prayers are our Meditation. We have to make sure that we are 100% focused on our prayers. This clears the mind and helps us be present. If we have presence and clarity, we are more relaxed and less anxious.
So even though our collective experiences have made us mentally and emotionally stronger and more resilient, we owe it to ourselves to maintain our mental health through awareness, gratitude, and a few activities to make us stronger.
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