Anti-Asian Discrimination and Stress

Unfortunately, Anti-Asian discrimination has become more prevalent, negatively affecting the wellbeing of many.

An unexpected outcome of COVID-19 has been increased Sinophobia and anti-Asian discrimination (Yan et al., 2022, p. 1). In their study, Yin et al. (2022) used a mixed-methods design to examine how 345 East-Asian American reacted to COVID-19-related microaggressions and how their reactions impacted stress and well-being. Asian Americans have been blamed by some for the broad dispersal of COVID-19. As a result of this stigmatization, Asian Americans have undergone personal fear, anxiety, and stress throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yan et al. (2022) attempted to better comprehend the forms of anti-Asian microaggressions with the use of first-person narratives (Yan et al., 2022, pp. 1–2). One goal of their study was to request discrimination narratives and to provide a safe space for Asian Americans who have undergone poor treatment. The minor act of sharing your story to others can have a healing power for those facing microaggressions and can restore a feeling of personal empowerment and self-esteem. The authors also took a deeper look at how Asian Americans deal with the influence of microaggressions on personal stress and psychological health.

Stigmatization may be understood through aggression and relational violence along with subtle microaggressions. Stigma and discrimination have been recognized as powerful stressors (Yan et al., 2022, p. 2). People who experience adversity take on strategies to cope with stressful circumstances. Coping comprises emotional regulation and problem management. When encountering a threat, individuals respond with engagement or disengagement coping approaches to reduce personal distress. Engagement coping is founded on the recognition that a microaggressive event has taken place after problem-solving approaches, positive cognitive reframing, and the pursuit of emotional support. Some strategies that demonstrate engagement coping include: (a) I would talk to this individual to try to clarify any misunderstandings and stereotypes, (b) I would have several positive thoughts about myself, (c) I would do all I could to prove to this individual that their discrimination was immoral, and (d) I would cope with their discrimination by mentioning something rude right back to them. In contrast, disengagement is founded upon problem avoidance, criticism of oneself, wishful thinking, and social withdrawal. Sample disengagement strategies include: (a) I plan to walk away from the circumstance and try to act as if nothing happened, (b) I will not say anything to the offender so as not to make the circumstance worse, and (c) I would just ignore the circumstance.

Resilience is founded on the notion that when facing adversity, persons either rebound or adapt. Resilience resources are believed to buffer acts of discrimination. An adverse, challenging circumstance is likely to result in stress that negatively impacts one’s ability to deal with and adapt to the situation, but resilience allows an individual to rebound from stress and come to notice that there are resources for coping with the problem. Social support is also a protective factor that allows an individual to buffer the negative impact of adversity. However, individuals who lack social support might feel helpless and might not have adequate coping resources. Sue et al. (2007, 2019, as cited in Yan et al., 2022) contended that microaggressions expressed against Asian Americans may make them feel alienated in their homeland, may pathologize their values and communication styles, and may make them feel like second-class citizens.

Yan et al. (2022) found that discrimination narratives uncovered how participants reacted to anti-Asian microaggressions. The open-ended responses paired with quantitative data brought light to the psychological effect of various coping methods. Asian Americans have been perceived as culturally compliant, harmony-based, and conformity-oriented (Yan et al., 2022, p. 7). Given these values of deference and harmony, the authors were surprised to see how several participants advocated open engagement with the aggressor as an approach for coping with microaggressions. For participants in this study, interacting with the aggressor had the consequence of more personal stress but also improved psychological health when measured up against pretending the problematic incident did not occur. Resilience and the availability of social support were significant factors playing a role in their willingness to approach the aggressor (p. 7).

Anti-Asian discrimination is not unique to America—the unfortunate truth is that many Canadians also know the harm and distress that comes from racism. If you’d like someone to talk to, please feel free to contact me at to book a free consultation.

Or book your intake session today at


Yan, X., Zhu, Y., Hussain, S. A., & Bresnahan, M. (2022). Anti-Asian microaggressions in the time of COVID-19: Impact on coping, stress, and well-being. Asian American Journal of Psychology. Advance online publication.