Methods: We recruited a purposive sample (N = 22) who identified as women and people of color from a community-based sample of North Carolina residents. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted via zoom to gather relevant data on the experience of being an essential worker and to gather participants’ perspectives on coping and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were collected from August 2020-December 2020 and transcribed verbatim. Field notes were completed after each interview to include relevant contextual information. Transcripts were analyzed independently using qualitative content analysis and open coding to identify relevant codes and themes. Codes were compared for similarities and differences using constant comparison.
Results: We identified six themes that encapsulated these women’ coping experiences: spirituality (e.g., role of faith as a positive support), caregiving (e.g., increased stress from caring for family), social support (e.g., reconnecting with friends and family), eating behaviors (e.g., increase in snacking and late-night eating behaviors), managing racism (e.g., the role of racist events in coping), and managing COVID-19 fear and anxiety (e.g., uncertainty related to the pandemic increased stress).
Conclusion: Our findings suggest the experience of essential women of color in this sample was challenged by managing dual pandemics: racism and systemic oppression and COVID-19. Participants expressed the importance of spirituality and finding ways to stay connected to family and friends, while also reporting more negative coping related to increased eating that they labelled as unhealthy. Further, our findings help to shed light on the experiences of people of color who are essential workers, guide intervention development for this population, and inform policymakers of trends that may be important as we reflect on the lessons of the pandemic and prepare for similar situations in the future. Future research should focus on the development of culturally relevant tools of stress management to mitigate unwanted effects from pandemic-related stress and to continue to dismantle systems of oppression to improve general well-being for these workers and their families.