How Discrimination Harms Body, Mind, and Soul

Discrimination erodes human dignity, causing immense suffering. Zero Discrimination Day highlights prejudice based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. Statistics reveal widespread discrimination, especially against marginalized groups.

How Discrimination Harms Body, Mind, and Soul
A single hand reaching out towards another, a blurred person in the background.

The world spins a little grayer for those who are excluded; a little colder for those who are stigmatized. It's more than an uncomfortable feeling or a moment of social awkwardness – the absence of dignity, the feeling of not being fully seen or accepted as a human being, is a profound issue of wellness on par with physical illness.

“Imagine,” says Mónica González Contró, director of Mexico's UNAM Legal Research Institute, “that something about the way you look, who you love, or where you come from prevents you from exercising your basic rights. Think of the suffering caused.”

Suffering isn't too strong a word. González Contró points to chilling statistics showing elevated rates of discrimination towards minority groups. Consider the findings of Mexico's 2022 National Discrimination Survey, in which nearly 24% of the population admitted to being discriminated against within the past year due to factors ranging from skin tone to sexual orientation. Disturbingly, those numbers spike when we look at specific populations, such as domestic workers or the LGBTQ+ community.

When we allow discrimination to persist, we erode the promise made by the very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the universal and inherent dignity of every human being.

But how does this translate to wellness as we commonly understand it?

We think of wellness as eating right, exercising, and managing stress. Discrimination is a powerful stressor with far-reaching consequences. But is it merely another 'bad habit' we should try to manage away? González Contró says no, and her perspective is sobering.

“[Discrimination] can lead to death,” she emphasizes. Yes, death. Chronic denial of human dignity isn't just hurtful; it shortens lives and breaks spirits beyond repair. It is, at its heart, an absence of basic respect—a rejection so potent it undermines life itself.

We All Hold the Medicine

Hate crimes are the most visible face of this crisis—the horrific things splashed across headlines. But González Contró wants us to look closer to home for the cause and the remedy. “Zero Discrimination Day,” she reminds us, “is a call for self-examination.”

The uncomfortable truth is that discrimination doesn't exist only in extreme acts. It thrives in our daily interactions. The awkward looks on the metro. The off-color joke muttered in the breakroom. The assumptions about someone based on how they dress, speak, or the neighborhood they live in.

This might seem trivial, but it's these microaggressions that sustain a culture where exclusion seems normal, even justifiable. It's here, in the ordinary moments, that the wellness crisis unfolds. And curiously enough, it's precisely here that the most powerful healing can begin.

We're so used to thinking of wellness as about me: my diet, my sleep, my mindfulness. This article challenges us to think differently. What if wellness isn't just about me, but about we? What if genuine well-being means recognizing the shared humanity of every person we encounter? Here are some simple ways to start this practice right now:

  • See beyond labels: Imagine everyone you meet has a silent ticker-tape of vulnerabilities rolling above their head. Maybe that stressed-out person at the grocery store is dealing with a sick loved one. Perhaps the teen with the bold haircut feels isolated and misunderstood. Dignity means making space for the person beneath the surface.
  • Words have power: Do you unintentionally use language that belittles or excludes? It may be time to re-examine our casual vocabulary. This means avoiding slang or derogatory terms, even humorously intended ones.
  • Own your mistakes: We all stumble, but a commitment to dignity means acknowledging when we do so. A sincere, “Hey, I realize that wasn't okay, and I apologize,” is powerful medicine against a culture of exclusion.

Dignity is a different thing. It doesn't fit neatly into diet plans or meditation routines. But its importance to our well-being is undeniable. Let's champion a wellness revolution—one that heals not only individual bodies, but the social body, one act of respect at a time.

Discrimination Lurking in Your Yoga Class

Don't worry, this isn't about how you can't touch your toes just yet. And it's not another guilt trip about those three missed spin classes. Instead, we're going to dig into a less-talked-about type of wellness – the wellness of society and the ways hidden forms of exclusion and discrimination linger in the spaces we think are the most inclusive.

Picture this: you enter your favorite yoga studio, the one with the dreamy lighting and chilled-out music. On the wall are the usual feel-good phrases about “acceptance” and “equality”. But…are we really living those values?

Now, don't throw your yoga mat at me! It's not that your yoga teacher is a bad person. But bear with me while I introduce our resident expert on those pesky things called “fundamental guarantees”. Our specialist wisely points out that the law, while made to protect, can itself end up being the culprit of discrimination.

You see, it's all about words like “objective” and “reasonable”. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. When a law makes a distinction between people—say, who does and doesn't get a promotion based on irrelevant factors—that's where things get murky.

Especially, and this is important, when that discrimination has a history behind it. We're talking about women, indigenous folks, LGBTQ+ communities… the groups that have always had to fight harder just to be considered equal.

Our expert is refreshingly blunt: even well-intentioned anniversaries celebrating rights victories can be traps. When we just slap a happy face on past fights for equality, we forget that the job's not done.

It's like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Laws need to be living, breathing things, evolving just like society does! If we don't actively question laws…well, we're not really as “well” as we think.

Drilling Down to the Everyday

Okay, but what does this have to do with your downward dog, you ask? Let's look closer:

  • Sex Work Stigma: We live in a society that looks down on sex workers, but they are real people with real needs. Ignoring them in our quest for wellness means we're failing.
  • The Perfect Family? Not a thing. Yet, some laws still hang onto traditional ideas about what a family should be, excluding plenty of loving families in the process.
  • Parental Authority vs. Responsibility: Kids aren't property! Some countries are shifting to the idea of “parental responsibility”—it's a subtle, but crucial step in how we view kids as having, you know, rights.
  • Citizenship = Voting Rights? If you've lived in a country for years, but aren't a citizen, does that really mean you shouldn't have a say? This is where “wellness” gets political.

So, the next time you step on that yoga mat, maybe spare a thought not just for your tight hamstrings, but for the invisible boundaries of exclusion that might lurk in our laws and even our wellness spaces. Progress doesn't come from complacency. And if you're feeling really feisty – start a conversation in your studio, a book club, anywhere! Ask those tough questions, and let's keep moving towards a wellness that truly leaves nobody behind.

How Discrimination Erodes Our Well-Being

We live in a world that loves tidy wellness solutions. Drink this juice! Meditate for ten minutes! Journal your feelings into oblivion! But what if genuine wellness lies deeper than superfood smoothies and gratitude lists? What if a fundamental building block of true well-being hinges upon something as messy and complex as social justice?

We often think of discrimination in harsh terms – overt acts of cruelty. But what if its most insidious impacts don't always leave visible bruises? Modern concepts like affirmative action and intersectionality shine a troubling light on the ways discrimination subtly undermines well-being, operating far beneath the surface of conscious awareness.

Picture a woman, let's call her Ms. Spaceship. She's sharp, ambitious, a natural-born leader. Nevertheless, when she looks at the political landscape, what does she see? A sea of stuffy suits and a lingering sense that she's not quite supposed to be there, despite having every right. It's a subtle barrier – perhaps not even consciously imposed by others — but, as studies show, it's enough to subtly erode her confidence and sense of belonging.

This, in a nutshell, is the idea behind affirmative action. Equality in lawbooks doesn't always translate to equality in practice. Occasionally, that invisible pressure needs a counterforce, like quotas requiring a certain percentage of women in positions of power. It's controversial, sure, but it's intended to level out that subconscious playing field of expectations.

Of course, it's rarely as simple as one barrier. Enter intersectionality. Think of someone who is an indigenous migrant. They face bias not just on one count, but a compounding disadvantage born of prejudice against both aspects of their identity. These experiences pile on, subtly undermining self-esteem, access to resources, and ultimately, a sense of well-being in society.

Suddenly, the person begging for change on the street corner, the sex worker stigmatized and endangered, and even children (forever told they “don't understand” the adult world) start to fall under the insidious umbrella of discrimination too. Their experiences may look vastly different, but all operate to create a sense of being less-than, of constantly swimming upstream against a current invisible to those in the majority.

Not Your Typical Wellness Tips

It's tempting to think of discrimination in terms of fairness or morality. But what about the wellness angle? This constant invisible struggle isn't just unfair. It's exhausting. It chips away at mental health, creates a chronic sense of unease and distrust of the world, and can even have physiological impacts on stress levels. Truly inclusive wellness means not just addressing the individual with healthy habits, but creating a whole society where no one carries this invisible burden.

There's no five-step plan to undo systemic discrimination. But awareness is the first step. Next time you hear someone dismiss affirmative action or minimize another's experience, remember – wellness isn't always self-help. Sporadically, it's about showing up as an ally, demanding better for everyone, and recognizing that our health is intrinsically tied together.