Welcome to Thriving Mind, a resource to help you understand your individual signs of stress, take small steps to recharge, and unlock better mental health.
An African-American woman worries about her brother, husband, or son being stopped by the police. Or, for the millionth time, she is asked to explain her hairdo, while discouraging someone from touching her hair. Another story about racism goes viral. An African-American man, woman, or child is confronted with yet another stereotype they feel they have to dispel.
Life is stressful — everything from the mundane banality of your daily work routine, the demands of family life, balancing your budget, and finding time to exercise or run errands or have time face-to-face with friends can add pressure. And if you belong to a group that experiences discrimination, oppression, or marginalization, the mundane daily stressors of life can be exacerbated by the micro- and macro-aggressions that can come with that experience.
For African-Americans, the constant fight for social justice and equality on a personal, institutional, and social level can leave people emotionally, psychologically, and physically vulnerable to the negative impacts of stress. At the same time being “strong” has been a necessary component of surviving and thriving in an environment where racism is still alive and much too well. Even if our personal environments are supportive, being exposed to the news of hate crimes, police shootings, and the like can be emotionally exhausting. So developing coping strategies that prioritize and protect mental health and well-being is important for African-American self-care and emotional resilience.
It is important to note that everyone has their own unique responses to stress, and thus each person has to develop a set of stress management and emotional resilience strategies that work for them. But here are a few suggestions for where to start.
You’re not alone
First, recognize that you are not alone — even if you are alone in terms of being the “only” at work, or at school, or in the neighborhood. Find a community where you feel safe to share your anger or frustration, which often accompanies the experience of racism. It is easy to find such communities online, but support is always best in person. So whether it be a professional group, friends, family, or a faith community, connect daily to a supportive community.
Find an outlet
Second, find a way to physically blow off steam, because our bodies need ways to release the tension that is part of the physical response to stress. Take a walk, go for a run, or engage in any physical activity that you enjoy.
Take a pause
Developing a mindfulness practice allows you to turn off and tune out from the 24-hour news cycle and social media notifications, and tune in to your own thoughts. The constant onslaught of bad news can be emotionally draining, and being woke doesn’t mean you have to know, see, or hear every racist act that occurs, nor do you need to fight every social injustice. You may want to consider watching or listening to only one news report a day, and be selective about the type of social media content you experience — limiting when and how long you engage.
Rest and relaxation is also an important component of building emotional resilience. Whether it is 15 minutes of meditative deep breathing first thing in the morning, or unwinding with a book before you go to bed, find a way to reboot and restore each day. Developing good sleep hygiene can help you get the type of restorative deep REM sleep your body needs to face another day.
Here are a few tips for good sleep: Go to bed every night at the same time, and create a pre-bed routine. Aim to get at least six hours of sleep (seven is heaven, and eight is great). If you are having a hard time falling or staying asleep, consider limiting your coffee intake to the morning, limit your evening consumption of alcohol to no later than an hour before your bedtime (alcohol interrupts sleep), and turn off your screens an hour before bedtime to allow your body to produce the melatonin that is necessary for deep sleep.
A gratitude practice will focus you on the positive experiences of your life, and research shows it will make you healthier and happier. The burden of oppression can be hard to bear, and being grateful for small and big wins — whether personal or collectively, and for the people you love and who love you back, can stave off depression and anxiety. Studies show that doing this at night before bedtime can improve sleep. Repeating to yourself the popular term “I am blessed” is one way to frame your life in a halo of positivity.
Lastly, celebrate your culture. Surround yourself with positive reflections of African-American culture — music, pictures, books, magazines, etc. — to counteract the invisibility and negative social narratives. Find ways to regularly immerse yourself in cultural events that make you feel good about who you are, and where you came from.
This content is informational and educational, and it does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a health professional. We encourage you to speak with your health-care provider about your individual needs, or visit NAMI for more information.
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