How I am Protecting My Mental Well-Being in Times of Chaos

What is happening in the world is important. And I will make caring for myself a priority.

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By Jennifer R. Farmer

Since the Jan. 6 protest at the U.S. Capitol, I have experienced a range of emotions, fluctuating between disbelief, sadness, anger, and resolve. I am shocked that in my lifetime, I witnessed an attempted coup in a stable democracy. I am saddened by the numbers of people still choosing to embrace election-related conspiracy theories. I am beyond angry that systemic racism means Black people protesting fatal killings by police and others are publicly maligned, lectured, arrested, and sometimes brutalized and killed. Yet mostly white Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and threatened violence, and many will never be held to account. I am resolved that I will continue to champion justice. And even as I do my part to create a world in which all can thrive, I am determined to prioritize and protect my mental well-being. There are four things I am committing to do in this season:

  • Allowing My Heart to Break. One of the most important things I am doing right now is allowing my heart to break. I refuse to numb out or bottle my emotions. I am profoundly saddened by the brazen display of white privilege, the dishonoring of American institutions and the breathtaking level of violence meted out towards elected officials, the media and federal employees in Washington, D.C. As terrible as Jan. 6 was, it is not just the violence of that day that is getting to me: it is what the violence triggers. The protests at the U.S. Capitol building are reminiscent of everything I learned about angry white mobs as a child and youth. It was the sort of violence I learned about when I heard of the decimation of Greenwood, the Black banking district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or the burning of the Black community Rosewood, by racists who became jealous of the Black community’s success there. And it is the type of pandemonium our parents were trying to protect us from when they clung to respectability politics. To be Black in America is to have to confront this history repeatedly. Given this, I have allowed myself to sit with sadness. And I am doing so without judgment or condemnation. I know this feeling will pass, but only after I have given space to and respected its presence.
  • Monitoring My Social Media Consumption & Engagement. I am monitoring my social media intake as a means of protecting my mental well-being. In times of crisis, it is natural to want to know what is happening; and to desire constant updates. It is reasonable to get sucked into the chaos and cling to every new development as though it is oxygen. Of course, I want to be informed, but I am intentionally limiting how much time I am on social media and which accounts I am engaging. I am not entertaining trolls, or tolerating energy drains. I am not willing to do the emotional labor of interacting with people vested in white supremacy. In this season, everyone must do their own work. Society tends to view Black women as strong, but I will not carry that mantle or live up to the expectations of others if doing so means compromising my health and well-being.
  • Intentionally Including Joy. Another thing I am doing to prioritize my mental well-being is reminding myself that joy is available. I do not have to carry the weight of the world. Laughter and joy are accessible to me and I am determined to embrace them and hold them close.I am being mindful of things that bring me joy, so that I can do them as much as possible. Since being outdoors makes me happy, I have committed to walk when the weather permits, and to exercise indoors when I am unable to go outdoors. This provides an escape for my soul and positive energy for my body. Similarly, there are a series of podcasts that stimulate my mind and nourish my spirit. I am intentional about continuing to consume such content. Doing so gives me a sense of comfort, familiarity, and stimulation. I can and will chose these things.
  • Celebrating Me. Finally, I am prioritizing my well-being by celebrating me. Having lived through a host of ups and downs, not the least of which includes a global pandemic, I am celebrating the fact that I am still here, still able to get up, move around, work and take care of myself. Each day when my feet hit the ground, I have a reason and a right to celebrate. The celebration is despite what I can accomplish that day. The celebration is not dependent on external validation which may or may not come. I have committed to notice, to applaud and to celebrate not only when I show up and do the very best that I can, but when others do so as well.

I know there are aspects of our society that are beyond scary. I also know the value of controlling what I can control and letting go of everything else. Of course, fear lurks like an uninvited guest. I acknowledge it without being consumed in a web of “what ifs.”

While I may not know how things will pan out, I know that by acknowledging my emotions, I give space for others to do the same. I know that by monitoring my social media engagement, I protect my peace. I also know that by being intentional about finding joy, I resist the urge to see the world as beyond repair. And in celebrating me, I create space to celebrate the good in others.

What is happening in the world is important. And I will make caring for myself a priority. After all, I cannot show up for others if I have abandoned myself.

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