Racism is the pandemic that has been plaguing Black people for 400 years. I really wish I didn’t have to write about this, but here I am talking about racism in America in 2020 (the whole year has been trash, so why am I even surprised).
I first want to say…I see you. I see the hurt, pain, anger, sadness, frustration, worry, and every other emotion engraved in your beautiful, melanin rich skin. This deep anxiety within us that at any moment someone could dehumanize us, insult us, degrade us or worst and no one will see it, infringes on our peace and joy daily. From microaggressions to killings in the street, we deal with a myriad of stressors everyday. But how do we cope?
I want to give you a tangible breakdown on ways to cope with racism in your life.
Lean in to the uncomfortable conversations. Taking a stand for yourself and others can bring a sense of relief. It may be initially uncomfortable, but it often leads to a release of buried thoughts and emotions. Be honest with yourself and those around you about how you feel. Read about anti-racism, black history, or personal stories of resilience to bring light to the shared experience of dealing with racism in America. Use your voice to speak up for change. Join a protest, sign a petition, donate, write, post, vote, whatever helps you feel heard!
Touch base with your support people. Those who you know will support you and make you feel good. Whether that be a best friend, a coworker, your therapist, or an acquaintance who is sharing in your experience. Speak about your hurt and let out your emotions. If you are unable to speak with close, loved ones try to journal or pray about your grief. Recognize the layers of emotions and let them out.
This may be the most important one of all. Shut down and recharge, so you can show up as your best self in your relationships and life. Take a break from social media or the news. Take some time off from work, so you don’t have to mask the emotions to maintain professionalism. Give yourself the basic fuel your body needs, whether that be some yoga stretches to recenter in the morning, eating a healthy meal to sustain yourself throughout the day, or making yourself a bedtime routine to ensure a good nights rest.
Know that we are in this together. Please take care of yourselves during these difficult times. And use the following resources to access help when needed:
I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.
I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.
The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.
So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptomsevaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.
Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.
Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.
Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:
1. Mindfulness Breathing
Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.
3. Skincare Routine
This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.
4. Low-Impact Exercises
Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.
5. Sleep Hygiene
Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.
All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!
I had the pleasure recently to collaborate with not just someone I look up to, but one of the people that inspire me daily, Mr. Albert Phang, also known as my big brother. His podcast, Live from Suite303, is THE place for entertainment, culture, and generally uplifting the community known as The Inland Empire. I was privileged enough to get to sit down on the show and discuss how mental health has become such a big conversation in every community, but also how the stigma around therapy is being shattered by new generations in the black community.
Hello beautiful, black Queen! Thank you for doing all that you do. You deserve the recognition that you so rarely get, and you deserve to have a space where you can pause to adjust your crown every now and again. Wearing that crown can be tiring to say the least. It puts you in charge of your family, your kingdom, your life, and your melanin. It brings along with it responsibilities that can be strenuous and rewarding in the same breath. It is what makes you a the pillar of a community and the backbone to a culture. That crown you wear is what makes you magical.
The truth is we all have some magic in us. Taking the time to recognize that magic within us however can be difficult. That’s where therapy comes in. Therapy helps us distinguish what our “magic power” is and how we can use it to better our life and ultimately change our story. Participating in therapy allows us to learn about our magic and understand ourselves from every aspect of our being.
As a narrative therapist I recognize that every black woman (and person in general) has a unique story to share with the world. One thread that ties all of those stories together though is the picture that society has painted of our melanin. Society tells us certain things about how we look, how we dress, how we act, and so much more. My job is to dispel these rumors and shine light on the truth in your particular story, which is why I present to you the top 5 myths black women tell themselves to avoid therapy…
Myth: Therapy is a white people thing.
Fact: Therapy is an everybody thing.
Whether you are black, white, purple, or green, you can benefit from going to therapy. Therapy became known as “a white people thing” because it use to be considered a luxury. Unfortunately, for a long time only the wealthy could afford to pay someone to listen to them, while everyone else went to their family, friends, or pastor for advice. But now that mental health is starting to be recognized as an essential part to everyone’s overall health, it is becoming more accessible to everyone willing to make a change in the way they think about their mind, body, and soul connecting. Between insurance, employee assistance programs, and not-for-profit counseling organizations, therapy is in reach for just about every person from any walk of life.
Quick Tips on Finding Cheap Therapy
Check what your insurance or EAP will cover! If someone else is willing to foot the bill, use that to your advantage! And if not, ask therapists if they offer a “sliding fee scale”, which adjusts the price of therapy based on your income.
Find an “Associate” or pre-licensed therapist. These therapists have completed Masters degrees, but are working towards licensure, so they often offer cheaper rates per session (as much as 50% less than licensed professionals). Studies also show that these therapists provide some of the most beneficial therapy due to their up to date knowledge of the field and best practice.
Check local universities as they often have student run clinics that provide very cheap therapy services! These clinics often have graduate students providing the service, while being supervised by licensed therapists. For San Diego residents, check out The Center for Community Counseling & Engagement for therapy as low as $12 per session!
Myth: Black women don’t need therapy because they are strong.
Fact: Black women need therapy because they are strong.
Being physically strong doesn’t stop body builders from going to the gym. Why let being mentally strong keep you from checking in with yourself and managing your mental health? The strong are most often carrying so many other’s problems that they don’t have the strength left to deal with their own. In therapy sessions, I often see clients unpacking other people’s baggage as if it is their own. These individuals are often the strongest in their social networks, which is why they are able to take on so much from others. What they often seek in therapy though is having a space where they can discover and discuss their own concerns. Finding a therapist that makes you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and let down any guards allows you to take care of yourself in a more intentional way, so that you can continue being a strong individual in other areas of your life.
Myth: Going to therapy makes you look crazy.
Fact: Going to therapy is what keeps you sane in a crazy world.
First off, who gives a *bleep* what anyone else thinks!? Excuse my French. As the strong, black woman you are you have to deal with so much more than the average person. Black women deal with what we call “intersectionality”, which is basically the crossroads where various forms of social categorizations and discrimination meet. Black women have to face being black, being a woman, and being the center of the black community, while also managing possible financial hardships and the disadvantages that come along with that in this country. Now this is not to say we are victims in any way, but instead to show just how resilient we are. Overcoming these challenges on a daily basis means we often find ourselves drained and feeling unmotivated to keep going. Deciding to create a space with a professional where you can discuss the microaggressions, stress, and any other people/places/things that drive you crazy is a healthy way to keep yourself sane and happy in this crazy world.
Myth: Church and praying will solve all your problems.
Fact: Church, praying, and talking to a trained professional will help solve a lot of your problems.
You can’t pray away a broken leg, and you can’t pray away a severe mental illness. Faith is something that becomes a very useful tool in many people’s lives to cope with hard times. Some hard times require more assistance however. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes, the key to dealing with it however is recognizing it. Stress, sadness, anger, and any other emotion is normal and needed. However when your mental state is beginning to be the source of distress in your job/marriage/life then it is time to get extra help. Managing bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia on your own can be scary, but when met with the proper support from a therapist, psychiatrist, and/or your primary care physician you can live life to the fullest despite this disorder.
Myth: I can’t change how society views me.
Fact: I can change how I view myself and how I let people treat me.
“I don’t want to be seen as __________.” This is one of the top phrases I hear from clients. One of my top responses…you can only control yourself and how you absorb these ideas from others. People will always have opinions, but only you get to dictate who you are. Society has no control over who you decide to be. Recognizing the power that comes with this realization changes everything. You go from questioning everyone to being un-bothered. The take away is if you change your view of yourself and channel that person who you want to be, society will follow. Using therapy as a place to build your confidence, your ability to cope, and your positive self image will change how you interact with everyone around you.
We all have concerns, questions, and relationships that have made us think at one point or another, “should I go to therapy?” If this question has ever crossed your mind, make an appointment! Taking care of yourself is the first step to taking care of those around you. By checking in with yourself and talking to a professional about life, you gain better knowledge on how to use your “magic”.
A great resource for finding a therapist in your area is “Therapy for Black Girls“. Check out the directory and the podcast for a fun dose of mental health information!