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4 Ways to Manage Race-Related Stress in the Age of #BLM

Picture this, I am visiting the home of one of my closest friends, in a suburban neighborhood in West Michigan. I am a black, African immigrant. My friend and his parents are black, African immigrants. We have all lived in this country which we call home, for 20+ years. As my friend and I move into the living room so I can say goodbye, the commercial-break on TV ends, and the special ABC report on Breonna Taylor resumes with the police body-cam footage of the night of her death. During this portion of the report, we don’t directly hear any gun-fire or see Breonna Taylor’s last moments, but all four of us are gripped in silence. It’s only until the next commercial break that I realize how much time has passed just as I was about to leave.

That Uncomfortable, Draining Feeling

If you are a racial minority in this country, you likely know exactly what I am talking about. You may not have a name for this draining, uncomfortable feeling, but what I am describing can be referred to as race-related stress. This sort of stress is a product of racism that is experienced through institutions, microaggressions from other people, and even from the racial stereotypes that permeate our culture (Franklin, Boyd-Franklin, & Kelly, 2006). As a minority, you might not have to think very hard to identify instances of racism that have happened in your life, or the life of your loved ones. You might have been passed up for a promotion at work that you are qualified for because the other candidate was, “a better fit.” You might have been pulled over and extensively questioned by a police officer who made clear his/her suspicion of your presence in their particular neighborhood. Someone may have even yelled a racial slur right to your face. These experiences will likely stand out in your memory whenever you think of racism and race-related stress, but that’s not the image I described at the beginning. At that moment, neither my friend, his family, or I were directly being persecuted on the basis of our race, yet we likely all felt the same distress.

Racial Trauma counselingDuring the last several years, we have begun to witness multiple stories in the mainstream media, where the rest of the public’s eyes are, about black and brown people being treated with indifference, discriminated against, and at times unjustly killed. When George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, the world seemed to erupt in unison with a collective disgust towards the mistreatment of minorities. A revolutionary moment in history began to unfold with an intensity which we have never quite seen before. Calls for action rang out as people (black, brown, and white people) took to the streets in protest. A renewed sense of activism began to sweep through the nation as spotlights were shown on institutional forms of racism. Even the cultural zeitgeist seemed to be getting “woke” with a renewed emphasis on black and brown experiences. But something else was happening.

Minorities were getting exposed and re-exposure to these traumatic events, perhaps causing them to relive moments in their own past, and/or feeling like they were experiencing those atrocities first hand. Minorities felt expected to become expert educators on the realities of discrimination while sparring the feelings of well-meaning white people. Minorities who spoke up in protest against injustices were expected to answer for the destructive behavior of a few individuals as if they themselves were directly at fault. Minorities who wore the police uniform proudly felt pressured to show their alliance either to their profession or their community. Many began to reflect on their own conscious efforts to be seen as “non-threatening” while making simple runs to the grocery store. And still others have felt less and less safe, fearing for their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. It seemed that the cost of this revolution, unsurprisingly, required minorities to shoulder the unrelenting burden of race-related stress longer still.

But That’s Not True!

We don’t have to continue suffering from this stress without hope. We can work towards a less hate-filled world while caring for our own mental health. In fact, I would argue that one cannot occur without the other. How? It’s not like there is a magic cure for the stress we experience. Until our culture, institutions, and even individuals acknowledge and learn to address discrimination openly and honestly, we might always feel this chronic burden of stress hovering over us. Even so, there are things that are in your power to keep this stress from completely ruining your lives:

  1. Remember you are not alone. The causes of racial stress, like systemic racism for starters, are built to be very robust. One person can’t tear them down by themselves and they can feel overwhelming to the individual. Instead, remember the supportive people who are in your life, and reach out to them when you are struggling. And let them know they can reach back out to you. You’d be amazed at how empowering it can be to know you have a strong community around you.
  2. Find what gives you strength. A lot of the time, people are taught to find ways of “coping” with a problem. However, building your sense of confidence helps you challenge those very problems we face. Sources of strength are not conventional by nature; they can come from unlikely places. Educating yourself, committing acts of kindness, faith, and spirituality, your family, or even a vision of a better life for yourself can all be sources of strength. For me, my strength comes from helping others better understand themselves and how to live a more fulfilling life. Whatever your sources of strength are, write them down and remind yourself of them when you are feeling low.
  3. Learn what self-care means to you. Do you feel less anxious after a guided meditation? Do you crave a little escape into a good book? Do you feel surprisingly energized when you exercise regularly? Is life just a little bit better after a long soak in the tub? Whatever it is, when you start to treat your own self-care as a priority, the same way you would your job, you’ll start to feel better and think with great clarity.
  4. There is no shame in asking for help. Self-reliance is a big component in many cultures, but sometimes we need a helping hand to get ourselves unstuck. When you know you need help, remember that there is no shame in reaching out to a counselor. It doesn’t make you weak or less of anything. It takes courage to ask for help for your own mental health, and even more courage to be willing to accept it. Counseling isn’t just talking about your feelings. It’s a safe place to explore your thoughts, fears, hopes, and above all, yourself. Nothing is off-topic when you are in a counseling session, including any race-related stress you experience in your life, and when you do, you will find that it is not enough to bring you down.

Are you dealing with racial stress or trauma? If so, give us a call at (616) 929-0248

References

Franklin, A. J., Boyd-Franklin, N., & Kelly, S. (2006). Racism and Invisibility. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 6(2-3), 9-30. doi:10.1300/j135v06n02_02

About the Author:

find a counselor in grand rapids Michigan Denis Mundere

Denis Mundere, TLLP, is a therapist at Lifeologie. He knows that it can take peeling back a person’s layers to better understand what is causing their discomfort. Denis likes to dig deep and get to the root of the problem. Denis specializes in working with older teens and adults to better understand themselves and their identity. Denis also specializes in providing ADHD testing to children and teens. He will immediately put you at ease. To find out more about Denis, check out his biography.