- Jeannie Lawrence MD
How To Deal With The Stress And Anger Of Racism: part 3
This week we are back with the final installment in this three-part series on coping with the emotional toil of witnessing and experiencing racism. If you have not read part 1 and part 2, click the links to get caught up. Otherwise, let's jump right in:
1. Be okay with taking a break. There is a lot of temptation to keep our eyes glued to the news and social media coverage of racism being played out everyday. Some feel it is their obligation to tune in constantly to prove they really care about what is going on, and may feel guilty if they don't. Others get caught up in the addictive nature of news consumption, and struggle to look away. If you are finding yourself feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the barrage of news about racism, give yourself permission to take a break. Schedule short periods of time dedicated for checking the news and social media, and otherwise turn them off. Taking breaks from the news is not about turning a blind eye to what is happening in our world. Taking breaks is about remembering that this fight for justice and equality is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a movement, not just a moment. It is imperative that we are taking care of ourselves along this journey so that we can push for positive change now and for however long it takes.
"Taking breaks is about remembering that this fight for justice and equality is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a movement, not just a moment."
2. Take back your power. One of the most common emotions that comes up when we experience and witness racism is one of helplessness. We watch in horror as a brother or sister is brutalized and no justice is served. The systemic racism that permeates every aspect of American life from economics, to healthcare, the justice system, the government, the education system, etc can seem insurmountable. Bearing the weight of discrimination and racism can feel unbearably heavy and like there's nothing we can do. But I encourage you: Be empowered! Focus on what you CAN do, not on what you cannot. As we discussed in part 2, resist racism in your own unique way, big or small -- it all matters!
"Be empowered! Focus on what you CAN do, not on what you cannot".
3. Watch your thoughts. One of my favorite things to teach is how our thoughts create our emotions. While racism is very real, and we have every right to feel upset about it, it's important to watch what thoughts are creating our most distressing emotions. Feelings like sadness and worry are normal. But if you are experiencing really intense feelings like rage, depression, hopelessness, or panic then the thoughts causing those emotions are likely distorted or exaggerated in someway and causing you unnecessary suffering. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed with intense uncomfortable emotion, ask yourself, what am I thinking right now? Write it down. Try to find the distortions in those thoughts. Can you identify any all-or-nothing thinking patterns, like "ALL white people hate me", or "NOTHING will ever change or get better"? Try coming up with statements that still honor your experience but are based in fact, not emotion. For example, "SOME people are racist, but others are not", or "Things have not yet changed as much as I would like, but progress has been made and many are still fighting for positive change". When we watch our thoughts, and choose ones that serve us, we reduce our emotional suffering and feel our best.
"Feelings like sadness and worry are normal. But if you are experiencing really intense feelings like rage, depression, hopelessness, or panic then the thoughts causing those emotions are likely distorted or exaggerated in someway and causing you unnecessary suffering".
4. Connect to those who support you. Reach out to brothers, sisters, and allies for connection, solidarity and support. I believe we are all better together, and we don't have to fight or endure racism alone.
5. Change your focus. There is no shortage of bad news in the world, but constantly focusing on it can damage your mental and emotional health. While there's a time and place for bringing our attention to what is wrong in the world, we need to balance that with focusing on what is going right. Seek out evidence that despite that terrible things going on, there is still good in the world and much to be hopeful about. I’m encouraged every time I see news of solidarity among people of all races in this fight for black lives, and when leaders and everyday-people speak up against racism. Commit to finding the good in the world, and you will find it. And you'll feel better too.
"Commit to finding the good in the world, and you will find it. And you'll feel better too".
6. Love yourself unconditionally. Being black in a world where racism is so prevalent, can feel scary, lonely, invalidating, rejecting. I have become all too familiar with these feelings, navigating the world as an American-American woman myself. It is so important that we remember that regardless of how others may view and treat us, we are beautiful and worthy, all day, everyday. Celebrate yourself, love yourself, and be yourself, always.
"Celebrate yourself, love yourself, and be yourself, always".
We've got this!
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