With worldwide protests against police violence against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are stressed about the future of the nation.
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For Black Americans, discrimination is a major stressor. And just within the last several weeks, more agree: In May 2020, 42 percent of Black respondents cited discrimination as a significant source of stress in an American Psychological Association survey. By June 2020, that number was up to 55 percent.
And while finding the space to de-stress in this oppressive environment can be difficult, it's crucial to social, mental and physical wellbeing.
"It's important for Black people to first give themselves permission to rest," Portsmouth, Virginia-based therapist Felicia Garret, LPC, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "With the current challenges, resting may be viewed as being disengaged, unconcerned and disloyal. However, it's a necessity if one desires to show up in a quality state of mind."
After granting yourself that permission, you can employ a range of ways to actually get some rest. "Rest simply means to cease and relax, so you can recover and renew," Garret says. Consider starting with these six techniques.
1. Make Yourself a Priority
Self-care involves looking after the most vital parts of yourself. Often portrayed as expensive trips, luxurious brunches or grooming services available only to the rich, self-care can actually become part of anyone's routine to restore your sense of self.
Instead of thinking of self-care as the ultimate pampering occasion, integrate it into your daily routine. Garret compares self-care to maintaining a car. "If a car isn't cared for properly, then eventually the car will stop running. People are the same," she says. "If you don't nourish yourself, you'll quickly burn out."
Place yourself "high on the daily priority list," she says — and regularly employ habits like:
- Eating well
- Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries
- Reading for pleasure
- Journaling (more on that below)
- Sitting quietly for a few moments
- Taking a long shower or bath
- Chatting with a good friend
- Allowing "no" to be a complete sentence
Try out a few techniques until you find what feels right for you. Self-care looks different for everyone and takes some time, but it's worth it. "I believe in self-care as an act of resistance," says life coach Sherry Samuels. "It requires time and openness that will pay great dividends in the long run. We must be open to trying new things with fresh eyes and a beginner's mind."
2. Write It Out
Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal can help put your mind to rest. Journaling is a helpful tool in managing anxiety and stress and coping with depression, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Putting thoughts and feelings in a journal can be a useful tool in prioritizing problems, fears and concerns, as well as tracking daily triggers and providing an opportunity for positive self-talk.
While writing by hand in a journal can conjure up images of teenagers before the digital age, journaling is beneficial for people at all life stages. You can start journaling with a notebook and a pen, a note on your phone or a full-fledged blog.
"I believe in self-care as an act of resistance."
If you want an online journal with top-notch privacy, Penzu is a great option. If you're looking to establish a writing routine that helps you monitor your mental state, consider 750words, a private blogging website and mindset tracker. If you're more interested in recording feelings throughout the day, try a bullet journal, a highly organized system for noting daily activities (and more). And if writing lists is more your style, check out Listography, a site dedicated to list-making.
3. Try Meditation
Meditation is a relaxation technique you can teach yourself just about anywhere. There are many different types of meditation, but even simple mindfulness — the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment — is linked with improved depression and anxiety symptoms and a more positive mood, according to a 2011 Psychotherapy review.
Start small, by selecting a meditation app to download or following along with our simple five-minute guided meditation. When negative or irrelevant thoughts come up, acknowledge them and let them pass by.
4. Breathe Deeply
If you're not quite ready to commit to meditation, deep breathing exercises might help. Also called abdominal breathing, belly breathing or paced respiration, according to Harvard Health Publishing, deep breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, slows the heartbeat and can help stabilize blood pressure.
To give it a try, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Simply inhale through your nose as you allow your stomach and chest to rise, then exhale through your mouth. Or, learn a more formal breathing technique like the 4-7-8 exercise or the box breathing technique.
Picture calming imagery or whisper a word or phrase that helps you relax as you inhale and exhale.
5. Play Like a Kid Again
Not just for children, play can be an important source of relaxation. Play helps us ease stress, strengthen the mind and foster empathy, compassion and intimacy, according to the mental health nonprofit HelpGuide. Play provides a connection to childhood, as well as adds joy to life.
"Often Black people start learning to 'adult' while still young," Samuels says. "So much of our joy is found in those moments when we allow ourselves to play. When we invite play into our lives, we are inviting opportunities to be curious."
Samuels suggests tapping into your childhood joys to find a form of play that works for you, like:
- Goofing off with friends
- Sharing jokes
- Dressing up for Halloween (or an impromptu virtual costume party at home)
- Going on a bike ride
- Watching a funny movie
6. Consult a Black (or Allied) Therapist
Seeking therapy can be challenging due to lack of resources, uncertainty over where to find a trustworthy therapist and cultural biases. Until recently, most mental health research was aimed at white participants. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health issues are just as likely in ethnic minority groups and white Americans, however Black people are less likely to receive help.
Working through mental health issues with a Black or Black-allied therapist prioritizes putting yourself first, a message rarely heard. "As a community, Black people aren't encouraged to rest," Garret says. "We've been taught to work and work harder to get on the same level with others. Thus, resting isn't normal for us."
Find a therapist who understands and empathizes with your struggles and experiences to improve your mental health. Consider looking for a mental health professional via Therapy for Black Girls or Therapy for Black Men.
- American Psychological Association: "Stress in the Time of COVID-19 Volume Two"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Journaling for Mental Health"
- HelpGuide: "The Benefits of Play for Adults"
- Psychotherapy: "What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Relaxation techniques: breath control helps quell errant stress response"
- NAMI: "Black/African American"