Holistic Health: How to Protect and Boost Mental Health
Everyone could hear her long before they could see her, because it was pitch black outside the stores' doors. Then she stepped inside, wearing a long black button up sweater and a skirt that hung low to the ground.. I'd like to think that the frayed edges on her clothes, told a portion of this woman's story. "What chu starring at?" She said, when she caught me looking at her. She turned toward the check out counter but continued on to a nearby aisle, and began sticking 25 cent bags of chips in her pockets; as she sang hymns to the heavens. Some men laughed at her and even began to record her with their cell phones. As I was walking out the store, I was able to hear one last tidbit from her- "I got mental problems! Can't you see that, sir? You mighta been one of my boyfriends back in high school!"
Now keep it real with me LCP, I'm sure some of you reading this have witnessed familiar meltdowns in our black communities, right??
While homelessness and poverty are pivotal topics, mental health is rarely discussed or thought of as an epidemic.
According to the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty 50 percent of homeless people are African-American. Even more troubling, 27 percent of African-Americans living on the street have dealt with some form of mental illness. According to the study, black women of all socioeconomic classes are hit the hardest, with a whopping 27 percent dealing with mental illness at any given stage of their life. These statistics are telling in regards to how the black community stigmatizes and places shame around the issue of mental illness. We have to stop and ask ourselves- Why do we fail to respond to mental health the way we should? Why is it so hard for black people (especially black women), to take a step back and take care of mental and emotional health?
In the book 'Power Choices: Seven Sign points on Your Journey to Wholeness, Love, Joy and Peace', author Dr. Brenda Wade writes: “Generations ago, somebody in your family was enslaved, and we have to understand that the daily trauma of being degraded, humiliated, treated like an animal, treated as if you have no rights and no feelings...the luxury of being depressed or taking a day off didn’t exist. We’ve incorporated [that] into our own mentalities today; no matter how much pain I’m in, I will keep moving, keep performing, keep working."
As Dr. Wade explains, black women never had the luxury of being weak. During slavery, taking a moment for self-care would have equated to death or at least severe punishment. In today’s world, this same fear manifests itself—except now we are a power-suit-wearing CEO's, single mother's trying to feed three children, or a homeless woman walking into a corner store. We still view mental illness as a weakness, rather than the critical health issue that it is. We have to stop trying to sweep it under the rug, and deal with it head on.
Furthermore, not only do we overwork ourselves, but we use language that reinforces the “Superwoman complex”. Think about it, when we see other black women being “weak", it doesn’t matter if we’re at church, work, or home; the narrative is the same- WHAT'S WRONG WITH HER? or SHE NEEDS TO GET IT TOGETHER!
The problem lies not only in the shame we may feel for having a mental disorder, but also in not having a definite understanding of how/when these disorders may show up in front of our friends, family, and colleagues. If we arm ourselves with the knowledge of what we’re dealing with, we can then craft a self-care plan that will help us get through particularly tough days.
HERE ARE 8 TIPS I'VE USED TO BOOST & IMPROVE MY OVERALL MENTAL HEALTH-
1. Stop and breathe.
Relax for two minutes. Breathe in and out slowly. The world isn’t going to end if you don’t do anything for two minutes. Breathing is meant to get you to slow down. You can also pray, meditate, or reci3te affirmations during this time. The key is to just give yourself a few moments to calm down and focus yourself so you can deal with whatever is happening.
2. Check in with yourself.
Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now? Why?” If we do this consistently enough, we can get a feel for the “big picture” of whatever is causing us to feel a certain way, as well as how it affects our behavior. If you keep asking yourself this question, you’ll uncover patterns and can make necessary adjustments.
3. Find an outlet for your stress and anxiety.
This can be anything: writing, going to the gym, listening to music, or simply taking a walk around the block. Regardless, you’re trying to provide yourself with something you do consistently that’s only for YOU. For black women, this is exceedingly important because we rarely take time for ourselves.
4. Talk to a trusted friend or loved one.
Historically, black people aren’t the most trusting of the U.S. health care system, so it may be more helpful to talk to those in your life who are familiar with what you’re going through. If you have one person you feel safe with, talk to them. They can provide you with the comfort and compassion you need.
5. Prepare for bad days on the good (or okay) days.
Have a Bible verse, a prayer (or prayer warrior), or a brief meditation on deck for tough days, weeks, people, and everything in between. Learn what helps you recover from a bad day, and be prepared to do those things when one occurs. Netflix? Spending time with family? Hot shower or bath? Having a plan in place for when it gets tough helps you feel in control and ready to tackle the day.
You should read about the way mental illness may affect your life, so you can be better equipped to deal with it. But you should also read self-help books that could possibly offer you insight and guidance on how to be kinder with yourself. I have included a list of books at the bottom that may be good resources.
7. Eat well and exercise.
I can’t stress this enough. I’m not asking you to go to Whole Foods for all organic foods or work out everyday at the gym, but eating well and moving your body has been proven to naturally reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
And last, but certainly not least…
8. Find a black therapist (if you can).
Therapy is important, even if the thought of it makes us uncomfortable. Having a professional to talk with and help you find coping skills can be a life-saver. Having a therapist that looks like you will help even more. They will often ‘get’ things that therapists of other races can’t immediately see.
As Black women, I understand that we have a hard time slowing down. There are children to feed, bills to pay, and places to be. However, if you feel angry, sad, or anxious all the time, you should probably seek help from a mental health care professional. While these tips for self-care and coping can go pretty far, it would be valuable to get an outside perspective from an experienced professional to help you work through what is affecting your mental and emotional health. Hopefully through awareness and self reflection we can begin to safe guard and heal our mental well-being.
"Take care of your mind it's the only one you get!"
-Alex the holistic practitioner
Tell me what you think? Do you believe black women suffer from stereotypes of being strong. Do black women ever have time for emotional release? Did this post help you in any way? Bring light to the importance of mental health? I would love to hear from you!!