6 Black Therapists on Practicing Self-Care While Fighting Racism
The fight against systemic racism will be a long one, and you need to take care of yourself.
The version of self care that involves enjoying bubble baths, buying our favorite candles, and taking early morning yoga sessions via Zoom or Instagram Live can only go so far during a revolution. There are plenty of self-care tips out there, but most of them don’t do much when it comes to addressing root causes of our emotions. What we really need to know is how do people — specifically, Black people — truly take care of ourselves during a pandemic that is disproportionately killing us, while we’re also seeking justice for the systemic racism and police brutality that has also decimated our community for far too long?
The last few months have shed light on a lot of unfair treatment. We’ve faced unprecedented stress from the coronavirus, navigated huge shifts in how our world operates, and dealt with both large scale racism and more subtle microaggressions that have been laid bare. These difficult times require a particularly strong dose of assistance, self-care elevated like never before. We need help alleviating the rage, sadness, and loneliness; we need to find ways to amplify our stories and our joy.
As Black people, it’s draining to continue to educate, uplift, and continue our day-to-day activities amid protests and our work schedules without occasionally taking a step back to elate ourselves. So, Allure tapped six mental health experts to give us their need-to-know tips for truly taking care.
Combat isolation through connection
Natasha Goodman, a licensed psychotherapist based in Alpharetta, GA who focuses on Black mental health, recommends staying as connected to loved ones and family (whether biological or chosen) as you can. The support of loved ones has been particularly helpful for her during this time. «I have found creative ways to stay connected with friends and family,” she tells Allure. “Using FaceTime and Zoom has been helpful for me and I have encouraged my clients to do the same. It’s also beneficial to get sunlight on a regular basis for a natural mood booster.»
She’s not the only one who believes in the power of staying connected, even if you can’t do so in person. Samara Toussaint, a licensed psychologist and the founder of Path2Growth Counseling Services in Valley Stream, New York, says, «Connection is extremely important in the healing process, especially now as our community is struggling to heal from centuries of racial trauma. COVID-19 has forced us to find innovative ways to stay connected.” She recommends having an inner circle of at least three people that you know you can count on. “After you’ve identified at least three people, schedule times and days to connect. Put a reminder in your phone to reach out to them,” she advises.
As a licensed mental health counselor who runs a women’s empowerment group in Valley Stream, New York, Deborah DeJean has seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic in the Black community; COVID-19 has hit us with dread, stress, worry, and despair all at once. «Being isolated creates more stress, anxiety, and depression for some people. [Video chat] your friends and family. Being able to actually see a person who you may miss is a blessing from the internet gods. Use this tool to keep yourself from feeling alone,» she suggests.
Getting out of the house and out of your typical routine also came up as a suggestion from many of these experts. «We have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone. Social media can create isolation, our friend circles can create isolation, the news, and so many other things,» says Tampa, Florida-based Ashley A Nazon, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of A Holistic Therapy Group. She continues, «Get out of the house, talk to a therapist, create a new routine, journal, talk to your friends, families, and lastly, reach out.» It’s important to keep in mind that we’re still in a pandemic, however, so if you do go out and about, make sure to pay attention to the CDC’s safety guidelines for your area and wear a face covering.
Whitley Grant, a licensed mental health counselor and clinical addiction specialist based in Raleigh, North Carolina, finds that interpersonal connections are very important to the Black community. “Use this time to connect with your community and your support system. The great thing about today’s climate that we didn’t have years ago is that we can expand our community well beyond our neighborhoods. We can go online and utilize resources and find support groups for dealing with racial trauma. A most recent social media campaign entitled #amplifymelanatedvoices is a good starting point,” she says. This particular campaign works to amplify the narratives of Black people, and within the hashtag, you can find resources to learn about the work of a ton of Black creatives, including reading lists with work by Black writers, Instagram handles of Black photographers, movies made by Black producers, and more.
Rest and recharge
While the widespread protests against police brutality and racism are a necessity for change, many are sharing images from the protests as well as the violent events that caused them on social media. Having those raw images in our minds can be traumatic. In addition to the microaggressions and systemic racism Black people have been dealing with for our entire lives, the current near-constant media coverage surrounding anti-Blackness is unavoidable and can sap energy.
That’s why DeJean tells Allure that she recommends taking breaks throughout the day to focus on yourself. «During this time it is extremely important for people, especially Black people, to recharge and take a minute to rejuvenize. This may require taking a break from watching the news, social media, and speaking to friends about what’s happening in the world today,” she suggests. However, this doesn’t mean completely checking out or allowing yourself to be uninformed. “I would suggest twice a day checking in on what’s happening, then taking a break. This will help reduce some stress and anxiety,” she says.
Ayanna Abrams, a licensed clinical psychologist and therapist who specializes in EFT (emotion-focused therapy) at Ascension Behavioral Health in Atlanta, Georgia, emphasizes the importance of rest — in particular, having a good sleep schedule. «Sleep is a biological need and practice that we do not give enough attention to and has a huge restorative impact on energy, mood, concentration, and overall functioning when we get enough of it. Setting a sleep schedule and remaining consistent with what times you go to sleep and wake up is valuable to every aspect of our day to day lives,» she explains.
Outwardly voicing your frustrations and hurt can help process feelings and release the physical embodiment of repressed stress. Nazon thinks it’s a good time to be vocal. «During this time, Black people need to recharge by having vulnerable conversations with one another that allow them to cry, yell, scream, and love on one another,” she says. She’s also an advocate for the transformative power of touch, which is a bit hard to do right now, though some of us are staying with people we can hug. “Let’s hug one another and transfer strength and energy to each other. This may sound unconventional, but there is so much power in a hug from your Black brother and sister,” she tells Allure.
Engage in a mindfulness practice
Toussaint tells her clients to utilize S.T.E.A.M, an acronym that stands for setting boundaries, thankfulness, exercise, affirmations, and mindfulness. She recognizes that mindfulness can be difficult to navigate during these times, and offers her advice for utilizing it: «Find power in stillness and silence. Find power in your awareness. Mindfulness is often misunderstood. It’s a practice I highly recommend to the clients I work with because it increases your ability to stay in the moment, in the present,” she says.
A regular mindfulness practice can also be a good way to combat anxiety over situations we can’t control, whether they’ve already happened or not. Toussaint adds, “Too often, our minds are either trapped in the past or worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. For example, to be mindful when you are eating means to be truly present while you are enjoying your meal.»
Abrams also suggests finding and engaging in personal activities you truly enjoy. «My clients are reading and listening to books and podcasts, doing coloring books, puzzles, gardening, home projects, you name it! I know that we are not really taught to sit still and practice just being present with ourselves, and this could be an opportunity to give yourself those moments if you are able to.» Engaging in these activities can also be a way of meditating, as we often focus entirely on the task at hand and our anxieties fall by the wayside.
Grant believes keeping a positive perspective whenever possible is important, as well. “The first thing would be positive affirmations. Validate your feelings and experiences,” she says.
Process strong emotions in a way that feels safe to you
Self-preservation is key. Difficult emotions can be tough to process, especially while we’re still going through these trying events. Some people hold in their thoughts and emotions for later and choose to handle them on their own, while others may need to voice their opinions and talk through feelings with others as they occur. Either way, dealing with your feelings can be taxing on your mind and body.
Toussaint believes we all deserve to feel the full range of our emotions. «Honor your feelings. Honor your anger. Honor your frustration. Honor your rage. All your emotions are valid. They aren’t opinions for people to dispute. There’s nothing to be ashamed or guilty about,» she tells Allure. She continues, «When we end up suppressing our anger, it can start to manifest in our bodies and minds [through things like] high blood pressure, physical ailments, or headaches and tension. However, anger lets us know that something is wrong and that there needs to be a change.»
Sometimes, depending on what you’re feeling — and the intensity — reaching out for help is crucial. «Processing rage during this time may be difficult to do alone. I suggest that anyone experiencing rage reach out to a licensed professional for guidance. Journaling thoughts and emotions will also be helpful during the processing stage,» Goodman advises.
Adds DeJean, “You are not alone in these feelings and there are people and professionals available to help you.”
You can also process strong emotions with others in your community, or through hobbies you already have, like writing. «Rage can be processed by journaling, exploring with safe people in your life, or connecting with a therapist or faith community,” suggests Abrams. But regardless of what feels right to you (and there may be multiple methods, depending on the emotion and the time), it’s important to check in with how you’re feeling and be easy on yourself. “You may notice it in different parts of your body or feel fatigued and emotionally exhausted some days or moments. Compassion with yourself for these natural feelings of unrest will also help you not be too hard on yourself when the feelings arise and give you some ideas of what to do when they happen,” she continues.
It’s important to remember that rage can be useful, and it’s okay to feel it deeply right now. In fact, you should be angry; it’s just where to place it that matters. «Understand that it is okay to be angry,» DeJean explains. «Anger is a normal emotion. Use your anger for good. Harness your angry energy. Pour your energy and emotions into something that is healthy and productive.»
Rethink your activism
During a revolution, there are plenty of ways to protest aside from just taking to the streets. There are petitions to sign, voties to make, emails to send, conversations to have with friends and family, and calls to make to your local representatives. Many people, myself included, have felt guilty over not being able to show up the way you want to by bravely hitting the streets with a sign in hand.
Activism will look different for everyone. «Everyone can play their own unique role in activism or engagement. For some of us, it won’t look like protesting or posting on social media,” says Abrams. “It may be connecting with family and friends about what’s happening and doing things that allow you to feel safe in a world that feels pretty chaotic these days. For others, it may be financial activism, like creating or donating funds to initiatives, or volunteering.»
DeJean encourages a focus on solidarity, rather than comparing your own contributions to those of others. «If you are unable to physically hit the streets to protest, there are many other ways to help the cause and show solidarity,” she says. “Protest from the sidelines, post on social media, or even post a physical message in the window of your home. These are simple but useful ways that help the cause.»
We all want to take action, but we also have to take care of ourselves — and each other. Lifting those up in your community can help prepare them for the long-haul; this fight isn’t a momentary trend. “Healing yourself and those in your community can be very impactful, as well. Set boundaries around yourself and protect your peace,” says Grant.
Black lives matter — your life matters. Grant continues, «It is important that you understand that whatever you are feeling right now is valid. Your life is valid, and your life matters. Nothing that is happening to you right now is your fault.”
To all my Black brothers, sisters, and everyone in between, we’re going to be alright.