Ascension Behavioral Health

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Fast Five: Racism, Oppression, Self-Care & Boundaries

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." - Audre Lorde

 

I've been meaning to post about this for some time, and not just related to the recent horror of Charlottesville, VA this past weekend. In an effort to take care of myself and remain good to those around me, I have taken much needed breaks from the information overloads, circular conversations and the reel of hate and trauma across all media. Trauma, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and fear make it difficult to remember ways to take care of yourself and to even take on additional tasks to function at your norm. Race-based trauma, especially with the graphic imagery that we've become so used to, affect us biologically, emotionally, physically & mentally, and without breaks, can lead to bouts of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and interpersonal dysfunction. Here are five things that you can do NOW to take back control of your psyche & take better care of yourself when your environment isn't taking care of you:

1. DISENGAGE. Information, images, conversations that cause you anxiety or trigger fear or despair, are absolutely ok and important to remove yourself from. You are under no obligation to know every detail of traumatic events, read nasty comments or convince others how to think or feel if their ideas are hurtful and oppressive. Take breaks from TV, news articles, social media and conversation. If you choose to not completely disengage, structure times that you will view content and try to steer clear from times close to when you wake up or go to bed. Try driving to without the radio. Start your morning without TV, podcasts or music. Sit in some silence & be still for 2-5 minutes to recenter yourself.  

2.  PRIORITIZE APPETITE, SLEEP & EXERCISE. Reset yourself from the inside out; these are the best tools of repair and fuel day to day. Have your sleep patterns changed? Nightmares, disruptions? These can be the first signs of anxiety. Loss of appetite? Are you eating 3-5 meals/daily? Appetite loss is also common when we are feeling overwhelmed, even if we can "function" at work or school. Feeling on edge, hypervigilant of your surroundings, fearful in spaces/places you normally feel ok? Access places where you feel safe, spend more time at home or in your favorite places rejuvenating. Walks, jogs, runs & trips to the gym to release physical tension can be extremely helpful in times of distress, whether or not you have specific weight loss or physical health goals. At home workouts for 10-30 minutes a day can also be useful. Exercise can also be a way to connect with your community or meet new people.

3. SET BOUNDARIES DIRECTLY, REPETITIVELY & ASSERTIVELY. If you have friends or family who can only talk about trauma and persistently send you video or content that is unnerving, ask them to stop. If you are socializing and topics come up that feel overwhelming, ask for a change in topic or excuse yourself from the conversation. Ask people to respect your emotional and mental health and not to dump their angst onto you. You do not need to be the holder, receiver, container for anyone else when you are actively holding yourself up. You can post on social media and turn off your comments and DMs. 

4. (...on the other end) CONNECT. Only to parts of your support system that can be safe, empathic, healing & encouraging. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Join support groups. But be mindful of joining ALL the groups, talking to ALL of your friends ALL of the time, and having ALL of the family meetings. Don't completely isolate for more than 24-36 hours and beforehand, and let your folks know that you're taking a break and when to check back with you.

5. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. Your self-care needs and skills are your own. What works for someone else may not be what sets your clock back to the right time. Get clear on what you need and how you need to function your best and even better, amidst tragedy. It is ok to feel every single thing that you are feeling and do what works for you.

 

(and extra shameless but not really ashamed at all plug) GET HELP. Locate a therapist to help you organize your thoughts, feelings, worries and needs, short-term and long-term. Many relationships have been impacted by national and global strain, and this can also contribute to feelings of tension and distress. A therapist can help you to process what you're experiencing, develop and improve self care plans and help you build skills that will last you a lifetime. Your friends and your family are not your therapists and you are not theirs. Start your search at www.psychologytoday.com. 

Remember, you are your most useful tool to heal yourself. Be good to yourself.