6 Things to Know About Managing Collective Grief in the Black Community

“I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else”. – Maya Angelou, When I Think of Death

Since late 2019 the collective grief in America has been palpable. There have been so many tragedies. It all seems to continue at a rapid pace.  That being said, Black Americans continue to experience greater disparities. The emotional toll of history on Black Americans has been well documented. Health disparities statistics also indicate that Black Americans have a shorter lifespan than their White counterparts. Since COVID-19, Black Americans are almost twice as likely to lose someone to COVID.  Additionally, the constant mass shootings make us all pause in fear, shock, and disbelief. Black grief creates unhealthy bodies and minds.  Race-based stressors can increase cortisol levels, leading to headaches, fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, sleep problems, increased hypervigilance, depression, and anxiety. Lastly, Black Americans are losing loved ones more frequently and at younger ages.  This Juneteenth, let’s take time to reflect on Black Grief and tools to help us live healthier in 2022 and beyond.  Here are 6 tools to help you manage Black Grief:

Set firm boundaries

You are under no obligation to explain your feelings to others.  According to Forbes magazine, avoiding setting healthy boundaries in our relationships can lead to low self-esteem, needing approval from others, learned helplessness, or the fear of being rejected or criticized.  Setting boundaries allows us to redefine our identity and make ourselves a priority.  Being firm with boundaries also decreases your levels of stress. When setting boundaries, practice assertive communication, which allows you to be respectful yet direct at the same time. 

Indulge in creativity

Celebrating creativity can provide some respite from traumatizing events and it’s not selfish to take time out for yourself. Feeding your creativity can have a calming effect and it’s a great outlet to exert energy around frustrations and other hard emotions.  Sharing your creativity provides connectedness.  Additionally, Art Therapy has been known to decrease anxiety and depression symptoms and supports self-expression and healing. 

Limit Social Media Time

Not every post, tweet, article, or message requires your attention or response. A constant intake of footage and information can be overwhelming. A 2019 study found that teenagers who use social media for more than 3 hours daily are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior. Additionally, multiple studies have also found that prolonged hours on social media can be linked to similar symptoms in adults. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States and in 2020, 20 million adults had at least one major depressive episode. With depression and anxiety at an all-time high, you don’t need the approval to take a break from social media.  Put your mental health care first. 

Feel Your Emotions

Remember that your feelings are valid, take your time to acknowledge them, no matter how hard it is to sit with them.  Holding in your emotions often leads to more suffering.  Shutting off your feelings can also push someone into isolation, which can lead to other negative symptoms, such as depression.  When we shut down it stops the possibility for others to connect and comfort us.  The only way to live an authentic life is, to be honest with your feelings and be present with your emotions. We are told from a young age to wipe our tears and not show negative emotions, however, this doesn’t serve us in adulthood. Practice with friends or family that you feel safe with first, opening up about how you’ve been feeling. Talk therapy is a great way to get in touch with your emotions and process your feelings. 

Connect with others

It is important to seek support and comfort from others that you can trust.  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a social connection can lower depression and anxiety, regulate our emotions, and help improve our self-esteem and empathy for others. Join a book club, get involved with a professional organization, or make an intentional commitment to hanging out with family or friends regularly.  If hanging out with others creates social anxiety volunteer in your community or for a cause you are passionate about. There are many ways to connect with others.  Take an interest in a young person, offering mentorship. Working with the youth and teaching someone a new skill can be very rewarding and provide genuine opportunities to connect.  

Practice Mindful Cooking

Cooking is a great escape from the day and allows space to feel accomplished while enjoying the senses of smell, touch, and taste. It activates and engages our senses. The Wall Street Journal found that cooking and baking are activities that fit behavioral activation therapy, psychologists have noted. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior, and decreasing procrastination.

Wilson, Da’Mere and O’Connor, Mary-Frances. “Understanding Black Grief.” The University of Arizona, 28 April 2022

Webster, Micalah. “Resources for Black Healing.” University of North Carolina Wilmington, 1 June 2020

4 Ways to Help You Through the Stages of Grief 

Spring is a time of renewal and transition, however, it can also be a time of reflection of the past and those we miss dearly.  Additionally, for over 2 years now, we have been living with COVID-19 pandemic, adding to our experiences around loss. COVID-19 has surpassed roughly 993,000 deaths within the United States, leavings millions of Americans in a state of grief.  In this current environment, we are likely to see more people whose grief doesn’t lessen with time.  This has been emphasized by The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently announcing the addition of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) to the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) manual. 

Many of us are familiar with the stages of grief. We are told that it’s a process and it has to run its course. The grief cycle (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) allows us the right to give ourselves grace for how we feel and the mental challenges we face during the grieving process. However, grief can leave many people feeling hopeless and frustrated with its long lasting affects.  If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, here are 4 things you can do to manage your grieving process in a healthy way.

Self care.

Self care is critical right now.  Self care looks different for everyone and it is not selfish.  Regular exercise, good nutrition, prioritizing sleep, connecting with trusted friends and family members, mindfulness, meditation, and connecting to nature are great ways to practice self care and put your needs first.  Self care allows us space to tap into our subconscious feelings and thoughts and process them in a healthy manner.  Self care lets us get to know the authentic person inside and embrace our emotional functions. 

Practice Grace & Gratitude.

“Grace releases and affirms. It doesn’t smother. Grace values the dignity of individuals. It doesn’t destroy. Grace supports and encourages. It isn’t jealous or suspicious.” – Charles Swindoll

Grace gives us space to do the things we enjoy and honor our experiences.  Focusing on what we have and those in our community who are loving and caring helps us stand firm in giving ourselves grace.  Try making a gratitude jar.  Put 20-30 things you are grateful for in the jar and every morning pull one new thing out of the jar you are grateful for.  Practicing gratitude is an active way to give ourselves grace and be good to ourselves. 

Say no to “should”.

Many of us struggle with I “should” send that gift, I “should” help that friend, I “should” have done more.  The past is behind us, the future is uncertain but we do have the present.  Telling ourselves we “should” instead of “can I” or “do I feel” keeps us in a space of punishing ourselves, which is the opposite of grace. 

Ask for help. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Grief can be isolating and sometimes if we don’t find outlets to process our grief it can turn on us, leaving unhealthy ways to cope such as drinking, drugs, and other unhealthy behaviors.  Know you are not alone. Talk to a mental health professional, a best friend, or someone in your church community.  They can normalize your feelings and provide accountability for your journey in healing.