“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