Racism, COVID-19, Self-Care
Nine Ways to Boost Resilience During America’s Double Pandemic
At the crossroads of COVID-19 + race-related stress, self-care is crucial. But when discussing mental health is taboo, it is hard to know where to start.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” ―James Baldwin
Disbelief, horror, fear, and rage. They describe the most intense levels of human emotion a person could experience. Imagine experiencing them all at once, day after day. Between the stream of images of Black people dying at the hands of racial injustice and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are dealing with an unsustainable cocktail of emotions. Dr. Bernice King tweeted, “It is traumatizing to be living through a global pandemic and living through the viciousness of racism at the same time.”
The National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and academic researchers have published several findings about the mental health impact of pandemic-related stress. According to the reports, people are dealing with symptoms relating to post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. They have reported poor sleep quality, increased substance use, and thoughts of suicide. Clinicians and academics have sounded the alarm about elevated levels of race-related stress among U.S. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In fact, experts have identified the surge of race-based brutality as a pandemic in itself.
During these stressful times, self-care is crucial. But coming from a subculture that values the visage of strength and discourages expressions of vulnerability, it is hard to know where to start. The number of Black people using mental health services is increasing. But mental health still bears a stigma within our communities. Thus, clinicians are striving to provide effective self-help strategies that can help individuals practice healthy coping and build personal and community resilience.
The following self-care tips include active coping strategies known to bear a positive impact on mental health. These strategies are tailored for the unique effects of the American double pandemic.
1. Prioritize your physical health. During this prolonged period of stay-at-home, work-from-home, and homeschooling protocols, many people have been eating more and moving less. The good news is the pandemic has inspired more people to cook at home. But many have reported that spending more time at home has led to snacking, leading to sudden weight gain. For health issues relating to diabetes, hypertension, and heart health, stress and weight gain can be a dangerous combination. The general recommendation is to resist self-soothing with food, alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Instead, eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
2. Minimize your exposure to distressing news. Although it is important to stay informed, too much exposure can cause stress hormones to remain elevated. Elevated stress hormones can raise your heart rate and blood pressure and suppress your immune system. So spend less time tuned in. Take breaks from pandemic-related updates, racially-traumatic reports, and political/election coverage. Turn off the auto-play feature on your social media pages so you’re not caught off-guard by disturbing images. Spend more time doing things you enjoy and engaging in a normal daily routine. Limit your news updates to only a few pre-planned times per day. However, try to avoid reading/watching the news upon waking or before going to bed.
3. Create the habit of taking self-care breaks. Whether it be minor breaks throughout the day or an entire mental health day, allow your mind to rest from constant mental activity.
4. Create a plan for managing strong emotions. Figure out which activities work better for providing calm after an emotional upset. Your plan may include taking a walk, breathing exercises, meditation, or talking to a supportive friend. Then put the plan into action when you become stressed, anxious, angry, or overwhelmed by media images. Using your plan consistently can boost your levels of resilience (i.e., your ability to bounce back).
5. Stay connected with friends and family. Social distancing can generate feelings of disconnection and isolation. Develop a daily habit of checking in with others via phone and text. Use video technology such as FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Houseparty, and Zoom to enhance feelings of connection.
6. Use technology to boost your mind-body connection. Download and use mobile apps like Calm, Headspace, and One-Moment Meditation. They can help you learn mindful practices such as meditation, body scans, and progressive muscle relaxation. You can also find guided mind-body activities by searching Google and YouTube.
7. Spend time in nature. Research has shown that spending 20 to 30 minutes connecting with nature can help to lower stress hormone levels. Studies also suggest that exposure to sunlight can raise the levels of brain serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with boosting mood, feeling calm, and improving focus.
8. Give or volunteer. Activism has many forms. Protesting is only one way to support the anti-racism movement. Other ways you can support the movement include registering people to vote, blogging, raising awareness via social media, checking in on the elderly, providing emotional support, and cooking meals for grieving neighbors. Contributing, even on a small scale, can help to reduce feelings of helplessness.
9. Seek professional help. If you feeling overwhelmed, or your level of distress has affected important aspects of your daily life (i.e., home, work, relationships) for two weeks or more, please consider talking to a clergy member, licensed therapist, or medical doctor. If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call the SAMHSA National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.
Remember, you are not alone. Many people feel overwhelmed and it is important to acknowledge this openly. Taking care of our mental health is important not only for ourselves, but for the health of our communities. Practice self-care using the tips above and be sure to share them with others.