Black Therapists on Their Best Advice for Coping Right Now
For Black people, coping is a fraught and unceasing endeavor, especially right now. It includes the complex emotions that come from witnessing the deaths of George Floyd and the countless other folks who’ve lost their lives at the hands of the state. But it also includes fears of the coronavirus pandemic. It might involve grappling with job insecurity, isolation, and housing issues. Coping might also encompass the mundane disappointments of life: a broken AC, fights with loved ones, car payments, laundry, and sleeplessness. How are Black folks coping right now? How have we coped thus far? How do we process our own feelings against the soundbites, overtures, and invitations to talk?
If you’re a Black person who is having trouble making sense of this current moment, you’re not alone. Many Black therapists feel especially compelled to hold space for some of the feelings you’re experiencing. Below, eight Black therapists give you their best advice on how to cope with being Black in America right now. May some of these strategies make life a little easier as you continue on the long road toward radical healing and tangible change.
1. Be mindful of your information diet and unplug sometimes.
“Sharing and communicating is important because we’re all going through this together, but I’m also advising people to be mindful about their ingestion of social media and the videos of George Floyd and others who were killed or assaulted by police. These videos are helpful because the incidents are captured on tape. There’s proof, and that can feel empowering. But these videos—and I use this word carefully—are violent, and they’re dangerous. We feel connected to the person who is the victim of those assaults. We can almost feel the baton, or the rubber bullet, in our back. That is a trauma, and we have to be mindful about submerging ourselves in that day in and day out.
We don’t fully understand the psychological ramifications of exposure to these videos, but what we do understand about witnessing violence, particularly when you feel connected to the victim, is that the outcome isn’t great. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness, similar to the picture of post-traumatic stress disorder. So be mindful of how you take in information and unplug if necessary.” —Margaret Seide, M.D.
2. Set boundaries unapologetically.
“My advice for those coping with racial trauma and pandemic stress includes setting both personal and professional boundaries around what you will allow yourself to talk about. Placing self-care as a priority is not ‘selfish,’ especially during these difficult times. Self-care can include picking your battles and reserving your emotional labor for only those you truly value. Disconnecting and taking a break to re-center yourself is a form of self-preservation that is much-needed to avoid burnout.” —Siobhan D. Flowers, Ph.D.
3. Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling.
“If you’re not ready to talk about whatever you’re going through, try to be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling. To do this, I’d recommend taking a moment to acknowledge the feelings, breathe in and out, check in with yourself to understand what the emotion is telling you. I tell clients to do that to really process before you decide what you’re going to do.” —LaQuista Erinna, L.C.S.W.
4. Ask someone you trust to back up your feelings.
“We need to remind ourselves that we are entitled to our feelings—every single one of us. If you believe that other people have a right to have varying feelings, then you also have that right. I would also recommend reaching out to trusted support systems who can validate those feelings.” —Chante’ Gamby, L.C.S.W.
5. Seek resources to help you identify conflicting emotions.
“If you don’t know what you’re feeling, you can write out what comes to mind without editing or censoring yourself. There are also these beautiful pictures going around the internet that list the major emotions and then other related descriptors and emotions. Find one of those feeling charts to give language to what you might be feeling inside.” —Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D.
6. Lean on friends, family, and mental health professionals for support.
“Talk about your feelings, whether it’s in a therapy session or a support group, or in a group chat with friends. If therapy isn’t an option, there is a lot of online support popping up. I encourage clients to explore a lot of the platforms out there. Therapy for Black Girls is a good resource.” —Myisha Jackson, L.P.C.
7. Embrace culturally relevant ways of coping.
“There are community-based and Indigenous ways of coping with events like these that I think are important to connect to. These can be things that are culturally relevant and soothing for you. For instance, my family is from Trinidad, and my grandmother had a hibiscus tree when I was a child. I’m growing a hibiscus tree in my house right now that I didn’t have before, and caring for this tree has been so meaningful. That’s an example of culturally relevant forms of healing.” —Horsham-Brathwaite
8. Support the movement in whatever way feels right for you.
“We are dealing with trauma, and that comes with a trauma response. We’re going to see people fight, flight, or freeze in response to recent events. I’ve had clients express this feeling of not doing enough, even though they care deeply about what’s going on. They may want to participate in protests but have fears about COVID-19. Some people are truly overwhelmed and anxious, and protesting just adds to those feelings. Show yourself some self-compassion. There are several ways to support the cause. That might be through protesting, or donating to funds that bail protestors out, or supporting organizations that fight for racial justice.” —Bianca Walker, L.P.C.
9. Ask your elders questions about their lives.
“Have conversations with your family. Bring a spirit of curiosity to these discussions. The reason this is particularly important is that part of the way Black people have framed our identity (though not the only way) is through our shared experiences of racism in this country. Those experiences of who came before us have shaped the choices we made. So just having some conversations about life experiences, without judgment, is deeply meaningful. It’s helpful to understand how Mom, Dad, and other family members came to be.” —Horsham-Brathwaite
10. Know that you don’t have to be “strong” right now.
“We have learned to be strong and carry on, but let’s not rely on that way of coping during these times. We need to actively and intentionally take care of ourselves. Being on social media for hours is not taking care of yourself. Continuing to spend time and energy on those who do not value you and do not want to hear what you have to say is not taking care of yourself.
Some things to try instead? Journaling some of your thoughts and feelings, engaging in meditation apps, doing some form of physical activity, taking as little as five minutes to sit still (with no phone or TV). You can also make a list of what is within your control and what is out of your control, and continue to refer back to this list when you get overwhelmed. Lastly, have self-compassion during this time. You do not need to do it all, have it all, and be it all right now.” —Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D.
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
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