As countless stories of race-based killing fill my news feed, I find my reactions ranging from melancholy to anger to fatigue and back again. Despite the specific feelings, I know that my consumption of these news articles, blogs and graphic videos is eliciting stress. And not just any kind of stress -- race-based stress, a unique, particularly pernicious form of stress that negatively affects all sorts of physical and mental health outcomes.
Knowing the harmful effects of stress on the mind and body left me faced with the need to find adaptive ways of managing the chronic "microtraumas" brought on when I consume racially-charged media. After one of the most racially salient years of my life, it became very clear that just because these events didn't happen to me directly, they were still relevant to me, and were definitely negatively affecting me. Rather than disengage completely, I went into self-care-mode, at times using some, and at other times using all of the eight actions below.
1. Breathe. Literally. Take a deep breath, and know you're alive. Know that as long as you are alive, you are empowered to help create the type of world you want to live in.
2. Take a Break. This could be a 10-minutes break at work, or a mental health day or even a "media fast." After the Charleston shooting, I made it about two hours into the workday before going home to process the event in solitude. However you do it, taking a brief pause can be restorative.
3. Find Solace in Your Community. Seek the comfort of family and other community members who "get it." Phone a friend. Visit your neighbor. Engage with your social media community. While some folks claim that social media is causing the demise of true social connection, I'm here to tell you that I cannot stress enough how grateful I was for Black Twitter after the St. Louis grand jury's decision to not indict Darren Wilson. I was watching that press conference alone in my small apartment, and felt completely heartbroken after the decision was aired. And you know what I did right after the press conference? I took to the only community I was able to access at the time--my online community. By engaging with them I knew I was far from alone, and just that fact, made me feel a little bit better.
4. Walk (or Run or Hula Hoop or...). The point here is, do something physical. You'll be using a completely different part of your brain and it can help you manage your stress.
5. Meditate. Twenty-four hour news is a blessing and a curse. When the constant news story, statistic or video becomes just a bit too much to bear, try to clear your mind. Remember, meditation doesn't have to be sitting alone trying to push thoughts out of your head. You can engage in walking meditation (see #4), you can mediate in a community or you can even engage in a calming activity like watching a flame or slowly drinking a cup of tea. I often two-strand twist my hair while baking chocolate chip cookies as a meditation. Focusing on the repetition of twisting my hair with the smell of melted chocolate in the oven completely relaxes me. Do what works for you.
6. Surround Yourself With Beauty. Whether this is being in nature or listening to a song that moves you, connecting with beauty can be very soothing when you feel stress or pain. My go-to beauty move is to eat something colorful and delicious. Consuming food is one of the only acts that encompasses all five senses, and for me, it can be quite stabilizing.
7. Act. Do something. While it can feel like the system is too large to change, keep in mind that you can do something. Your presence at a rally or vigil makes a difference, because there is power in numbers. Your posts on Facebook and Twitter and blogs matter, because together we're raising the salience of oppressive behavior that must be stopped. Organizing matters, because coordinated efforts have the potential to shape future generations.
8. Watch a Comedy. This may seem counterintuitive, but just as there is no "appropriate" response to grief, there is no "appropriate" response to managing race-based stress and microtraumas. As such, smile, laugh, hug and love and remember, these behaviors and emotions do not compromise your dedication to justice.
Audre Lorde wrote, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." I believe Lorde's wisdom is just as true today as it was when she first published A Burst of Light over 20 years ago. Remembering to care for ourselves does not make us less dedicated or passionate about the cause. In fact, I believe that self-care can actually make us more effective champions, precisely because when we do so, we're staying in touch with our best selves in the midst of stress and turmoil. So when your heart is racing, or you lose your appetite, or you find that you can't sleep after engaging with media on race-based violence, remember self-care.
Do it for Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Kimberlee Randle King, Sam Dubose, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharona Coleman Singleton, Myra Thompson, Amadou Diallo, Ramarley Graham, John Crawford, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Patrick Dorismond, Kimani Grey, Kendrick Mcdade, Aiyana Jones, Shereese Francis, Levar Jones, Malcolm Ferguson, Jonathan Ferrell and Walter Scott. Do it for all of the names not on this list. Do it for the next victim of race-based brutality. But most of do it for yourself, so you can stay engaged, so you can stay healthy and resilient, and so you never, ever lose faith in your own power and in the strength of our collective energies and efforts.