Just a year ago, shocking images of the racially-charged riots in Charlottesville dominated the airwaves. Now, in Chicago, citizens have endured weeks of unprecedented brutality and we have shared their horror on television, in newspapers and streaming online. As second-hand exposure to this level of violence through the media escalates, it can lead to long-term mental health problems reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder. With much of it racially driven, the toll on members of the black community is especially profound (“How to Deal With PTSD,” Chicago Defender, July 25, 2018).
Professor Jules Harrell of Howard University’s research on the impact of racism on African-Americans tell us that when people view or recall episodes of racism, distinct changes in physiological activity are evident. Reliving these psychologically wounding moments is not only traumatizing but come at a high emotional cost — nightmares and flashbacks, an inability to sleep, panic attacks and depression.
Mental Health First Aid teaches participants how to recognize and respond to signs of mental health and substance-use disorders and how to start difficult conversations that connect people to care, if necessary. Participants also learn about the importance of self-care. Because self-care is vital to coping with trauma, here are three ways to protect your well-being in the wake of tragic events, adopted from the Mental Health First Aid USA curriculum.
Memories of a traumatic event can return unexpectedly days, weeks or months later. When you’re feeling anxious, find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes and set aside 15 minutes for relaxation training, tensing and releasing muscle groups such as your neck and shoulders, to relieve stress. You can find guided relaxation trainings online, such as this one from the University of Michigan.
Discuss your feelings of outrage and fear with trusted, like-minded friends who are empathetic and will listen non-judgmentally. Process your feelings with them rather than isolating yourself. To stay grounded, disconnect from triggering encounters that will evoke feelings of shock and despair. This means disabling autopay videos as soon as they emerge on your newsfeed feed. Turn to uplifting news that highlights the enriching experiences of African Americans.
Having trouble sleeping and eating? Try relaxation routines such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga. Studies have shown the benefits of practicing mindfulness to ease depression, particularly in black women. For some, this might mean indulging in aromatherapy to lift your spirits, taking a walk in nature or listen to an empowering anthem. Consciously seek out moments to replenish your energy, even if it means taking a mental health day from work.
Use these ideas to create your own self-care checklist and make our communities stronger. Take a course in Mental Health First Aid today.