Clicking through the channels, I see varying headlines with the same message- another person of color (POC) gone. I immediately experience a wave of numbness as if this is “normal.” In the moment, I recognize the profound sadness in my reaction in that it has become so normal to see the deaths of POC. Navigating conversations about race-related nationwide issues can be triggering and difficult. Such conversations can create various responses for different people. For example, some may experience a reaction in the physical symptoms (i.e., difficulty breathing, tense, heated body), emotional symptoms (i.e., sadness, anxiety), and mental symptoms (i.e., questioning the world, gaslighting your reality, etc.).
Listen to your Body
I like to think about our bodies as “cars.” When there is something wrong with a car, the car will have a light on to notify you to alert you. For example, if you are low on gas, the beloved E light comes on promptly. In this way, our bodies act in the same way in that they will notify us when something is off. If you are in a specific triggering conversation, notice what your body is trying to communicate with you (like a car). Are you angry? Are your breathing patterns changing? How have these physical reactions communicated to you? Whatever it is, pause, listen and honor your body.
Take Care of Yourself
Based on your evaluation of your own symptoms, respond to your body’s needs. If this means going for a walk, listening to music, watching your favorite show, whatever will be helpful- do that. Another way of taking care of yourself is giving yourself permission to NOT engage in the conversations. This is especially true if you find that listening to the news, reading articles or blogs, or having a conversation makes you feel particularly weary or exhausted. You are allowed to just not do it. You don’t have to engage if it costs you your mental or emotional well-being. Being a person of color in this country can bring enough challenges on its own; you should not have to feel obligated to engage every time you are reminded of it.
No explanations. No shame. Just choosing you.
Another way to take care of yourself is by setting boundaries. Boundaries are limits and rules that people set for themselves. If these recent conversations are more frequent around you and leave you feeling unsafe and uncomfortable, it is more than okay to set boundaries on what you can handle mentally and emotionally. In fact, this setting of boundaries teaches others how they can and cannot treat you. In this sense, we can think of our loved ones who honor our boundaries, as the mechanics who are there to be beside us along the way. Trust yourself and your limits, and honor those boundaries in your life.
If you are on the other side of the spectrum with emotions and discussing difficult topics, you may also find that it is difficult to control impulses or reactions in a heated discussion. It is a helpful reminder that when we are highly aroused (i.e., the car alarm system goes off) our sense of logic and reason are hard to access. Instead, we may act out of the emotions we are experiencing. One helpful tool that can be used in conversations, is using language that minimizes blaming. A frequent technique is using “I” statements to communicate how you are feeling in the moment without blaming the other person. For example, I like to say, “I feel overwhelmed by all of the current events and do not have the mental or emotional capacity to talk about this. Is it okay if we touch back on this at a different time?” This type of statement honors your needs and limitations. This may take some practice but can be a helpful tool in other social interactions as well.
Once you feel ready, you may also consider what to do next. Advocacy is an important part of these discussions to continue the conversation to work towards change. In this way, I would encourage you to get connected. Find community groups who support your cause, be an ally on social media platforms, sign a petition to make changes, or maybe continue to have one-on-one conversations with your loved ones to promote meaningful dialogue. Connect and advocate.
Lastly, count on your support system. We are not meant to do this life alone but to have others around us in moments of pain, need, and despair. Find your support with friends, close colleagues, mentors, perhaps family, or maybe a stranger. Either way, remember you are not alone in this as others are also having a difficult time navigating their thoughts, emotions, and experiences with the recent shootings, conversations about race, and other world events (all while in a pandemic!). Give yourself grace. Find support. Honor your boundaries. And most importantly, take care of yourself.
If you would like to talk to a mental health professional, please feel free to reach out to Regent’s Psychological Services Center at 757-352-4488.