Things are really hard right now.
Coronavirus knocked us out and then this past week….well, how do you even find the words to accurately embrace all of the parts of what this past week has been? “Race relations in the US” seems too ……..I don’t know—tame?-- but it’s not it, “the death of George Floyd”--while accurate and deserving of specific recognition—doesn’t span the breadth enough, and the same inadequacies seem to apply to “protests”, “riots”, and so many other terms I might try to use.
I’m tired, you’re tired, and there are so many beyond the brink of the heaviest of exhaustions. The same goes for the following emotions: grief-stricken, heartbroken, gut-wrenched, devastated, overwhelmed, disoriented.
As a therapist, my job is about so much more than feelings, though that is certainly central (or at least central-adjacent) to everything I do.
And it is with that in mind that I formulate this post.
There are countless others who have much better things to say than me and honestly, hearing from them is much wiser right now. Others can educate more deeply. Can educate better. Others can speak to the complexity of these emotions and the burden of them---the LENGTH of them. They have bigger platforms, more gravitas to their role in the world, to their role in race relations in the United States. I am not trying to be them, nor am I trying to mimic them.
Instead, I am going to use my knowledge as a therapist to offer a sliver of a something. In many cases slivers aren’t enough. In others, slivers contribute to the chunks. And it is in this second category I am hoping to land.
In this time of absolute overwhelm, I want to speak to caring for your emotional health. I really believe these points are helpful to all, and harmful to neither an individual nor a cause.
My recommendations for caring for your emotional health right now are three-fold:
1.) Rest and quiet.
These might be better separated but I will categorize them as one because the overarching theme is the same: slow down.
When the emotions we are all feeling right now are so sharp and so intense, they will overwhelm the system. When this happens, your system will start to shut down. None of us need you or want you shut down. As an individual person and as a person aiding this worthy cause. Demanding and working for better interactions between races in our country. For a better, safer life for all black people, as well as other minorities. You deserve to take a break, you deserve to rest.
And I want you to know that resting does not mean you will never pick up the mantle of the fight again.
You won’t forget; you won’t lose steam; you won’t lose legitimacy. In fact, you’ll likely increase those because your body will give you positive feedback: clarity, energy, renewed sense of purpose, heightened commitment. That’s what happens when we rest: our bodies return the favor.
The “quiet” part of this step is equally important. It’s okay to turn off the noise of social media and to turn off the news. To disengage for a minute. This is for the purpose of consolidation of information but it’s also for something else: gaining introspective clarity. In this flood of emotions we are all feeling, it can be hard to find which emotion needs either the most attention, or the first attention. Is it the overwhelm? Is it the confusion? Is it guilt or shame? In time, you will address them all. But a starting place is necessary.
So get quiet with yourself. Get quiet away from your phone, computer, and television. Take some deep breaths, maybe even close your eyes. Maybe you put a hand on your heart and another on your stomach. Breathe.
What do you feel? What rises to the top of all of those emotions? Which is the loudest, or the sharpest, or the most painful right now? It is there that you will find your beginning.
(See #2 for “beginning of what.”)
Action almost always helps our mental and emotional health, especially when coupled with rest. It can be a hard balance to strike, but in this situation, the quantities aren’t nearly as important as the presence of each.
Action is especially helpful when driven by what we learn in the times of quiet. When action is appropriately matched to resolution of our needs, it usually produces growth. And growth, as individuals and as a society, is absolutely what we are looking for right now. As you’re reflecting on your emotions, consider the action that would help them. Then, pursue that action. As you gain momentum, fan out the action to include additional types of behavior.
This is another two-parter in a sense. Lots of us withdraw to a degree when we are overwhelmed and stressed. Especially when a way out seems chaotic or murky or any number of things. Again, this is our internal system doing its part. But we don’t always want that automatic programming to dictate or manage or guide our lives. So, fight the urge to stay alone by instead reaching out. To just about anyone.
Call a friend, neighbor, coworker, family member, old college classmate and say “hey, this has been hard for me.” Maybe the opening conversation is “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing?” You know the relationship, you can make that decision. But have the conversation. It will take off from there. You’ll learn; they’ll learn; you’ll feel even more tied to the pursuit of this cause; you’ll feel able to continue to move forward. And forward is the direction to go.
The second part of this: connect in small ways, too. Make sure you’re making eye contact with people on a walk or in the store. Make that small talk with the cashier, delivery person, or person on a walk.
Connect. Align. Develop kinship.
Remind yourself of the togetherness needed for this. Remind yourself that it’s there in many cases. You’ll feel your system respond positively to this. You’ll feel your system expand in its ability to keep going. I promise.
Take care of yourselves and take care of others. Know that this formula is not meant to be the be-all, end-all to anguish in this. This is not composed as a way to avoid your emotions. It is intended to be a way to help you navigate them and give them a path.
Keep this in mind and go forth to find other, more meaningful and impactful voices. But: take care.
Talk to you soon.
At Marble Wellness, our goal is simple: Counseling services in St. Louis, MO designed to help set you on a path of living a more fulfilled, calm, and happy life. We specialize in anxiety,depression, and maternal overwhelm. I can also help new moms with various postpartum concerns, moms in the thick of parenting, and moms with teens. No matter where you are in your journey, I would love to support you.