Today I was inspired to write because of two specific Facebook memories that came up in my feed today. The first was my #ThoughtforThursday post from 2015. Oddly enough, it’s even more applicable today, five years later. Who knew that something that I wrote five years ago would resonate so strongly today? What do you do when you’re the black person who is always strong, meanwhile there is a global pandemic where blacks in the US are dying at disproportionately high rates AND two very emotionally taxing racial incidents happen all in one week? The answer to that question begins with my 2015 thinking.
#ThoughtforThursday is don’t allow yourself to feel or get overwhelmed. Take a step back and #pauseandprioritize! Not everything is urgent nor is everything important. Ensure that you are prioritizing the “must do” things in your life. If not, you are subject to someone else steering your ship! When things get crazy, try it and see what happens. I bet you’ll like the outcome. (May 28, 2015)
Well, I will start by modifying my original 2015 thought because so many of us are feeling very overwhelmed right now, particularly Black Americans, so go ahead and feel your feelings. I am sharing five pragmatic tips for what I call “required radical self-care” (RRSC) so that we all make it through this week and beyond with our mental health in tact. We (Black people) are collectively experiencing an amygdala hijack, which triggers the fight/flight/freeze response in our brains. Given the impact of this pandemic and structural racism on the Black community, in particular, we’re currently experiencing, broadly speaking, a collective chronic stress syndrome which has a variety of negative consequences. So the time is now for required radical self-care (RRSC).
What are the five components of RRSC?
1. Take a sick day
Yes, a sick day and not a vacation day. Why? Because the current state of affairs are both depressing and creating chronic stress. This is unfortunately the standard state of affairs for Blacks in America since March of 2020 and depression and chronic stress are an illness, that’s why. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the workplace. The impact of chronic stress is, among other things:
- Increased cortisol: which we know can lead to increased obesity and therefore increased risk of fatal outcomes for COVID-19 patients.
- Cardiovascular stress: which, according to the American Heart Association, is the number one killer of Blacks and women.
- Decreased immunity: which we know that with respect to COVID-19 is also detrimental.
- Decreased memory.
- Decreased focus and attention.
- Desensitized to stressors.
These last three are particularly important when it comes to the workplace and having to show up and be productive. It’s very difficult during a state of chronic stress to actually be your best self. Yes, go ahead and take a sick day because your health needs attention right now.
Unplug from the news, social media, email. Maybe even the phone. Whatever you do unplug from all of the noise of the world for a bit. Step back. Take a deep breath. If you need to, remove social media apps from your phone, tablet and/or computer. Wherever you go to consume news and current events, logout and skip it for at least one day. You need this time for yourself.
Connect with loved ones, and when they ask how you’re doing, be honest. Tell them what you’re feeling. Tell them about your emotions. This is hard. It feels really hard. You do no one any good by being dishonest about that. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Not with everyone, but with those you love and who you know love you. Ask them how they’re doing. Consider what you might need or want to do going forward to check-in and ensure that you’re all okay.
Pause in whatever way you must. Be sure to communicate with those in your household about your pause, particularly if it will have an impact on them. But do pause and truly give yourself the time and space to pause. If you are taking a sick day from work, don’t check your email so you won’t be tempted to respond. If you look at your emails, you will feel the need to be responsive to people. So just don’t do it. Put an out of office message on so people will know they have to wait. Here are some suggestions for what to do to ensure you get the most out of your pause. If you do yoga, do yoga, if you meditate, meditate, if you dance, dance. Whatever it is, do something that will allow you to clear your head and get lost in the activity or practice. Do that. Honor your pause like your life depends on it, because it just might.
When you’re ready, make a list and prioritize it with ruthlessness. But before you make the list, start with some reflection. Think about what you have uncovered during your pause? How will you maintain and sustain the wellbeing that you need right now? Think about what you will prioritize. What will you do for your mental health safekeeping? Now start thinking about your list. What things must you do? What things won’t you do? It’s just as important to make a “won’t do” list as it is to make a “to do” list. Prioritize the things that you must do — for yourself, for your life (and people in your life), and for work. Make a second list of things that you won’t do — for yourself, for your life (and people in your life), and for your work. When you have decided what goes on your “must do” and “won’t do” lists, be sure to write it down and put it somewhere that you will see it daily. If you write it down and look at it daily, it will remind you of this pause and increase the likelihood of staying the course.
These are the 5 key steps to RRSC. Developing your own practice of RRSC may take more than one sick day and that’s okay too. You may find that you have to enact RRSC again every so often and know that is okay too. Most importantly, be sure to capture your reflections in some way. You may want to share your thoughts with a loved one or friend you connected with during your pause. Think about how you might incorporate RRSC on a more frequent basis in these extremely challenging times? Could this be something you try once a week or once every other week? (If you create a regular RRSC ritual, you won’t need to take a sick day every week, you’ll be able to do it one day that you’re not working. Be sure to plan for it.) Finding space to tend to your own mental and physical health is critical right now.
In closing, I will leave you with my second memory post, from 7 years ago.
“Today, my prayer is for humanity. I fear we are becoming more lost than ever. Please remember to ‘love thy neighbor’, it’s really not that hard.” — May 28, 2013.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and was published here with permission.