When Trayvon Martin was senselessly murdered for doing what any average teenager does on a rainy afternoon - making a run to the corner store wearing a hoodie - it made blatant to the world what Black people have long suspected. That, despite centuries of injustice, despite having a Black president, and despite living in a so-called post-racial society, our Black lives still didn't matter.
I remember hearing the audio tape of his killing as I carried my unborn child. I followed Trayvon's trial extremely close that year as I struggled through a high-risk, life-threatening pregnancy. It was an extremely low, uncertain period in my life exacerbated by frequent hospitalizations, the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin and the realization that I, my family, and my unborn child were not safe from racial violence. In fact, I myself had been a victim of excessive force by police officers seven years prior.
My pregnancy was marked by frequent instances of pre-term labor, symptoms of heart failure and dangerously high blood pressure. It wasn't until late into my second trimester that my mother made a startling connection:
Every single time I watched the trial or allowed myself to get worked up by new developments in the case, I ended up being hospitalized. My physical symptoms were directly connected to the emotions the trial brought up in me.
She told me to turn off the TV and to block out the violence and negativity going on around me. "Pregnancy is supposed to be the happiest time of your life. Watch comedies, eat the foods you enjoy. Don't expose yourself to negativity." Despite my initial resistance, I found that, surprisingly, my hospitalizations immediately ceased once I took her advice to heart.
This experience made me realize two things:
- The mind-body connection is incredibly strong, especially for empaths, introverts and highly-sensitive people like me.
- People of color internalize trauma so deeply that we may not realize the effect it has on us, on our children, on our relationships, and on our physical and emotional well-being.
Studies show a direct link between being exposed to racial injustice and generational trauma. Stress hormones, susceptibility to anxiety and depression and symptoms of PTSD, throughout history, have been passed down from traumatized Black mothers to their unborn children through the womb.
Renowned author and researcher Joy DeGruy has coined a term for this phenomena: Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome. "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome is a condition that exists when a population has experienced multigenerational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and continues to experience oppression and institutionalized racism today." Healthline.com notes:
"For the Black community, the impact of centuries of unaddressed trauma still manifests today...being Black in America means living with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused not only by one's lived experiences, but the experiences of our ancestors…"
Black people have been exposed to racial injustice and police brutality for centuries. But for the past eight years especially, since the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin and the wide availability of smartphones, coverage of these events have markedly increased. Much to our benefit, but also to the detriment of our physical and emotional health.
Exposure to graphic images of murder and death is adversely affecting our collective health. This is quite literally a public health crisis that isn't being adequately addressed.
Until it is, it's on us to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Here are 4 steps that you can take to off-set the dangerous effects of these traumatic events on your psyche and on your physical health:
Turn off your television. Take a break from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. In fact, turn off your phone altogether. Limit your exposure to negative news, conversations and graphic violence. Our generation, more than generations prior, is subject to an "always on, 24-hour" news cycle that makes it difficult to turn away from what's trending in the news and on social media.
2. Evaluate Your Feelings
It is normal to experience FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out), but you don't have to know and publicly react to everything that's going on in the world. Often, when incidences of racial violence go public, there is a pervasive pressure to immediately issue a public reaction. There is a feeling that if you don't respond right away, you're not "woke."
Don't ever allow yourself to feel guilty about protecting your emotional and mental health.
Empaths and highly sensitive people need time to process traumatic events. This is especially true for empaths who absorb everyone else's feelings so deeply to the point where you may become confused about where your feelings end and someone else's begins! You need time to process your feelings and to determine whether or not you're actually carrying on the emotions of someone else or of society at large. Take your time.
Take a moment to connect with nature. Take a walk in the park. Run a bath. Allow yourself some solitude and the chance to clear your mind. Practice grounding exercises and carry dark crystals like Black Tourmaline and Black Obsidian to stave off negative vibes.
3. Think Critically
Don't allow yourself to be so easily persuaded by what's being reported in the news, by social media influencers and by social media justice warriors. Some of these people and groups profit off of permanent outrage. The louder and the more outraged they sound, the more "woke" they seem, the more clout they get and the more followers they receive.
Be introspective. Reflect on whether or not the feelings you are experiencing are indeed your own, or if you are being influenced by performative outrage. The same adage about cutting off negative people, environments and situations also applies to the people and pages you spend time on on social media too!
Don't underestimate the impact social media has on mental health. Studies show that since social media first appeared on the scene in the early 2000s, rates of suicide, anxiety and depression have surged.
4. Don’t Bottle Up Your Emotions
Set an appointment with a therapist. Speak with a trusted friend. Pour your emotions out in your journal or through your preferred artistic medium like illustration, music, or dance. Allow yourself to deeply feel and experience the influx of emotions that you may not be able to express outwardly. Cry if you need to. Go somewhere private and scream at the top of your lungs. Allow yourself to fully experience the pain that these events inevitably bring. And then LET IT GO.
Don't allow stress and pain to live and fester inside of your mind and body. It will inevitably manifest in harmful ways.
Brutality against people of color is embedded into the fabric of America since the days of our founding fathers. Instances of police brutality will likely continue until major systemic reforms are made.
Remaining mindful of the effects these events have on you can help you survive and prosper in the face of injustice and brutality against people of color.
How do you cope with news of racial violence or police brutality? Let me know in the comments!
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Featured image by Getty Images