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Stress. Anger. Fear. Make Them Work For You, Not Against You.

Negative emotions don't have to weigh you down, they can lift you up.

Wellness

Something that I know is no good for me is cheese. You can just Google all of the reasons why dairy isn't the best thing for our bodies; one of them is the fact that it tends to create mucus. Even though I know that I need to leave it alone, even though I have tried some alternatives that are semi-impressive, I'm not intentional enough about avoiding cheese. If I want a slice—or three—of pizza, far too often, I'll take on the mindset that I'll eat it now and deal with the consequences later.

Maybe it's just me, but I think that's how a lot of us are when it comes to stress, anger or fear. Not that we like being stressed out, mad or fearful but, even though we know that there are certain things that we can do to avoid the circumstances that cause us to feel that way, we don't take the required proactive measures. We'll let stress, anger and fear infiltrate our lives and simply…deal with the consequences as they come.

Hopefully, one day, I'll pen a piece about the things we all can—and should—do to avoid situations that trigger these kinds of emotions altogether. But for now, if something is going on in your world that has you totally stressed out, mad as hell or scared to death right now, here is how you can make those very feelings work for, rather than against, you.

Stress

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Stress kills. Not metaphorically, literally. Heart disease, asthma, diabetes, headaches and depression are all associated with stress; so is premature death. According to The American Institute of Stress, some of the signs and symptoms of stress include teeth grinding, sweaty hands and feet, feeling overwhelmed, insomnia, fatigue, constant use of OTC medication, impulsive shopping—by the way, there are 43 other things on their list too! What's unfortunate is, a lot of us are so used to being stressed out, that we don't even recognize that these kinds of symptoms are actually alerting us to the fact that something is way out of balance; that some order needs to be restored to our lives.

This is why it's a good idea to know how to chill out sometimes. If, whenever you do, you discover that you feel worse instead of better (even if it's only initially), that could be an indication that you've been ignoring your body and either you should pamper yourself, see a physician or both. So, in a weird way, this is one of the ways to make stress work in your favor. If you're always having headaches or on an emotional roller coaster ride, rather than popping an Advil or chalking it up to it being a random mood swing, slow down and listen to what your body truly needs.

There are other ways to let stress work in your favor too. Say that you're stressed because you put a project off until the last minute. Come to think of it, you're always stressed at work because you are the queen of procrastination. Use stress as a reason to create a schedule, implement short- and long-term goals and, even get an accountability partner who will keep you on track, if need be. If you finesse it right, stress can be an incentive to put your life in order.

Another way that stress can work for you is…say that you are in a relationship and you are always stressed out because of it. Did you know that when your cortisol levels (your body's natural stress hormone) are high, oxytocin is one way to bring it back down? Kissing, hugging, cuddling and sho' nuf some sex are all ways to boost your oxytocin (a natural hormone that makes you feel good and relaxes you) and can bring you closer to your partner as a direct result. Yep, in a roundabout way, stress can be bonding agent.

One more thing worth noting about stress is, when you know better, you do better. Some medical professionals and therapists alike believe that stress can help you when it comes to making wiser future decisions. By choosing to handle stressful matters and not run from them, it makes you a more resilient individual; not only that, but it stretches the "calm under pressure" mental muscle that probably wouldn't receive any attention any other way.

So yeah, stress sucks. But, with the right approach, it can also teach you how to properly prioritize, how to make yourself a top priority and also, how to deal with drama—or just regular life stuff—as it comes, in an effective and methodical kind of way.

Anger

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There's nothing wrong with anger. Even Psalm 4:4 (NKJV) says, "Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed and be still. Selah." Be angry (cool). Don't let anger control your actions (not cool). To me, every feeling is like an emotional thermostat in the sense that, it is alerting us to when something is right—or not right. When it comes to anger specifically, a definition of the word reminds me that it is oftentimes rooted in perception—"a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire". Anger is typically about feeling displeased because you feel like someone wronged you or because you witnessed someone being wronged.

If you look at anger from this angle, whenever you feel this type of emotion, it's important to take a moment to process if a wrong (offense) actually has transpired or if you simply don't like something. For the record, they are not one and the same. I say that because I can't tell you how many times I got upset with another person, not so much because what they did was "wrong", but because they handled something in a particular matter (sometimes even with me) in a way that I never would. That means I didn't really need to be angry; I needed to be disappointed. On the other hand, when something like Eric Garner's killer getting off is brought to my attention? That is dead wrong, and I have every right to be angry. Still, I need to watch how I handle my anger.

To me, that's the first thing that anger is good for. What I mean by that is, if you are able to discipline yourself enough to process it without popping off—in word or deed, online or off—it can help you to master self-control and monitor your impulsivity.

To me, the other thing that anger can do is put a fire in you to end toxicity. If you're angry at work all of the time, are you putting a plan together to get another job? If you're always angry in a relationship, are you deactivating triggers? Better yet, is it one that you should remain in?

Anger is not a bad thing. It is an alarm and reminder to not be passive. If something is resulting in you becoming angry, changes need to be made. Make them.

Fear

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You've probably heard fear being broken down as an acronym—False Evidence Appearing Real. That's pretty insightful. Not 100 percent always the case, but insightful still. I will say that what that mental approach to fear makes me think about is creating problems, issues or drama, based on your own overthinking more than anything else; you know, getting so worried to the point of becoming fear-filled that something is going to happen that hasn't even happened yet—and probably won't. I say that because there are many studies supporting that 85 percent of what we worry about doesn't ever happen; the other 15 percent, we are able to handle when it does.

That's comforting to hear, but what if you know that you're not the best at initially processing the other 15 percent either? Good question. It kind of depends on what you're fearful about. If you're scared that you won't be able to make the rent this month, is it because you lost your job, you've got a roommate who hits-or-misses with their portion of it or because you misspend? By just taking a moment to sit down and process what is triggering the fear, that can inspire you to make some different life choices—speak with your landlord, get a new roommate, put a budget in place.

Or, maybe you're staying in a counterproductive relationship because you're "scared" to be alone. What exactly are you frightened of? Starting over? Not meeting someone new? Your ticking clock? If it's Column A, ask yourself if it's worse to start over or waste your precious time. If it's Column B, maybe it's time to put a vision board, a bucket list or a travel itinerary together. If it's Column C, set a doctor's appointment to get the accurate information about the state of your health and fertility.

Fear likes to feed off of emotions and lack of knowledge. When you're willing to address your fears, they tend to become smaller. You end up with more insight about yourself and your life, as a bonus, too.

One more thing about fear. I hate heights; mere words cannot express just how much! I mean, I'm the girl who, if I get a hotel room that is too high up, I'm going to hyperventilate. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine decided to "treat me" to ziplining for my birthday. They didn't tell me ahead of time and, once I arrived, they kind of pushed my dare button to get me to go through with it. Lawd, lawd, I will never forget those first two lines. I thought I was gonna pass out! But once I got halfway through (there were eight different ones), a lot of the fear that I had subsided. It's still not my favorite thing on the planet to do, but I would do it again and my acrophobia (fear of heights) is not nearly as intense as it used to be.

Fear is a bully. Conquering it makes it so much less of a threat in your life. So yeah, let's close this article out this way. The way to make fear work in your favor is keeping in mind that it oftentimes is rooted in ignorance or vulnerability. The more you are willing to face rather than run from your fear, the more self-aware and stronger you become. As a result, you are willing to take more risks, try more things and live more fully. If you let it, fear can actually be what drives you; not stifles you.

Of course, all of these emotions are a bit more layered and complex than I got into. But I do hope that now you are able to better see why stress, anger and/or fear is not your enemy. With the right approach, each can be used to make you more of the woman you actually want to become. They can make you thank them, not avoid them.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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