Career & Money

Stress Awareness Month: Sneaky Workplace Triggers Affecting Black Women, And How To Cope

We all know about the major stress triggers of everyday life, from relationship woes to monthly bills to unexpected emergencies, but there are small, subtle triggers that impact Black women in a big way, especially when it comes to work. It’s good to be aware of these sneaky stressors in order to maximize your day and find ways to incorporate solutions into your self-care routines.

Since it’s Stress Awareness Month, we caught up with Keanne Owens, LCSW, founder of Journey To Harmony Therapy Center, to talk about these triggers and what Black women can do to manage and cope.

Owens is an experienced South Florida-based counselor and social worker who offers her services via Grow Therapy, a therapy and medication management platform. She has worked with Black women professionals to unpack issues related to workplace stressors. “One is the pressure to perform–having to meet deadlines and deliverables," she said. "And a lot of times, these subtle stressors from performance are put upon ourselves as Black women. We want to make sure we’re doing our best. We don’t want to be critiqued in certain ways.”

Excessive micromanagement leading to fear of overly critical bosses is another subtle trigger that can negatively impact Black women in the workplace.

“Whenever something is done wrong, or we experience some type of injustice and have to report it, it’s the fear of retaliation–[fear that] we won’t be taken seriously or [our words] will be taken out of context because of being deemed as the ‘angry Black woman,’” she said.

Black Women And Workplace Stress Triggers

Her sentiments are backed by research. A recent report by Coqual found that 28% of Black women (compared to 17% of White men) say their supervisor uses “excessive control or attention to detail” when managing them. There’s more: A survey by the National Employment Law Project found that Black workers were “more likely to have concerns (80 percent) and twice as likely as white workers (18 percent) to have unresolved concerns at work, with 39 percent reporting they were “not satisfied with the employer’s response or did not raise concerns for fear of retaliation.”

The survey also found that 14 percent of Black respondents said they “avoided raising concerns to their employer for fear of retaliation—more than twice the average rate of 6 percent for all survey respondents.”

Owens pointed to the fact that these subtle stress triggers can negatively impact our physical health and our career advancement. “A lot of time it’ll affect our productivity,” Owens added. “We start to have negative thoughts of ourselves. The stressors can also cause fatigue. We’re no longer meeting or working up to our desired potential.” Other challenges as a result include insomnia and increased insolation, withdrawal, and lack of motivation to apply for jobs or promotions even when qualified.

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How To Manage Subtle Stress Triggers 

While there are systemic issues at play for Black women at work that has less to do with us and more to do with major overhauls that must be addressed by the powers that be, there are steps we can take for the betterment of ourselves and our mental health. Owens offered the following tips:

Tap into a support system, whether it’s a coworker you trust, a family member, an organization, or an outlet like a hobby.

Create a good work-life balance before burnout even starts. “Having certain boundaries [is the goal] such as, for example, if you get off at 5, you get off at 5. If your job description is this, you don’t go above and beyond because that brings you to a lot of burnout,” Owens said.

Prioritize self-care, whatever that means for you. “If you don’t have a routine, create one. Practice mindfulness and even some meditation,” she added.

Create structure in your life outside of work. “Even if you have a family, applying some structure in your routine helps relieve stress,” she said.

Get into grounding techniques. “Do a real quick square breathing exercise, that’s literally 30 seconds, or you can do a grounding technique that’s less than two minutes, right there where you are. You don’t need any other materials. That’s something you can do with just yourself and your body.”

Ask for help. “As Black women, we don’t ask for help enough,” she said. “Find where you need to ask for help. A lot of times, people think that’s indicative of weakness, but we need to rewrite that narrative. It’s okay to ask for help where you see fit. [If] you’re a mom, [it could be] every Wednesday from 5 to 6, your children are with the dad. You have to carve out that time.”

For more information on Grow Therapy, visit their website. You can also find out more about Keanne Owens, LCSW, via BeginYourJourneyToHarmony.com.

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