How the black community can prioritize mental health in the wake of George Floyd's killing, protests and ongoing racist violence

As emotions reach a boiling point across the United States following the killing of George Floyd in police custody, it is important for the black community to prioritize mental and emotional well-being.

Millions have seen the video of Floyd taking his last breaths as he was detained by four Minneapolis police officers, one of whom, Derek Chauvin, was kneeling on his neck. Following widespread outrage, protests quickly swelled in the streets of Minneapolis and all across the country. Dorothy A. Brown, a professor at Emory University School of Law, tells Yahoo Life that Floyd’s death was a part of a “perfect storm.”

“First off, another black person was murdered by the police, and it took quite some time before [Chauvin] was charged with murder. So we’ve seen police violence imposed upon black Americans before, we’ve protested, and not much has changed,” she notes.

Brown believes the coronavirus pandemic, which had already been disproportionately killing black people, played a huge role in the explosion of tension across the country.

But with a nonstop news cycle that forces many black people to relive the death of Floyd and other black people at the hands of police, many may find it almost impossible to focus on their own health.

Rheeda Walker, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Houston, tells Yahoo Life that there has been a range of emotions, from anger to absolute rage to a sense of numbness. She also shares several tips to help navigate through these feelings.

Mental health is vital to overall health — and in the wake of racial violence and injustice, it is even more crucial. (Getty Creative)
Mental health is vital to overall health — and in the wake of racial violence and injustice, it is even more crucial. (Getty Creative)

Disengage from social media

It can seem difficult to take time off from social media and television for fear of missing out, and it can particularly be hard for those who want to keep up with vital information regarding the Floyd case, as well as protests. Still, Walker says, it is necessary.

“Avoid watching the videos and even seeing that image of the officer’s knee in George Floyd’s neck,” she says. “Seeing that repetitively has a psychological impact.”

Naj Austin, founder and CEO of social and wellness platform Ethel’s Club, which centers around people of color, also advises taking a step back from social media.

“We don’t have to be on social all the time, we don’t have to constantly be consuming, and sometimes it’s OK to step away from that,” she advises.

Talk to like-minded people who understand where you’re coming from

Turning to your community and other trusted people for discussion can give you a safe space to express your feelings without judgment.

“Sometimes we question our own thoughts and feelings, and it’s nice to have someone else that affirms, ‘Yeah, I’ve been feeling the same way,’ so we can be a part of a community and get support,” Walker says.

Write down your thoughts

In addition to reaching out to like-minded people, Walker recommends taking time to be alone with your thoughts and feelings by writing down what you find upsetting or unsettling.

“I think people hear journaling and they’re like, ‘What? I ain’t got time for all that,’ but that’s why I try to explain that it gets us out of our heads and into solution mode,” she says. “The science shows that it is helpful to get things out of your head and onto paper.”

Austin says that members of Ethel’s Club have responded positively to journaling and that its monthly meditative journaling is one of its most highly attended in-person programs before it closed its Brooklyn, N.Y., clubhouse because of COVID-19.

And according to Walker, with journaling, people can tap into figuring out what they can do to help the causes that are important to them.

Slow down to avoid burnout and find peace

During times like these, it can be easy to believe there’s no possibility to slow down, but it is more important than ever to be gentle with yourself.

“Feel OK moving slow,” Austin says. “I’ve talked to other black female founders and black founders in general, who feel like we have to work twice as hard because usually we do and the burnout is much more intense, and now it’s aggravated with COVID and the protests. And I’m learning this myself to not move at that same pace, which was incredibly fast beforehand.”

The wellness influencer admits that it is hard to find a change in pace but adds that if you are not being healthy as you pursue your passion, things can fall apart. So finding peace is also key, which can be done with mental health days, reading or binge-watching your favorite shows and movies, among other things.

Experiment with changing your routine

For those who may be having trouble figuring out what works or feels best, it is important to keep searching for ways to reset; there are plenty of outlets you may not have tried that could provide comfort.

“The experiment is something that I try to model for students, patients and everyone because I think people assume they’ve got to get it right the first time like, ‘I’m going to try this, and if this doesn’t work, it’s over.’ No, try something different,” Walker explains.

She suggests going outside for a walk or simply standing. You could also try a new show or book, maybe take a virtual workout class or meditation.

“All these things are about shifting our mindset so that we can manage all this stuff that’s happening,” she says.

On a regular day, it is not easy to sit with complex emotions, but adding systemic racism, social injustice and viral videos of black bodies being brutalized can make the task look even more daunting. Walker recommends seeing a therapist to help you process through your feelings for the long term.

Teletherapy and group sessions are available virtually. Ethel’s Club is also hosting a free virtual healing and grieving session for the black community on June 9 and 23 at 6 p.m. ET.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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