Yet another 21st-century movement for social justice is upon us, and it feels too important to take a pause — especially if you’re Black. That being said, it’s still A LOT.
In an era when even the word “rest” can be triggering for some, how can Black people find emotional restoration right now? Aliyah Tipton is one of many asking that question.
Aliyah is a bright, bubbly, and energetic person with a positive attitude and an infectious smile. She’s someone who’s driven by her work ethic, having just wrapped up a master’s in PR at age 24 and never taken a day off work in her life.
But just days after the murder of George Floyd, Tipton found herself in a different space mentally.
“During that week, I was having a hard time getting out of bed,” Tipton says. “I prayed and I said, ‘I don’t even know what to ask for. I feel selfish just praying for myself when there are people out there mourning a loved one they’re not gonna get back.’ So, I just said, ‘Lord, I need your help to get through this day.’”
As the only Black employee in her department, Tipton found it particularly difficult to hide how the news was impacting her emotional health.
She pressed on until one day, while stocking shelves during one of her early morning shifts, she could feel tears streaming down her face. “Oh my goodness, girl,” she pleaded to herself. “Can you please just pull it together?”
She ran to the restroom, splashed some water on her face, put on her trademark smile, and finished her shift.
Since the nationwide protests started, Tipton’s manager was the only one at her job to ask her how she felt.
“I’m really sorry,” Tipton’s manager said to her. “If you need anything, you know I’m here. I didn’t know that our system is so messed up… We all have to do better. The white community… we have to do better.”
With that, he told her she could take some time for herself if she needed it. This concept is, of course, much easier said than done — especially when taking time off work means losing money.
Since we know rest and comfort look different for everyone, we spoke with a handful of people in the Black community — including two mental health professionals — who shared how comfort can be found, yes, even right now.
We have to reset expectations for what being at your “best” looks like.
Gregory King, assistant professor of dance at Kent State University, notes that his own journey coming from Jamaica to America as a queer person has reminded him to always respect everyone’s individual process.
“In Jamaica, I didn’t understand this idea behind being a Black person because everyone was Black,” he says. “There, my queerness was in danger, but my Blackness wasn’t. Then, I came to America to find that my Blackness was being attacked.”
“I’m trying to be gentle with people in terms of where they are in their process because I have to realize and understand that I wasn’t always where I am now in my journey.”
Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed mental health counselor in Brooklyn, agrees, noting that we can also choose who and what to engage with.
“You also get to opt out of conversations that people might try to pull you into,” Caraballo says. “Whether that’s other Black people who just want to talk about what’s happening, you get to decide if that’s helpful for you at that moment or not.”
“Oftentimes, we have difficulty sort of paying attention to ourselves and what our emotional selves need,” says Caraballo. “Frankly, I think a lot of that is [thanks to] internalized messaging about strength and stigmas related to mental health.”
While both King and Caraballo say pausing to identify your emotional needs is important, acknowledging them can be half the battle.
King says he does “self-check-ins” to help himself tap into what he is feeling on any given day.
“Police brutality, racism is not new,” he says. “Oftentimes we are keeping up a facade. So, understand when [we’re asked] how we are, we are carrying with us centuries of oppression, centuries of racial violence, centuries of white supremacy. But then we’re forced to say ‘fine’ when asked how we are, even when we’re really not fine. We say we’re fine so much we start to believe that we are.”
Caraballo stresses that Black people are particularly hesitant when it comes to granting themselves rest.
“A lot of Black parents tell their children, ‘You have to work twice as hard to get half as far,’” he says. “So, that mentality sort of sets in really young and there’s a lot of pressure to keep going, to keep doing. I think it’s hard for us to give ourselves permission to actually rest, but it’s a crucial part of whatever [political] work has to happen or will happen.”
Caraballo also points to the words of Black, feminist, lesbian civil rights activist Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Being effective takes energy, and that’s precisely why rest is so important — even while resisting.
Signs that you need rest
Caraballo pointed to these emotional and physical symptoms that tell you it might be time to get some rest:
- brain fog
- difficulty staying organized
- difficulty staying on task
- changes in your normal level of functioning
- changes in mood, general agitation, feeling annoyed
- changes in sleeping patterns
- changes in eating patterns
Keeping your mind and your schedule balanced will go a long way toward preserving mental fortitude while you work.
Just because one method of restoration works for someone else doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Caraballo encourages his clients to ask themselves a question: “Is this activity restorative [for me]?”
Here are some acts of restoration shared with us:
“As a Black man in this world,” King says, “I am often told that when you cry, you are weak. So, I am resisting that narrative of the strong Black man who doesn’t cry. So for me, that is an act of resistance. [Crying] is regenerative. It is healing, it is calming, it makes me feel whole.”
According to Dr. Kali D. Cyrus, a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., a best practice for getting good sleep is turning your phone on silent and turning off the TV 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed. During that time, try reading, taking a hot bath, or doing something else relaxing.
Cyrus also says that if you’re dieting right now, you can allow yourself that one milkshake or order some takeout. Little splurges, done in a positive, healthy way where they can be afforded, can be loving acts toward yourself.
Discover which form of exercise feels restorative for you. For King, who’s a dance professor, you can guess his favorite form of exercise.
“There’s a joy that comes when you dance,” he says. “It’s calming, it releases a full desire for you to feel fully awake and fully aware and fully alive. I grew up in a house where there was always music, and music always made me feel alive. When you heard music, you had to dance.”
Tipton says she has found sitting on her porch to be a peaceful experience.
She also tunes in to weekly sermons, saying that hearing her pastor’s encouraging words makes her feel like she’s not alone.
Trust your own barometer to determine how much screen time is actually helpful.
“Sometimes people need [the news] as a charge to re-energize their desire to do the work, to go out and protest, to write to their senators,” King says. “But sometimes it cuts straight to the core and you really need to check out. Different people activate their activism in different ways.”
Regarding social media, King says, “I kind of need it. Especially with this COVID-19 isolation. It’s providing a way of engaging with people and with the masses. Now, with this worldwide movement, I think it helps to support the narrative that protest works but also that people are no longer taking oppression and are really fighting against injustice. It’s really empowering to see. Social media is really necessary because I’m realizing that I’m not doing this alone.”
“I watched a good [funny] movie the other day, I just needed to laugh!” Tipton says.
Tipton also reaches for books, particularly the Bible, for a restorative sense of strength. Even grabbing a coloring book has helped her find her “calm.”
For Tia Myers-Rocker, a 22-year-old master’s student in Ohio, sit-down discussions with her family have been both bonding and restorative. “I feel like I’ve learned more about the people in my family,” she says. “I’ve grown closer to them, and these conversations have made us more connected as a family.”
But Caraballo cautions Black folks to make sure their emotional temperature or emotional capacity is right before they go stepping into these conversations.
“We never have control over someone else’s response,” he says. “If you go into a conversation feeling like if someone says one wrong thing or one thing you don’t agree with, then you might lose it, you’re not ready. No matter your race, people are going to have different perspectives on things, so it’s really important that we check in on ourselves and ask, ‘Am I ready for any feedback at all?’”
And here’s the kicker: You’re not obligated to have these conversations at all.
“It’s OK to not respond or take time to respond to people who are placing burdens on you,” says Cyrus. “This is a time to pay attention to your own feelings and take care of yourself first. Otherwise, you may end up taking out your frustration on others in a way that is out of proportion to how you actually feel — which will only lead to more stress for you.”
It’s vital to let your support system know exactly what you need right now. This may seem difficult at first, but being direct will help everyone.
Caraballo describes an approach of identifying what you’re interested in and then inviting another person to “opt in” with you.
“You can say, ‘A lot has been going on. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling out of sorts. Do you want to talk about what’s been happening?’ Then let that person opt in. Let them direct. They might say yes, or they might say, ‘No, I’m burnt out from this. Let’s just be people right now.’”
Caraballo also says offering tiny bits of transparency can show that you’re open to receiving compassion and encourage empathy from co-workers.
“You don’t have to say, ‘I cried for 2 hours this morning,’” he says, “but I think letting people know that you’re having a hard day is actually really, really helpful.”
The same goes for your supervisor or team leader. If you need some time for your emotional/mental health, it’s important to say so.
Similar to the hesitation around getting rest, Black people haven’t traditionally looked to therapy as a source of comfort. But these times are about being receptive to methods of processing that can help.
Both Caraballo and Cyrus are big advocates of therapy.
“I want people to understand that therapy is a viable source of support right now,” says Caraballo. “[It can help you] to just talk through things and process what you’re feeling.”
“Reach out to therapists,” Cyrus adds, emphatically. “Check your insurance company’s coverage of telepsych platforms. Talking to someone is a good idea.”
Breanna Mona is a journalist and freelance writer who currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes about health, lifestyle, pop culture, and entertainment.