2020 has proven itself to be a year of great political, social and biological upheaval. We are living in unprecedented times — and in this moment of complete uncertainty and trauma, we must prioritize our mental health.
As a nation, we have been forced to recognize, and reckon with, the harsh reality of police brutality and systemic racism. We are constantly presented with disturbing images of death and injustice against Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. In addition, the COVID-19 has highlighted the inequities in the American healthcare system with African Americans experiencing a higher rate of death from COVID-19 ; in some states the amount of COVID-19 related deaths in the African American population is two to four greater than their share of the population as a whole. Today’s circumstances have produced a widespread public recognition of these systems of oppression and inequity and therefore have culminated in an increase in trauma for African Americans and people of color.
Many people, especially people of color, are enduring an influx in post-traumatic stress on top of experiencing the social aggressions associated with racism. The media has exacerbated these stressors by bombarding us with primarily negative information: the rolling COVID-19 death count, an uptick in hate crimes, mass unemployment, constant disappointment in legislative advancements for police reform — like ending qualified immunity — and seeking justice for those murdered by the police. Fear of the future is a very real thing for many people as we contend with these harsh realities. As a survivor of a school shooting, and a Black man in America, I have endured severe emotional trauma and racism. I understand the dangers of neglecting one’s mental health.
My personal experiences have taught me that in times of strife, exploring one’s purpose is essential. Try to not allow yourself to be consumed or defined by fear. Try and create a plan in these times of crises to sustain your well-being. This is my personal guide to maintaining my own positivity:
I wake up each day and give thanks for at least five things, such as:
I am a dedicated person.
All my needs are met.
I am in a loving relationship.
I have a great smile.
I am loved.
I try my best to maintain a sense of gratitude, even through these unprecedented times. I choose to limit my intake of “negative” information, especially when it comes to the news, draining conversations, or anything that brings my energy down. I choose to set boundaries. I’ve focused on trying new, fun challenges, like learning a new skill, laugh-yoga, meditating, or engaging in a mindfulness walk. For me, focusing on self-awareness and expanding my consciousness around my emotions has helped me cope immensely.
Here are some steps you can follow: Sit down or go on a walk somewhere quiet. Focus on the breath and examine what you feel. Do you have pain or aches in your muscles? Does your chest feel tight or heavy? What thoughts are going through your mind?
Be curious, not judgmental.
Allow yourself to be comfortable with your discomfort. Take care of yourself in a way that allows you to practice self-love.
On your “happy” or “good” days, make a video to encourage yourself. For example, I’ll say to myself, “This past week was really wild, but you handled everything like a champ! And I know that there will be good times and bad times but no matter what, we got this! I love you, future me! You’re the best!”
In moments of sadness or depression, understand that occupying this state is natural too, and it’s OK. Acknowledge and observe your emotions and appreciate your heart that feels this emotion. You can only do your best when you’re experiencing sadness. One of my favorite quotes is: “Every storm runs out of rain.” Just as it’s OK to appreciate when you’re feeling low or depressed, it’s also OK to welcome new states of emotion and allow the storm to pass.
From my experience, there is nothing more powerful than using your own voice to encourage yourself through these challenging times. You must practice believing in yourself and understanding that you are a culmination of moments and success stories that have led you to this moment.
In each moment, allow yourself to feel your emotions, and remember that they are only emotions — they are not you. Do your best to not judge yourself or others. Remove yourself from the captivity of expectations. Try and resolve to live your life in a state of authentic allowing. Seek moments of laughter and joy with open arms and allow yourself to revel in the mental space that you occupy.
You are, and that is enough.
Smile and know you are a work in progress, growing in each moment, a unique work, a divine design. You are loved.