The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a Licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible version of ourselves.
I thought it was time for us to do another community check in given that there continue to be so many threats to our mental health. If you are not ok right now, it is totally understandable why you would not be. In this episode I share 5 questions to help you check in with yourself.
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Check out Dr. Hodge discussing anxiety on Session 38 of the podcast.
Check out Cha’Ke’Sha Spencer, LPC, CPCS discussing trauma on Session 113 of the podcast.
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Session 170: Community Check-In
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 170 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. I thought it was time for us to do another community check-in, given that there continue to be so many threats to our mental health. I want to start by letting you know that if you are not feeling okay right now, it's totally understandable why you would not be. I know we sometimes hear glimpses about the ways our mental health is being impacted but I don't know that we're always aware or able to recognize the significance of what's happening.
What many of us are currently experiencing in terms of the pandemic, racism, unemployment, police brutality, etc., is a prolonged stress response, and our bodies are not designed to be able to withstand prolonged exposure to stress. When we experience a stressful situation, our stress hormones start firing up to help us to take care of ourselves in the event of an emergency. When the stressful event has passed, our hormones should go back to normal but if that stressful event never passes, our hormones and our internal emergency system stay on alert.
In session 38 of the podcast, you heard Dr. Hodge talk about the stress response as the one you might have if you were being chased by a bear. In this instance, of course you want your system engaged so that you can get away from the bear. But if there is no bear, it's damaging and unsustainable for our systems to stay engaged in the same way. What many of us have been experiencing for the past couple of months–mentally and physically–is reacting as if the bear has been there the whole time. This heightened state can lead to a host of concerns like headaches, difficulties concentrating, stomachaches, increased heart rate and heightened blood pressure, just to name a few.
In our current reality, not only has the stressful event not passed; we continue to get hit with new stressors, so it's really important that we be tapped into how our mental health is holding up and be able to recognize when we might not be doing so well. So I want to share a few questions for you to consider so that you can be more intentional about checking in with yourself.
Number one: are you feeling a little crispy around the edges? We know that when stress is heightened, our ability to regulate our emotions is diminished, which sometimes means that we're more irritable. Additionally, it's important to remember that depression doesn't always look like someone's sullen and staying to themselves; sometimes it looks like the person who's snapping on others for no apparent reason. So if you've noticed that your patience has gotten a little thinner, you're yelling when you don't typically, or it's a little harder for you to show grace to yourself or to others, take a moment to stop and tap into what might really be underneath the irritability.
Number two: are you managing your anxiety in ways that are actually helpful? When we feel anxious and out of control, it's normal and helpful to try to control the things we do have control over. And many times, this actually works. For example, controlling what you can related to COVID-19 in terms of washing your hands, wearing a mask and keeping a distance, are all things that are helpful and may actually help to bring down your anxiety. But sometimes our attempts to control don't always stop with the ways that are helpful in managing our anxiety. Pay attention to whether you've been doing things like getting into power struggles with your partner or your friends, or micromanaging your employees. These things may seem relatively innocuous, but they could actually be unhelpful attempts at managing your anxiety.
Question number three: are you really allowing yourself to feel all of your feelings? Now this is a tricky one because there are plenty of environmental cues that will lead us to believe that things are okay and somewhat returning to normal but this rush towards normalcy is unfair, it's unkind and it's damaging. We're being expected to show up again in our offices, send our kids back to school, hop on Zoom call after Zoom call, as if everything is okay; and it's not okay. And so even though the world may be signaling to us, “hey, it's okay, you're fine,” I want you to take a step back and focus in on how you're really feeling when everything is quiet.
You may notice that you're purposely not staying engaged with reality because it often feels like too much to bear, and I get it. Or you may notice that you're spending lots of time throwing yourself into tasks because the weight of the situation feels like too much. And again, I get it. It is too much and how we choose to or need to cope in situations where our resources are depleted, are valid. But I do want you to pay attention to it and be mindful to what you're doing.
Question number four: are you meeting the basics in terms of taking care of yourself? You've probably seen those memes that say we're nothing more than complex houseplants. And largely, they're correct. We need sunlight, water and nutrients to survive, so how are you getting your needs met? Are you able to get some sunlight or be present with nature in a way that reminds you of that connection? Are you making sure to feed and bathe yourself? If this is difficult for you, try something like drinking smoothies or freezing a big pot of soup for those days when cooking or eating feels like too much. Or try picking your favorite song to accompany you in the shower and sing it at the top of your lungs. Again, when our bodies are stressed, sometimes it's hard to remember these basic things but they can often help you to feel just a little better, so consider this a gentle and loving reminder.
And question five: are you aware that what you're experiencing may actually be trauma? In session 113 of the podcast, Cha’Ke’Sha Spencer talked at length about how experiences can be traumatic even when we might not think they are. I think it's important to pay attention to the fact that for many of us, the experiences of the last few months have been a new trauma or have reopened older traumas.
A part of what often helps us to resolve trauma is that after a point, there's a period in which you're able to re-engage with the world to assess for safety, but we haven't really been able to do that. The world largely still feels like a very unsafe place and so the trauma is still very alive and fresh, so it's important to take care of ourselves and tend to ourselves accordingly. That means being extra gentle, asking for help and actually allowing our support system to show up for us, engaging in activities that bring us pleasure, paying attention to our sleep and physical activity, and finding outlets to actually process how we're feeling.
Once you're done listening to this–maybe right after, maybe tonight, maybe this weekend–I want you to take some time to really reflect on how you're doing in the midst of everything that's happening, and see if there's anything that I've shared that might help you to shore up your mental health. If you're comfortable, share your takeaways with me on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession, and don't forget to share this episode with two sisters in your circle who could use the check-in, too.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic and get some support from other sisters, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/YCC.