Self-Care For Black Women
Now more than ever, you must pour back into yourself what you so freely give to others.
Black women are phenomenal. We come in different shapes, sizes and shades. Some of us are mixed-race. Some of us have strong roots that are linked to Latin American countries, as well as the Caribbean. Some of us don’t speak a lick of English. Some of us have skin color that is as dark as a vanilla bean or as light as cane sugar. Throughout history, Black women have been the glue in their communities. We provide physical and emotional support to families, friends, and strangers. We band together to uplift neighborhoods. We teach. We nurture. We build. And while we accomplish great things, we are being killed silently, because we do not practice proper self-care.
To be Black in this world is to constantly struggle. If you don’t live with it, then you see it. And sometimes, you witness and experience it. It’s a global struggle that started with the transatlantic slave trade and colonization. For centuries, Black people have been looked at as second-class citizens of the world. Used for our labor. Robbed of our identities. Gawked at for our unique features. And even though slavery was abolished, the societal system that was created as a result of white supremacy still exists to this day. Intergenerational trauma persists. This is trauma that was passed on from one generation to the next through learned behaviors and emotions. Understand this: The system was built to exhaust and exclude Black people. It was not built to help us win, which is why we — my sistahs — must look out for ourselves and each other. Get ready to learn about how you can take care of your mind, body, and soul. Now more than ever, you must pour back into yourself what you so freely give to others.
The Reason For Self-Care
Ever feel overwhelmed, worn down, and burned out but you can’t really identify the cause? Let me introduce you to something called race-based traumatic stress. The stress you experience related to racism is hurting your health — even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed it. Most health issues in Black women can be linked back to some form of racism. Whether it be on a personal or institutional level, racism is a proven risk factor for death in Black people. For example, racism attacks when your pleas for proper medical attention are ignored in the hospital. It attacks when you’re sequestered into neighborhoods that lack proper resources. It attacks when you’re not given the same life-altering opportunities as others. An overload of stress like this traumatically impacts your overall wellness. Your mind, body, and soul become so overwhelmed that these three vital areas of your life are unable to properly function. Hence, the need for self-care. Attending to yourself when you are experiencing traumatic stress is essential to maintaining your well-being.
What Is Race-Based Traumatic Stress?
Race-based traumatic stress was coined by Robert T. Carter, PhD. It describes your body’s response to mental and emotional damage caused by negative race-related encounters, a.k.a. racism. Research has found that when you experience race-based traumatic stress, your body mimics the way it would react with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This means that being on the receiving end of race-based discriminations, prejudice, hate crimes, or microaggressions can give you PTSD. Which means you have probably been walking around with a low-grade version of PTSD for many years, perhaps even decades. For instance, when you have paranoid or obsessive thoughts about how you should act to not be seen as a threat, that’s PTSD. It throws off the functioning of your entire body.
The fact is, stress hurts. It leads to other debilitating diseases. And the hard truth is, racial stress kills. It leads to illnesses that cause death in your mind, body, and soul. With symptoms of PTSD, you become consumed by your perceived threat and are hyper-focused on keeping yourself safe. This makes it hard for you to simply enjoy life. However, no one has the time for that when we’re just trying to survive being a Black woman in a racist and sexist society.
Self-Care In A Patriarchal Society
The stress that Black women experience from racism is combined with the stress of sexism. On top of racial trauma, Black women also have the pressure of dealing with being a woman in a patriarchal society, a “man’s world.” First the world tells you that you are less than because you’re Black. And then it says, Don’t forget. You’re a woman too. You’ve got to act a certain way. You’ve got to meet unrealistic beauty standards. You can’t get paid as much as men. And just as you settle into the complexities of your womanhood, you’re reminded, Don’t forget. You’re Black too. It’s a cycle that beats on your ability for self-care. Well, enough is enough. You know that systemic change is the key to full healing, but you need to take measures now to protect your well-being. You must bow out of the oppressive fight that is trying to kill you. It’s time for you to regain control over your health. It’s time to practice radical self-care.
What Is Radical Self-Care?
Radical self-care is the active decision to put your wellness before anyone or anything else. For Black women, it is a form of protest against a society that is determined to oppress us to death. By choosing to intentionally take care of yourself, you are letting the world know that you are a person who knows her worth and cannot be made a Black martyr. Radical self-care goes beyond your physical fitness. It also includes your emotional well-being, as well as the condition of your soul or spirit. This is called the mind-body-soul connection. Research has found that these three areas of your life are intertwined, so when one is acting up, it impacts the other two. Thus, you must learn when to use your radical self-care skills.
When To Use Radical Self-Care
Knowing when you need to use radical self-care is essential to your wellness. The answer? Every day. What makes radical self-care so different from other types of self-care is that it requires you to give your full attention to your well-being. Ever get a stomachache when you had to make a tough decision? Or when you were feeling extremely nervous? Or how about the time you said yes to something you didn’t want to do? You know what I’m talking about. Bubble guts.
Bubble guts is an example of our mind, body, and soul talking to each other. Our spirit senses something isn’t right, our mind is shooting out unhappy emotions, and our body is reacting as the stress hormones course through it. Incidents like this are signals that something is out of order within you, and that one of your needs must be addressed to maintain your health. To do this, maintaining balance within your three spheres of wellness is very important. You must use one of your acquired wellness tools. But real talk, that can be hard to do. Life happens. You get so distracted by the flow of your life that you forget to take care of yourself. Therefore, finding a practice of self-care that works for you is essential to the upkeep of your overall health.
How To Practice Radical Self-Care
To properly practice self-care, you must focus on all three areas: mind, body, and soul. Self-care is a set of daily practices that you do to support your well-being. These exercises, activities, or actions require you to put yourself first every day. Yes, girl. Every day. Self-care calls for you to get in touch with your inner being so you can learn what helps you cope in times of distress and what helps you create a life of happiness. Through self-care you gain knowledge on who you are as a person, allowing you to fall in love with the incredible woman you are on a daily basis.
The Purpose Of Radical Self-Care
In addition, pursuing a life filled with self-care improves wellness and prevents illness and disease. The act of self-care has become critical to surviving in the modern world, especially as a Black woman. It helps you create a safe space for yourself in a society that does not care to make room for you. You help your future self and encourage personal growth when you engage in it. For you, self-care is a necessity and not a luxury.
One of the most important areas to begin your focus of self-care is your mental health — the mind. This is the epicenter for your wellness. Your brain is a dynamic organ. It controls all the functions of your body. So much of how your brain operates dictates the person you become. Your memories, intelligence, and emotions are stored in your mind. From the time you’re in the womb until you are in your late twenties, your brain is continually developing. What you go through in your childhood shapes the way you think, behave, and react. Through your family, you’re introduced to things like love, self-worth, and conflict resolution. You may create unhealthy habits that were birthed from the early years of your brain development. You may even have traumatic experiences that alter the way you perceive people and things. But what is so fascinating about that brain of yours is that it has the capacity to reorganize what it has already learned.
Your brain has a characteristic called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change and adapt the way it functions. This means that your mind is able to toss out things it’s absorbed that no longer serve your well-being. Through emotional corrective experiences, your brain can reroute you to a healthier way of thinking, and therefore living. This is so important for you. It. Is. Necessary. You can shake off your past, the old ways of thinking that have kept your mind captive, and chase after your own emotional wellness. Change the narrative of your life with self-love, and take on practices that purify and free your thoughts. Liberate your mind.
Some of these suggested exercises are everyday actions you’ve probably heard of before. Other exercises are those only someone like you — a Black woman — will benefit from. Whichever activities you decide to incorporate into your daily life, you will be doing one special thing: choosing yourself.
1. CHALLENGE YOUR NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
How we speak to ourselves impacts our mental health. This is why you must challenge any negative self-talk immediately. Self-talk is what is considered our internal voice. It speaks to us throughout the day as we maneuver different situations. However, sometimes, our thoughts lean toward the negative side as they’re impacted by our experiences and beliefs. Such as being conditioned as a Black woman by your surroundings to believe your skin, hair, and body are less than desirable. They’re not, by the way. You are beautiful. We subconsciously pick up these messages and start to tell ourselves things like I am not good enough. I can’t seem to get anything right. I will never find love. No one wants a woman who looks like me.
Girl, stop. Thinking like this will only lead to increased feelings of stress and sadness. You are good enough.
The next time you realize you are talking badly about yourself, interrupt those thoughts with positive self-talk and some reality testing. This is when you examine your thoughts and perceptions to see if they match your external world. Be objective and ask yourself: What evidence do I have to back up my thinking? What would happen to my feelings and actions if I changed my thoughts? Disrupting negative self-talk is how you gain power over your mental wellness and enhance your radical self-care.
Needless to say, this exercise should decrease your negative thoughts and improve your mood. You should begin to feel better and believe your positive self-talk the more you practice.
2. STOP POLICING YOUR SPEECH
We are conditioned to be superconscious of how we speak. With hypervisibility as a Black woman comes hyperawareness. Of how you sound, how you look, how you eat, how you walk, how you breathe. It’s exhausting. We try to not feed into the “angry Black woman” stereotype, so we purposefully speak lower and softer when we’d rather be a bit louder and more direct. We adjust our tone so we don’t offend others by possibly coming off as aggressive. We withhold words because we fear that if we say something, we will be vilified. We hold the weight of speaking for all Black women with our voices, when we just want to speak for ourselves. Whew. Girl. It’s time to cut this behavior and take back your voice.
To stop policing your speech, try the following: First, actively work on letting go of fear and doubt of being misunderstood. Some people are determined to misconstrue what you say simply because you’re Black. Forget those folks. Second, if you feel like you are coming from a good place, say it all with your chest. Third, find small opportunities, like with a trusted friend, to convey exactly how you’re feeling without adjusting your tone. Say what you need to say without second-guessing yourself.
As you practice this activity, you’ll begin to let go of obsessive thoughts and gain the self-confidence necessary to continue your road to radical self-care. You will find your voice again and not be afraid to use it, despite what others may think of you.
3. CHECK IN WITH YOUR THOUGHTS
To do a self-check with your mind, grab a notebook. Now answer these questions, and reflect on them: What are my thoughts right now? How do these thoughts impact my mood? When did I start thinking about these things? How often am I thinking about them? Who is a safe person that I can share my thoughts with today? The purpose of this activity is to become more in tune with your mental wellness. Your answers to these questions will increase your self-awareness.
Let’s spend some time checking in with our thoughts. Our minds deserve some extra tender loving care. As a Black woman, you may not feel comfortable attending to your own needs, thereby working twice as hard to not be stereotyped as lazy. You take care of others and neglect your emotional needs in the midst of it. You gotta stop this. We deserve a mind filled with clarity. And when it comes to our thoughts, there are specific things we need to assess to make sure our mind is operating at its healthiest. Checking in with your thoughts is like taking your mind to the mental mechanic. There is no reason to crash and burn. Regular tune-ups are a necessity. After doing this, you’ll feel more equipped with how to properly take care of your mental health on the road to radical self-care discovery.
4. VALIDATE YOURSELF AFTER EXPERIENCING MISOGYNOIR
Misogynoir — that is, misogyny directed at Black women, where racism and sexism are at the crux of the treatment — is one of the worst experiences a Black woman can encounter. Whenever you’re unwarily mistreated, it can send you into a mental spiral of thoughts. Did I get treated like this because I’m a woman? Were they rude or were they racist? You begin to question your self-worth and actions, wondering what you did to deserve someone being racist and sexist toward you.
Truth is you did nothing to deserve that treatment. Nothing. People will dislike you and treat you ill simply because you are a Black woman. If you don’t have access to someone you can process those hurtful feelings with, it’s important to validate yourself. This means allowing yourself to believe what you experienced is true and all your emotions associated with that event are accurate. Following are some ways to validate yourself.
First, tell yourself some or all of the following statements: I am allowed to feel this way. What happened to me, happened. I do not need to prove it to make it true. My perspective on things matters. Nothing is wrong with how I perceive things. Next, write down what you experienced in a journal and revisit it another time or share it with a friend when you are ready. By validating your experience, you are validating your existence.
After giving yourself the gift of validation, you will feel better about yourself and your radical self-care efforts. There may be some lingering feelings of anger, but those negative emotions will not take up too much space in your brain.
5. USE GUIDED MEDITATIONS
Meditation sounds more intimidating than it is. You’re probably thinking, That ain’t for me. My mind is always racing. Well, if you wanna decrease your experience with emotional distress, you need to give meditating a try — especially as you prioritize self-care.
Meditation is top-tier when it comes to taking care of our mental health. It’s the practice of focusing or monitoring our thoughts for a time. When we meditate, we calm our mind, improve our attention, and reconnect to ourselves. We regulate emotions and learn to self-soothe. By introducing meditation to your self-care practice, you are creating an exclusively safe space to release emotions. You are training your mind to be aware of all that is in and around you.
Meditation doesn’t always have to look like sitting down for twenty minutes and trying to swat away stressful thoughts. Even if you’re a beginner, you can use guided meditations. It feels less overwhelming when you have someone else leading you.
To find the right guided meditations, start by searching YouTube for what fits your needs, such as the length and topic. If that doesn’t work, consider downloading apps that fit the style of meditation you want. Some app suggestions include Headspace: Meditation & Sleep, Liberate: Black Meditation App, and Shine: Calm Anxiety & Stress.
Meditation helps clear the mind. Something we desperately need as we deal with symptoms of race-based traumatic stress. As we calm our minds, we improve our mental wellness. You’ll feel happy, relaxed, and peaceful when you practice daily meditations as part of your radical self-care.
Ultimately, self-care is healing work for your entire being. From your mind to your body and to your soul, the self-care activities you use to take care of yourself can overlap. Because that’s the goal: total healing of your personhood. When you heal yourself, you create an earth-shattering legacy. The lineage of women who come after you will be healed. Your inner circle of Black women around you, healed.
By actively choosing yourself, you are breaking the generational curses or traumas that have cycled through your family. You activate your ancestral strength. Things like addiction and abuse, they stop with you. You change the way children in your bloodline will be raised. You break down emotional barriers that no longer keep feelings like fear and shame imprisoned in your body. You bend the universe with the powerful stomp of your walk to a higher level of self-worth. You create an exceptional example for yourself and others of what self-love truly means. You teach yourself and the next generations about the importance of their own self-care. Radical self-care is a movement that you cannot let pass you by. You must participate. The world depends on it. You depend on it.
Excerpted from Self-Care for Black Women: 150 Ways to Radically Accept & Prioritize Your Mind, Body and Soul by Oludara Adeeyo. Copyright © 2022 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Adams Media, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Oludara Adeeyo is a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, where she assists individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as severe and persistent mental illness. She is passionate about helping people improve their overall well-being, especially Black women.
May 27-29, 2022. Join 100 Black and Brown women in the open air and blue skies across 500 acres of land and water as we honor our ancestors, the plant, and ourselves at the SACRED WATERS RETREAT in Brandon Springs, TN. .