Staying mentally strong as you stand up for what's right
These past several days, I’ve felt a lot, and I’ve come to realize a lot too. I’ve felt a wave of emotions, including frustration, impatience, and worry. I’ve recognized a lot too - that even though I consider myself anti-racist and anti-violence in all forms and unequivocally stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, I have a lot more work to do to be a better ally: more listening, more learning, and more advocating.
As a coach and generally curious person, I tend to observe with a detailed eye human behavior and communication almost automatically - how people are reacting, responding, and communicating. I’m trying to pay close attention to what others say, and what they communicate with what they don’t say.
In conversations with family, friends, and clients, plus seeing what’s happening on social media and across the news, I recognize the pain, anger, hurt, and confusion flooding so many of us right now. And rightfully so. Enough is enough. It is time to finally confront and eradicate the racial inequality and injustice that has always existed in our society and continues to thrive on a systemic level.
Right now, we are collectively processing current events, triggered by past events, grieving for what should be, what is not, and what we have lost, and we are also trying to create meaning by standing up for what’s right.
Many of you are peacefully protesting, educating yourself further, having tough conversations with family and friends, donating, praying, and listening. And many of you are focused on self-care and self-preservation during this time because living in fear and grappling with racism is a daily reality with varying degrees of pain, anxiety, and exhaustion that are now heightened. Be proud of your efforts.
And as we stand up for what’s right and continue fighting against inequality and injustice, here are some tips to stay mentally strong during these difficult times.
Create boundaries with news and social media consumption. We want to be informed and aware of what’s going on - but too much of anything is never good. Either schedule time to tune in or take breaks and create limits. Constantly being inundated with images and information with current affairs is overload - and will create more stress and potentially affect other areas of your life.
Load up on the self-love. Now more than ever, give yourself so much love and compassion. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit. If you’re in fighter mode, think about what athletes do to condition themselves before entering the field or ring. They focus on their physical and mental toughness - fueling themselves to have the energy and mental focus to achieve what they have set out to do.
Practice acceptance of your thoughts and feelings. To practice acceptance means being open to your thoughts and feelings as they are. If you feel angry or exhausted right now, feel it. Instead of trying to avoid the painful emotion, be curious about it, and know that it won’t last forever - our thoughts and feelings have a beginning, middle, and end, and while we can’t choose them, we can decide how to act on them.
Practice acceptance of others. This one is really tough. We may have friends and family that aren’t aligned with our beliefs and values and may not be saying the right things right now or saying anything at all. Accepting this and them doesn’t mean you approve or like it, but that it just is, and you while you can and should help educate and hope for behavioral change, it’s entirely out of your control. You can continue to try to empower and vocalize what you believe and what you’d like others to do and think, but ultimately that is on them. They have to be ready and willing and open to do this.
Create meaning. Through the pain and trauma and grief, it can take over and leave one feeling isolated, helpless, and stuck. While suffering, trauma, and grief don’t necessarily ever go away, they can take new forms as you learn to cope and move forward despite it all. One way to do this is to create meaning. You can ask yourself, “What meaning can I create from all of this?”. For some, it may mean donating and protesting. For others, it may mean sitting down with their young children and starting the conversations now about race and equality. Whatever it is, find the meaning that is significant to you. Use your emotions and ideals to ignite you to create meaning out of this painful reality.
Celebrate the good. While the news would tell us otherwise, there’s still tons of good happening in this world, amongst our loved ones, and within our own lives. Every day, try to focus on at least three good things happening in the outside world or within your own life. Practice that gratitude and know that good and evil, light and darkness, can and do coexist. Allowing yourself to smile, laugh, and celebrate the good and special moments is healthy and OK and doesn’t take away from what you’re doing to fight what is wrong!
This fight isn’t over after the protesting calms down, and after police are hopefully served their justice and systemic reform begins. The fight will go on. And as we move forward and you evolve and contribute to #BlackLivesMatter in any way you are able, consider how to stay mentally strong so you can give and be all you are capable of to what matters most.