Losing weight and eating healthier are some pretty dope resolutions to take on in 2016. But where does strengthening your mental and emotional health sit on that same list?
Practicing healthy mental habits should be as much of a priority as watching your calories and taking a boot camp class, ‘cause we are all stressed.
Like most Americans, we’re worried about making ends meet, taking care of our families, excelling at our jobs and keeping a roof over our heads all while coping with past baggage, trauma and insecurities. But for people of color, we also have structural racism, sexism, homophobia and daily microaggressions, which weigh heavy on us.
No, there isn’t some pill that will magically wash away all of the stress and anxiety, but there are some coping mechanisms that can help you be a more centered, focused and happier person in 2016.
Stop being your own worse enemy.
Real talk, the world does a pretty good job of telling Black folks that we are not good enough and worthy. So ease up on the negative self talk. Being self aware is not the same as constantly telling yourself that you’re not attractive enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough or a good enough parent and partner.
Instead, start pumping your head with why you are amazing and wonderful and worthy of love, because you truly are.
Learn to say “No” more often.
Whether it’s the job, “Bae” or your friends, we are giving too much of ourselves to other people way too often—and it’s taking a toll. It really is OK to miss that Sunday brunch, summer BBQ or your niece’s recital.
Sometimes in order to live a happier life, we have to be selfish. And this isn’t going to come easy, especially given how many of us have been socialized to be people pleasers and overachievers. But recognize that saying “No” more often isn’t going to kill anyone. However, the stress and pressure that comes with always saying “Yes” will. So please put yourself first.
Schedule in down time.
Speaking of putting yourself first, how often do you just sit and do nothing? Many of us might say, “Not that often,” and who can blame us? We are a generation of being on the go—all day and all night. But we have to dial that back and make sure that we give ourselves enough time to relax and recuperate from all of the chaos in our lives.
You deserve an afternoon of doing nothing but laying on the couch watching A Different World reruns, getting in that 7-8 hours of sleep and/or spending more quality time with your loved ones. But it won’t happen if you don’t make it a priority and schedule it in.
Hit the gym at least three times a week.
You didn’t think working out was just to burn flab and tighten those abs did you?
Working up a sweat releases happy hormones called endorphins that can seriously improve your mood, lower stress and can help get you centered. It can also build your confidence, sharpen your memory and help you sleep better at night. So go ahead and take that run, Zumba class or get your “ohm” on—your mind will thank you.
Stop going from 0-100 as much.
Yes that dude that cut you off on the street or that rude clerk at the mall were out of pocket, but you didn’t have to cuss them out and raise your blood pressure all up for nothing. Nor did you have to snap off on your girl for being 15 minutes late.
This type of stress, coupled with worrying about things you cannot control, isn’t healthy for you or the people around you. Try practicing de-escalation techniques so that instead of sweating the small stuff, you are brushing that nonsense right off your shoulders.
Kick toxic people and things out of your life.
Sometimes the people around are a huge reason why your morale is so low. Toxic people and things stay sucking you into their negativity and drama. The same can be said for your awful job that lives to kill your spirit. And while you try to make it work or think it can get better, it really won’t.
The best way to deal is to break ties with what isn’t healthy for you. Will it be easy? Probably not. You may have had that best friend since middle school or that job that you hate pays a good salary. But what does that all mean if you are miserable?
Stop suffering in silence.
There are times when all the prayers and coping strategies known to man aren’t going to help because something deeper is going on. Yet, too many of us are ashamed to ask for help, because we don’t want to appear to be weak or not have enough faith in God.
This year we have to kill that noise. Don’t be afraid to speak up about your mental health issues, which might also be an undiagnosed mental illness. Talk to someone you trust and your doctor, so you can get medical help. Also, remember that there is no shame in seeing a therapist—it’s not just a white thing.
The only shame is when you suffer in silence, pretending that everything is OK.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Chicago-based freelance writer and filmmaker who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Essence, The Advocate, The Root, Al Jazeera, The Body, Hello Beautiful and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @kelleent.