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Stressed_Male.jpgFeeling Free: Letting go of Stress, Worry, and Anxiety 

Each and every one of us will experience stress, worry, and anxiety at least once in our life time and more often than not, at least several times.   We will worry about our health, money, family members and loved ones or our jobs and careers.    While worrying is a normal response to unpredictable events or things that may fall outside of our control, when we worry excessively, it leads to stress and anxiety.

 African-Americans have justifiable reasons to worry which has its roots in history and current, present day situations. One of our primary worries is about our personal safety and the safety of our family members and loved ones.  We are most likely to be impacted by urban crime including theft, home invasion, burglary, or robbery.  African-Americans are over-represented in the penal system as evidenced by our disproportionate incarceration rates.  African-Americans, particularly males, have a higher probability of being stopped by law enforcement and falling victim to harassment and in worst case scenarios, police brutality.   African-Americans are severely affected by gang violence in our communities often resulting in trauma and conditioned communal resolve or misperceived immunity to violence in our communities.  These reasons alone warrant chronic worry and stress.  However, persistent stress and worry lead to physical problems and emotional distress that have significant ramifications on us and those persons we love.  While we may not have control over these potential incidents, we can take responsibility for improving our emotional health and well-being.  One of the key things we can do to begin to help ourselves is to recognize the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

 Am I Stressed? 

You may be stressed if you are experiencing three or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Feeling nervous anxious, trembling, nail-biting or twitching without any known reason
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances or issues
  • Neglecting your responsibilities
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more
  • Worrying a lot about everyday things
  • Being easily startled
  • Caregiver stress as a result of caring for a dependent loved one
  • Work-related stress associated with work demands
  • Stress resulting from change or personal crisis
  • Feeling a sense of panic, sweaty hands/palms
  • Heart palpitations resulting from panic attacks
  • Shortness of breath resulting from panic attacks
  • Having difficulty controlling your worries
  • Being aware that you are worrying much more than you should
  • Being unable to relax
  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling tired and run down all of the time
  • Experiencing headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or unexplained pains 

As an African-American culture, we have historically denied mental health problems in ourselves, families, and communities.  This is most likely attributed to the stigma associated with emotional suffering and psychological functioning.  We must recognize that failure to address and treat these symptoms result in the growing disproportional representation of chronic illness like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in ourselves, families, and community.  However there are things we can do to help ourselves and each other.

 What can I do? 

  • Acknowledge your feelings and symptoms – Do not deny or avoid what you are feeling and experiencing
  • Self-disclose – Once you have acknowledged your symptoms, it is critical to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and  what symptoms you are experiencing
  • Seek therapy and professional counseling – Therapists are trained to counsel, guide, and support persons with depression.  They hold your confidences and cannot discuss your sessions with anyone as they are bound by law to keep your private and personal information confidential. 

What I should not do? 

  • Do not deny, minimize, or falsely justify your symptoms – Avoid the tendency to let shame, pride, and embarrassment overcome your good judgment to seek help
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking weed – Alcohol and marijuana can worsen your symptoms as they both act as depressants and worsen your anxiety symptoms
  • Do not listen to naysayers that dissuade you from seeking help – While our loved ones and friends have good intentions, do not allow yourself to be swayed into thinking that you will get over it on your own or that you are just going through a phase, or that you may be viewed as “crazy”. 

How can I reduce my stress?

 Set aside a minimum of 30 minutes every day for yourself – Do whatever you enjoy and do not allow yourself to be interrupted.  Make this a priority and try not to miss your “me time”

  • Find ways to pamper yourself – Make the time to enjoy small luxuries that can go a long way in relieving stress.  Take yourself out for tea or coffee and sit and sip your beverage.  Light your favorite candles in your home and listen to relaxing music.  Take a bath or get a massage.  Make time to hang out with your friends and love ones.
  • Make yourself laugh – Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress and goes a long way.  Watch a comedy or call your friend who makes you laugh.  Find a sense of humor in those stressful events.
  • Get out of the house – Take a nice walk in the park or beach.
  • Visit with friends or family – If it is difficult to leave the house, invite friends and family over to reduce isolation and increase social interaction

 Where can I get help?

 Professional Counselors, Therapists, and Psychiatrists – If you know of a friend or loved-one who has benefited from counseling, ask them for referral.  If you have insurance, your coverage may include mental health services.  Look for a therapist in your insurance membership directory or speak with your primary care physician for a referral.   If you do not have insurance coverage, you can receive low-cost counseling from a non-profit agency or no-cost services from the County of Los Angeles Department of Mental Health. 

As a spiritual people and community of faith, our greatest gift is our life.  What better way to show and demonstrate our appreciation and love to our higher power and beloved deity by honoring our physical body temple and being proactive in taking care of our emotional and physical health.  Let’s take care of our family, friends, and community by first taking care of ourselves.

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