We’re in the midst of both a global pandemic and social revolution. From focusing on the seriousness of COVID-19’s effect worldwide to keeping up with the overwhelming evidence of America’s institutional racism, it’s an understatement to say that we are exhausted. At this time, it’s important that we have tough conversations with family and friends, and anyone we know who may not understand the severity of remaining silent. But having these conversations can be draining, and during this time it’s also important to put yourself first and manage your mental health.
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DoctorOz.com spoke with Delena Zimmerman, LMFT, founder of Delena Zimmerman Therapy in Culver City, CA. to shed some light on how Black Americans can better manage our stress during this time. Here’s what she had to say on handling the constant news cycle, battling everyday emotions, and more.
Managing an Overload of Information
Zimmerman’s immediate response was simple: do not overload. An overload of information is never good for anyone; it causes more harm by driving your body into panic mode. Zimmerman stresses the importance of listening to your body and taking a step back when it sends signals of distress. Some of these signals may include headaches, chest pains, or fatigue which stem from anxiety, lack of motivation, or feeling overwhelmed.
“For people who find themselves feeling overwhelmed, my advice to them would be to unplug and find a healthy replacement,” says Zimmerman. A healthy replacement could range anywhere from meditation to riding a bike. But keep in mind that it’s important to find active ways to manage stress.
According to Mayo Clinic, inactive strategies to manage stress, such as watching TV or surfing the internet, actually enhance your stress levels in the long run. Some active strategies include regular exercise, spending time with family and friends, and keeping a sense of humor. Find ways to keep your spirits lifted and your mind engaged. Zimmerman also suggests finding books that are enjoyable and spending time with yourself to build an internal connection, as opposed to relying on the external world for validation.
If you’ve found that you’ve already overloaded and need help finding inner peace, Zimmerman says the first line of defense is to pay attention to your breath and develop a breathing practice.
Zimmerman points out that when our psyche is in survival mode it’s crucial that we find our breath. “The breath is the evidence of life. And it seems that being disconnected from your breathing is counterintuitive,” she says. “So if we just think about the breath as the life force that it is and how important it would be to connect to it, to have a relationship with it, we’d grow closer to our internal self.” Americans are repeatedly told that we have the right to pursue happiness, though that happiness is usually depicted as a source outside of ourselves. Looking within and developing a relationship with our breath has real and tangible soothing effects on the body.
“Before we had our minds fixated on a crisis, a lot of us were externally identified by our careers, our bodies, the cars we drove,” says Zimmerman. “And now that we’ve been quarantined, we’ve been forced to live inside of ourselves with our thoughts, with what we think about ourselves, with our actual level of self-esteem, and our connection or disconnection to a power or force or origin of life.”
Zimmerman states that the effects of being quarantined combined with the added stress of recent publicized events of police brutality could weigh heavily on your mental health. “That is why it is important to recognize the breath and its ability to calm the body,” she says. “Meditation and yoga practice are about focusing on the breath. Athletes must breathe appropriately in order to perform at their highest potential” and the sam