The most recent events of police misconduct and the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are horrifying and deplorable. The temptation to join in the fray with others on your social media timelines who are justifiably angry is strong. These responses are often very necessary. Remaining silent in the face of continued injustice is an act that many of us refuse to participate in when it occurs. Speaking and thinking of these very injustices and how they impact our lives and the lives of loved ones can sometimes take its toll.
The old airplane-safety adage to put on your mask first before helping others can be applied not just to losses in cabin pressure. The temptation to check first on others who are just as frustrated as you is noble but can sometimes lead to not caring enough for yourself. Distracting yourself with other tasks, such as work-related ones or uncompleted chores, is also tempting but can be very unrealistic. Post-traumatic stress disorder via social, online, print or TV media is very real. It can leave one feeling useless with nothing left to give. What happens when you've reached your emotional limit? What happens if your mind has reached the point of maximum feeling overload?
Take heed. Below are some options for self-care when police brutality has you questioning humanity and social media is enough:
Take a Break
“Call in black” from all nonessential activities. If you have the option to take a mental-health day from work, use it. If absolutely necessary, offer to respond only to emergency situations via email. Be sure to take time off so that you don’t end up sitting at work inefficient and distracted.
As often as we may say to ourselves that we’ll get around to starting a meditation practice, since you’ve hopefully chosen to “call in black” from work, there’s no time to start like the present. Meditation has been proven to decrease anxiety, decrease depression, and improve decision-making and memory. Need help starting a meditation practice? Look no farther than YouTube as well as several mobile-phone apps.
As obvious as this sounds, the temptation to remain indoors after your meditation to reflect upon your place in this world will be strong. For best results after a cleansing meditation session, though, get outdoors. Recent studies have shown that walking in nature can lead to greater attentiveness and more happiness than simply walking in a cityscape for the same amount of time. If you’ve been putting off the “right” time to start an exercise regimen, walking and enjoying nature may be just the boost you need to make a good start. Already active? Go for a jog or hit the weights. Moderate to vigorous exercise has long been known to boost levels of serotonin, the “happy” chemical, in the brain.
Now that you’ve meditated and exercised yourself into a state of bliss, the desire to log into social media will be strong. If this causes overwhelming anxiety or a sense of dread, consider deleting your social media apps from your phone or suspending your accounts. If the thought of unplugging completely from social media brings about too much anxiety, edit your auto-play settings to avoid having shared videos of unpleasant situations thrust on you unknowingly. If suspending contact on social media is not possible for work-related reasons, curate your content. Block or unfriend those who are toxic. Work only from your work social media account if necessary. Be sure to take command of social media, and don't allow it to control you.
It’s entirely plausible to want to feel like part of the solution. Giving to those in need is a great way to pay it forward. Although more than $500,000 has been raised by Issa Rae to support Alton Sterling’s children, there’s never enough money to lessen the grief his family is feeling. Volunteering with at-risk youths or any other cause you feel you would be able to affect positively is also a great option.
Play With Animals
There has been a recent rash of cafés catering to cat and dog lovers. Now may be a good time to visit one in your area. If you’re up to it, consider adopting a pet from a local animal rescue shelter. You can also schedule face time with a pet if you’re not ready to fully commit to being a pet parent. If you can't do this, watch cute animal videos that will satisfy your pet craving and boost your serotonin levels.
Dance to your favorite playlist like no one’s watching. Practice your best handstand while twerking. Crank up your music and dare anyone to turn it down. If someone complains, simply tell him or her that you're boosting your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters naturally.
Lightheartedness aside, remember that you are not alone and that it is entirely possible to grieve deeply over an injustice that has occurred to someone whom you may not know intimately or personally. Don't let events cause you to isolate yourself. Meet up with like-minded people if you still need to talk your way through your feelings.
If the above self-care measures don't help, seek help for yourself. If you feel that medication might benefit you, don’t hesitate to get help. If you have insurance, look up mental-health providers in your area. If you feel that your mood might cause you to harm yourself, call 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
It’s important to know that mental health may not be something that can be seen, but it can shape how we see ourselves and the world. Hopefully, some of these tips can start you on your path to greater wellness.
Dr. Imani J. Walker is a physician trained in general adult and forensic psychiatry. She resides in Los Angeles.