Given many African Americans are reluctant to seek mental health treatment, it is important to recognize the factors that contribute to stress, as well as identity healthy ways to cope with stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released findings from their 2015 Stress in America survey. This year the focus of the Stress in America survey was on how discrimination impacts stress.
The Stress in America survey highlighted that stress levels have increased in the past year and that most adults reported that stress had a negative impact on their mental and physical health. Studies often show that discrimination and racism results in poor mental health functioning and stress among people from diverse racial and ethnic groups. So it is probably not surprising that the Stress in America report noted that Blacks and Hispanics often reported significant stress. According to the report, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics were most likely to report stress due to money, work, family responsibility, and health issues.
The survey also notes that stress levels of those reporting discrimination were much higher than for those who said they hadn’t experienced discrimination. Dealing with discrimination may result in a state of heightened vigilance and changes in behavior, which can trigger stress responses and complicate health concerns.
Although some are reluctant to seek professional mental health treatment, it’s important to recognize ways to cope with daily stress. According to the American Psychological Association, here are 5 tips to help cope with stress.
Take a break from the stressor. It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20-minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.Exercise. The research keeps growing — exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. We keep hearing about the long-term benefits of a regular exercise routine. But even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours.
Smile and laugh. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. So laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension and improve the situation.
Get social support. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it’s important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and validate you. If your family is a stressor, for example, it may not alleviate your stress if you share your works woes with one of them.
Meditate. Meditation and prayer helps the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.
These strategies may be helpful, however it is important to recognize when you are unable to cope alone. Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of courage to face the challenges ahead.