AHA News: Understanding ‘black fatigue’ – and how to overcome it | Health, Medicine and Fitness

News from the American Heart Association

THURSDAY, February 24, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Before naming the sensation, Mary-Frances Winters felt it constantly. She calls it “a dull buzz that’s always present” and “a kind of underlying syndrome that pervades my very being.”

It is the exhaustion born of the “little daily acts of aggression or small acts of disrespect” that a black person endures; the endless need to prove your worth; and constant exposure to information about injustice and violence inflicted on people who look like you.

She calls this feeling “black fatigue”. And while the problem isn’t their fault, for the sake of their health, black people need to understand and recognize the cost of living with racism, said Winters, a North Carolina diversity and equity consultant. “You have to take care of yourself.”

Aishia Grevenberg, a psychotherapist who lives in Las Vegas, said the idea that the cumulative effect of racial discrimination causes psychological damage is well known. His clients are often exhausted.

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“It’s in all areas of my life, in all areas of my clients’ lives,” she said. And “it takes on that invisible quality. Because it’s always there.”

It has serious health consequences.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes racism as a threat to public health. Biologically, structural stress based on racism can lead to lasting damage to the body and brain, according to a 2020 report by the American Heart Association in the journal Circulation. He defined structural racism as “the normalization and legitimization of a range of dynamics (historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal) that routinely benefit white people while producing cumulative and chronic negative outcomes for people of color.”

This report describes how racism harms all historically marginalized groups. He also notes that black adults are more likely to face discrimination and the cumulative effects of racial trauma, but are less likely to receive treatment for their mental health.

The effect of racism on mental health varies between people, Grevenberg said. But following the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, several of his black clients had to go on disability leave due to racial trauma triggered not only by what was happening in society, but because they saw the racism exhibited between friends and co-workers.

She and other black therapists, in turn, were pushed to their limits as they tried to accommodate everyone who needed their help.

Winters, author of the book “Black Fatigue,” points out that the problem lies with systemic and historical oppression, not the oppressed people. “Being black isn’t exhausting,” she said. “Racism is exhausting.

She started her career on the executive path but said her good ideas were passed over, she was passed over for promotions and her natural hair was unprofessional. Thus, 38 years ago, she founded her consulting company on diversity issues.

Emotional responses to discrimination can include depression, internalizing stereotypes that say you are deficient, and rage. All of these things can weigh heavily on mental well-being.

Grevenberg said anger can be particularly corrosive because it’s not possible to go after all the “nameless, faceless” people behind a racist system. “So anger takes on that quality that is all-consuming and endless, if you look into it.”

One of her key roles in therapy is to validate her clients’ experiences. For fear of being perceived as overly racially sensitive, people may begin to question what they have experienced. Even if it’s as blatant as a co-worker clearly trying to sabotage their work, the target of racist behavior may turn the problem inward and say, “That can’t happen, can it? ? »

When she gives them the opportunity to affirm that yes, they have really been wronged, she says, it gives them space to live out their feelings. They can then redefine being Black on their own terms, with confidence and pride, and without any harmful labels.

Grevenberg also tells clients that it’s okay to stray from the constant pursuit of perfection.

“I tell everyone I work with, ‘Have a snack and take a nap,'” she said.

Black professionals often feel pressured to prove themselves worthy. She and all of her clients were brought up with the narrative that they would have to be twice as good to be considered half as good.

It makes the simple act of resting revolutionary, she said. “Rest is a protest. Rest is a sign that says, ‘I am human.'”

Winters said the solutions to black fatigue are broader than any individual. “We need to change the system so people don’t have to protect themselves.”

However, in an act of self-protection, Winters sets boundaries for herself. “A lot of times I don’t watch things that talk about racism, because that’s the job I do every day, and I need a reprieve.” She encourages people to know “what your triggers are and to walk away, and not feel guilty about walking away.”

Winters said well-meaning white friends — “budding allies,” as she calls them — can help by being willing to address issues they see. The first step is listening. “When you’re an aspiring ally, you still have a lot to learn. So I think humility is really important.”

Grevenberg agrees that being an ally is about providing a safe presence, someone who can validate experiences. It’s important “to be present, to be curious and to ask questions to understand. It’s not about solving a problem. It’s about being with someone you care about.”

Parents can provide an early boost by sending their children positive messages about who they are, she said, and “sowing those seeds of self-love” in a society where they might rarely see positive images of people who look like them.

Surrounding yourself with sets or books that celebrate darkness works for adults, too, Grevenberg said. “We don’t always recognize this beauty and this shared experience that we have – this incredible way in which we express our culture, with our hair and our clothes and in our style,” much of it was forged under difficult conditions.

Visual cues around homes, offices and classrooms, she said, can help validate the shared black experience and allow people “to celebrate and feel that pride in this culture that is so rich and so nuanced”.

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]

This article was originally published on consumer.healthday.com.