Self-Care for African Americans is not Optional
Reducing or managing stress may minimize the risk of heart disease and stroke among African Americans. It is an important part of self-care. African Americans are 50% more likely to die of a stroke and 30% more likely to die of a heart attack than non-Hispanic whites. Life can be challenging for everyone and when you add dealing with racism, prejudice, and microaggressions, it can be even more challenging. That’s why I believe self-care is not optional for African Americans and other people of color.
Self-Care is way more than pampering – it is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness. Practicing self-care consistently leads to living a life that is happy, healthy, and peaceful. Too often, we see the obvious signs that we need more self-care in our daily routines: burnout, insomnia, overwhelm, stress, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, lack of interest in activities we used to enjoy, or uncontrollable reactions to situations. And yet we often ignore those signs and keep pushing, striving, and surviving on a heavy diet of numbness and denial. Because denial keeps us safe until we are ready for the truth. It is only the truth that ultimately wakes us up to a better life.
Sometimes, African Americans listen to the advice that says to work twice as hard to be considered equal. Consequently, we don’t listen to our body saying slow down or do less, when in fact the act of self-care can help you do more and do it better. We must love ourselves and care enough to keep our cups full on a consistent basis.
What Self-Care Looks Like
The kind of self-love I hope to help us each develop becomes a protective force field against disrespect, intimidation, domination, prejudice, and other abusive behaviors by others, while simultaneously strengthening the important relationships in our lives. This sort of self-love demands that those who wish to come into, or remain in, our lives treat us with respect, love, dignity, and support – all of which we will reciprocate. Ultimately, however, we will each determine for ourselves what our current needs are and what self-care tools are most appropriate given our circumstances at any given time. Sounds good, right?
Simone Biles, most decorated American gymnast, modeled this for us when she chose her own well-being over medals by pulling out of gymnastic competitions during the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021. She didn’t let the chance at more external validation “win” over the need to protect her mental, emotional, and physical health. Making smart choices like this for ourselves will get easier the more we move beyond the behavior patterns and stories we’ve told ourselves for years. They keep us trapped in a place called victimville—don’t go there–it’s a dark hole that is hard to get out of.
Committing to Self-Care
Self-care is more of an art than a science because what makes one person stressed, anxious or worried is not necessarily the same for another person. This is where the art of self-care comes into play: determining through reflection, and then trial and error, what the most suitable self-care tools and techniques are for your unique self. And because self-care, in all its many versions, boosts our mood and reduces stress, it’s worth the effort. A daily commitment to self-care can decrease illness and accidents, improve overall wellness, increase career satisfaction, remove toxic people from our lives, and even help us eat more healthfully. Given all these positive implications, shouldn’t self-care be high, if not highest, on our list of daily priorities? Shouldn’t we spend most of our waking hours with a self-care mindset? Absolutely!
And yet…it doesn’t usually work out that way.
Why? Because most of us need to work for a living, in addition to having other responsibilities that prevent us from focusing exclusively on self-care. Fair enough. We may also engage in self-sabotage that keeps us stuck in a holding pattern of suffering. Therefore, to develop a consistent self-care practice, we can make deliberate choices throughout each day – choices that protect us from the inevitable wear and tear of life and support us in making self-care improving decisions. And to do this, we have to become aware of our needs.
This isn’t always easy, especially for African American women. We’ve been socialized to perform superhuman feats, with a smile and in high heels. Or be a caretaker, often to the point of martyrdom. The belief that it is “noble” to take better care of others than we do of ourselves may have been instilled in us – even to the point of our own personal decline. Giving until our cup is empty means there’s nothing left when we are thirsty.
A former dentist of mine has a sign on the wall of his office that reads: You don’t have to floss all your teeth – only the ones you want to keep. In the same spirit, we don’t have to practice self-care every day – only on the days we want to reduce stress and improve the quality of our lives. It is not optional. Commit to self-care – and flossing – daily. Self-care is floss for the soul.
Contributed by Sheri E. Betts
Author, ABCs of Self-Care: Your Guide to Creating a Happy, Healthy and More Peaceful Life
She can be reached at www.abcsofselfcare.com and on IG @abcs_of_self_care