Overcoming Cultural Stigmas
A few months ago I attended a community talk on mental health led by a licensed therapist who specialized with working millennial ethnic minorities.
Despite our religious backgrounds, many of the women of color in the room shared similar experiences with cultural stigmas against seeking therapy.
Within communities of color at large, seeking professional help to overcome emotional or mental health battles is discouraged. Many shy away from therapy as to not “shame the family” by talking about problems outside of the home.
In the predominately African-American community I grew up in, talking to God and praying on problems was recommended as the best solution to overcome any hardship. But while there are positive aspects to having a spiritual connection with a higher power, the concept of “praying on it” can lead a person to internalize negative feelings.
Dealing with Anxiety & Panic Attacks
I first became aware of my anxiety about 5 years ago. I was in the midst of my first yoga teacher training and was learning about a yoga concept called Pranayama.
Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling our breath. The ability to use pranayama as a tool to help us mentally focus, physiologically relax, and mindfully release tension is a powerful one. Being apart of this yoga training invited me to be more aware of my breath, and specifically to become aware of moments when I found myself holding it.
That day I became aware of my anxiety, I was stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway. As I sat helpless in my car, mentally playing out a scene in which I would not make it to work on time and leave everyone suffering in my absence, I noticed that I was holding my breath.
I felt a lump so large in my throat I could barely swallow. As my palms tightened on the steering wheel, my left knee started bouncing nervously and tears poured uncontrollably from my eyes.
I’d already let my employer know that I was running late and was reassured that someone was there to cover for me. Still, that reassurance was not enough to calm the panic attack that was steadily reaching its peak.
As if someone grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to wake up, I realized that there was no way I could pull my car to the side of the road in all the traffic…I realized that I needed to pull myself together.
So I took a deep inhale, counting to five as my chest expanded. I held my breath for five counts. Then I exhaled, counting to five as my chest lowered and rib cage pulled in. Just as I learned in yoga. I did this for at least 10 rounds until I was able to steady my breathing, and thus steady my body and mental state.
I was in control. Or so I thought…
Realizing I Needed Professional Help
In the years since that moment passed, I’ve experienced several more panic attacks and chronic anxiety that has prevented me from living my best life in many moments. However, it wasn’t until recently that I decided to seek professional help to overcome it.
In early 2019 I found myself facing an unexpected opportunity to advance my career. I thought, “this could be the big moment I’ve been waiting for!” Knowing how fleeting those moments are, I poured every bit of my heart and soul preparing for my moment to shine.
That moment came, and I shined!
Then came the waiting game and constant email refreshing to hear feedback, to the point where my regular work and functioning came to a standstill. I realized that my anxiety was not only triggered by the bad stuff, but also the really exciting stuff. I later learned that with anxiety, normal stressors often become heightened and debilitating.
One day I sat on our couch facing my wonderful boyfriend, crying my eyes out in frustration that this stress was keeping me from normal functioning and truly not knowing how to stop it. He looked over at me with genuine eyes and said, “I think you need to talk to someone.” In that moment, I felt supported and gave myself permission to seek the help of a professional mental health specialist.
Therapy for Black Girls
From my experiences with several therapists, I cannot emphasize how important it is for people of color to seek help from a culturally competent mental health specialist.
As you delve deep into your personal history to discover your triggers, things may come up that only someone of a similar religious, cultural, or socio-economical background can truly understand.
When it came time for me to seek out a therapist, a simple Google search led me to find Therapy for Black Girls. This website contains invaluable resources, such as a U.S.-wide directory of licensed and culturally competent therapists that are trained to provide therapy specifically to women of color.
After having over-the-phone consultations with several therapists, I was so fortunate to find one who could identify with my experience as a millennial, multi-hypenate, Black woman working in the wellness industry. I even used the service later to successfully find someone to provide couples therapy/pre-marital counseling for my Caucasian boyfriend and me!
Finally Giving Yourself Permission
For some of us, just recalling details of a traumatic incident is enough to incite fear and scare us away from seeking therapy. Others may feel that the negative feelings we experience don’t warrant enough trauma to justify seeking therapy.
What I’ve realized is that no matter how big or small your emotional obstacles seem and despite the opinions of others telling you otherwise, you have the right to seek healing.
So give yourself the best gift a person can have: peace of mind.
If you have a personal testimony to share or want to inquire about my experiences with seeking professional help for mental health, feel free to drop a comment below or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, share this post with a friend who could use a little encouragement to give him/herself permission to seek professional help.