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Stress - It’s The Way You Carry It

Michelle Bee | Jun 1, 2020 | 5 minute read

Stress - It’s The Way You Carry It

Michelle Bee | Jun 1, 2020 | 5 minute read

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lena Horne

Black men are asked to carry more than their share of burdens.  My heart aches at the thought of these burdens robbing you of your health and wholeness.  I know firsthand that black men are brilliant.  You achieve success in the midst of adversity.  I have watched you intelligently thrive despite the odds.  One tool for a thriving lifestyle is learning how to carry the load of being a black man in a world that so often minimizes your shine and exaggerates – in some cases fabricates – your flaws.

The way you carry stress can be the difference between surviving and thriving.  The heavy burden of stress everyday can be linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, depression, and other stress-related illnesses.  It is important to understand how to manage and release toxic stress so you can embrace your health and wellness.  The wisdom is in knowing that not all stress is bad. You need some stress to encourage you to go after things in life and to grow.  Growing, evolving, and changing is stressful.  Some of our best growth is accompanied by anxiety and passion.

The good type of stress is called eustress.  Eustress is a moderate, positive stress that is healthy and normal.  You experience positive feelings like excitement, anticipation, achievement, and fulfillment.  A great example of eustress is when you get a promotion at work and feel excitedly nervous about doing well. It’s the feeling you get when you just bought a ring and while you know she loves you…damn if your palms won’t stop sweating.

The harmful type of stress is called distress.  Distress is the type of stress that can cause dis-ease and illness in the body.  When in distress, you experience extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.  It feels like distress has been the theme of 2020 for so many. The uncertainty of so many things arounds us has most of us navigating some level of distress.

There are two levels of distress, acute and chronic.  Acute stress is short-term distress with a rapid onset and severe intensity.   Your body goes into a survival stress response to provide you with the resources needed to manage the brief issue or crisis.  This could be a one-time school or work conflict, an argument with a loved one or family member, a traffic jam, or being a witness to a crime.

In cases like this, the body experiences a brief stressor, provides you with energy and stamina to get through the event, and then de-escalates the response to restore and recover.

The second level of distress is chronic distress.  With chronic distress you experience the stressor over and over again and the body does not have a restoration or recovery period.  If your job is consistently fast-paced and high conflict, that can lead to chronic and long-lasting distress.  If you are in a relationship with daily arguments or experience repeated crime in your neighborhood, your body often maintains a consistent hyper-arousal that changes everything. The body’s set point begins to change to a chronic survival stress response.

As a result of the chronic distress, the body’s adrenal glands regularly produce stress hormones (adrenaline and a steroid hormone called cortisol). These stress hormones, when repeatedly produced, have been linked to stress-related illness.

What can we do about this?  One way to manage chronic distress is with planned mindful recovery periods.  Things like meditation and deep breathing can provide a rest period and serve as a release valve to support the body’s need for recovery.   Even if you’re in a crowded apartment or public space you can use the bathroom as a recovery place. Take a few minutes to focus on stepping away and hitting the reset button. Check out Henry Health’s first community, Men Thrive, for access to free meditations.

Another thing that can help is regular physical activity.  Moving your body allows for the discharge of toxic stress hormones that accumulate in the body from stressful experiences.  Working out has prevented a lot of us from working it out on someone else. If you haven’t tried it – trust me – it works.  Be sure to consult your doctor about your stress management plan and get their guidance on what is best for you and your body.

Consider consulting a culturally responsive therapist for more tools to manage your daily stress.  Ensuring your provider is knowledgeable of your culture and the unique stressors you face can increase your comfort and yield better treatment outcomes.  Research shows that black men who had black doctors received more effective care.  I’m sad to say that there aren’t enough black doctors and therapists to provide care for all of us, but the next best thing is having a culturally humble provider who (1) has specialized awareness and training to work with black men and (2) is interested in incorporating your culture and life experiences into your care plan. Take the lead in your health care and speak up; your life depends on it.

Know that there are options and places of support for you. In this stressful season the entire world is in, we all need support. Try one or two of the methods I’ve mentioned and if they work, share them with some of the men in your life that could use them. If they don’t work for you, try two more. This is a journey we at Henry Health are committed to walking with you. 

Below are some tools to support you on your stress management journey.

Cultural Sensitivity Questions for your Providers

  1. Have you treated other African Americans?
  2. Have you received training in cultural responsiveness or on African American mental health?
  3. How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  4. How do you plan to integrate my beliefs and practices in my treatment?

Stress Management Checklist

  1. I powerfully manage stress. 
  2. I practice stress relief daily. 
  3. I create stress free zones for myself.
  4. I honor my mind and body with restoration and recovery breaks.

Mindful Questions

  1. How can I create more stress-free zones in my life? 
  2. What people, places, and things are putting me at risk for chronic distress?
  3. How will I begin to release myself from distressing environments and situations that are outside of my control?

About the Author

Michelle Bee is the Director of Content at Henry Health.

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