“Focus on being able to change things within your reach, because once you have one success, you feel a little bit more confident about the future. Even if it’s a small success, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. But if you try to look at the whole, it can just be too much”, said Dr. Nicole Christian Brathwaite, Clinical Psychiatrist, Entrepreneur and Health Equity Activist.
It’s not as if sexism, racism, or antisemitism are new. But the pandemic on top of tragic events, like the awareness of what really happened to George Floyd, opened a more raw dialogue about pain. And the opportunities. So, many of us felt hope for a more inclusive future. One with paid leave, diverse leadership, health equity and protective laws against hate.
Whether it’s the news or your lived experience, you feel it. That the systems we live and work in, aren’t helping. And trying to save ourselves, day by day, feels like fighting the ocean. Although many of us struggle to keep our sanity and optimism as we parent and produce, there are more voices singing for change. And most importantly, greater awareness on the impact all of this has to our mental health.
Nicole shares strategies to strengthen your health, wellbeing, and outlook, despite all the chaos in the backdrop.
Let’s Not Pretend it’s Normal
Typically, Moms own the childcare and household work in most families. And few expect any grace or relief if they break from the increased parenting, work, and partnership pressures. But we are breaking. In our research and other studies, burnout, anxiety, and depression continue to rise for Mothers. Nicole said, “It’s so challenging. Everyone talks about a ‘new normal’ and then you think, you have a new normal, and then another virus comes. Or there’s a war or you have a death in your family or change in employment. And so, it’s hard to really determine what the new normal is when the variables are constantly shifting.”
And it’s Never Been ‘Fair’
In communities of color, these inequities are further exacerbated by disparities in health outcomes. Especially in mental health, where Nicole works to promote awareness, change and trauma-sensitivity. “There’s increased pressure in all environments. And we know that Black and Latino people were disproportionately impacted by Covid. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of single parent households, or families without really critical individuals. Often, the people that died from Covid were frontline workers so, their income and presence was an important part of the family and now, at home, many of us have even more responsibility.” So how can we take a more self-protective stance when the strain continues to increase?
Learn to Notice When You’re Not Okay
Nicole wisely explains, “We have to be aware of our limits and warning signs. On an individual level, how do you know when you are completely overwhelmed? Or how do the people around you know when you’re reaching a breaking point? We usually don’t recognize it until we’re right on that precipice and about to fall over. What if we could identify warning signs a few weeks or even a few months before? Ideally, intervening prior to it getting to the point of no return.”
Let’s go back to expectations because society ‘expects’ us to ‘handle’ everything we’re doing. But there’s less time, infrastructure, or support for it. So, you’re not imagining the increased burden. How can we engage our families to support us?
And Let Others Know Your Signs
Nicole said, “If our loved ones, friends or family are able to identify what happens when we’re stressed and usually, they can, but articulating that clearly helps. Like, ‘When I’m overwhelmed, I tend to isolate. Or I tend to sleep too much or eat too much. So, if you find I’m starting to engage in these behaviors more consistently, please tell me because I may not always recognize it.’ And then we can take a step back and evaluate. We have to know when it’s happening.” Absolutely. We can be as responsive to our own needs as we are to others. Being a caretaker demands a lot of emotional and physical energy. And for many, it’s bigger than just childcare.
Acknowledge Your Stressors
Nicole said, “We are also culturally more likely to be caretakers of our parents. And in communities of color, our parents often don’t have the resources to pay for additional help or support so, sometimes we have to work harder to cover their expenses and maintain the expenses for our families. There are many potential barriers to allowing us to be healthy.”
Financial pressure, pre-dates the rise in inflation and change in economic climate. Financial wellness has been elusive for many women and more so in communities of color. Many of us are responsible for aging parents or other adults and intergenerational living is more common. And as Nicole points out, we’re more likely to have financial responsibilities for our families, earlier in life. A negative cycle that makes it harder for close the wealth gap.
And Set Realistic Goals
There’s a lot of bad news about social injustice, including the rise in hate crimes. Although it’s important, it’s probably not in your best interest to consume every detail of it. It can be triggering and destabilizing. Nicole said, “That’s one of the reasons I don’t watch the news often, it’s often entirely too depressing. I don’t want to put my head in the sand, but I also realized there are very specific things that I can do to change my reality.” Amen!
There are many societal problems that require your brilliance and attention. So, preserve your energy and choose how to be part of the change for the issues that are critical to your values and long-term well-being.
That you Can Control
Nicole said, “With Covid a phrase I’ve repeated many times is, we have to focus on what we can control. So, control what you can control. And have that be where the majority of your time is spent. For example, if you can’t control Covid, it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of energy thinking about it nationwide, because you have very little influence on that. However, you can think about the impact of Covid on your home. So, what interventions can you put in place to help decrease the risk of Covid in your home? Like hand washing or wearing masks.”
And Give Your Energy to Advocacy
There are countless ways to strengthen society and model the civic engagement many of us want our children to learn. Nicole said, “On a larger scale, I vote and contribute to politicians who have a platform that I support or volunteer my time. Because it’s something I can do to impact things on a larger scale.”
Although the divisive nature of modern politics might feel deflating, government processes control many of our most pressing needs. She added, “If you’re worried about racism in society, we can absolutely support organizations that are pushing anti-racism forward and volunteer. You may not be able to make change on a nationwide level, right this second, but on a local level you can.”
Lead Within Your Circle of Influence
“So, whether it’s going into your child’s school and talking to the class about racism, reading books that have representation or discussing the topic, you’re working on education. Or preemptively talk to the school about what they’re going to do for Black History Month.” Nicole reminds us there are several opportunities to get involved.
And it’s not just political systems. You can have a powerful impact advancing equity and social justice in the workplace. She said, “You can provide resources at your job and if you decide to engage in diversity, equity and inclusion work, make sure you’re getting paid for it.”
And Say No More Often
There are so many demands on our time, when the environment isn’t friendly to our advancement, it feels like extra punishment. So, it comes back to setting healthy, boundaries. Nicole said, “We have to learn to say no. It’s impossible to maintain this intensity if we’re not able to set those barriers. It’s okay to say no and if you don’t want to say it outright, it’s okay to say, ‘not right now, I appreciate you asking for this however based on what I have on my plate, I can’t get to that for another two weeks.’ Give yourself some breathing room.”
Between the gendered wage and leadership gaps in the workplace, which only widen for women of color, Nicole acknowledges that the psychological and career safety may not be there for you to push back. She added, “In the work environment, it may be difficult to just say no but you also have to be realistic about what you can do and make sure you spell it out for people. For example, ‘I have this many tasks, I would love to help, but we can revisit this in a week.’ So set those clear boundaries.”
Boundaries at work and at home, remain the answer to overdo and never done. And as Nicole shared, although we can’t help but fret about the state of the world, focus on your mental health. Narrow your priorities to the social changes you can opt-in to and dial down the number of commitments you have. Because self-care, is more than movement, mindfulness or even sleep. It includes managing your mental health and energy.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Nicole Christian Brathwaite!
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Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the Head of Clinical and Medical Strategy for Headway. She is also the Founder of Well Minds Psychiatry and the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
Nicole regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.
Tags: activisim, advocacy, diversity, equity and inclusion, managing anxiety, managing depression, mental health for moms, mental health for parents, social justice, Stress Management for Moms