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A Mental Health Checklist for Black People When the News Cycle Is Too Much

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It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say that 2020 has been monstrous for Black people. Whether you’ve grappled with unimaginable pandemic outcomes or relentless police brutality, it’s hard to look back at this year without sadness.

Just December 4, Casey Goodson, a 23-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by an Ohio sheriff’s deputy in Columbus. The deputy was reportedly in Goodson’s neighborhood searching for “violent suspects”—Goodson was not one of those suspects, and he wasn’t wanted for any crimes, according to reporting from NPR. He joins an incredibly long list of other Black people who’ve been killed by law enforcement. The United States also recently experienced its highest coronavirus daily death toll (so far)—3,054 people died from COVID-19 in a single day on December 4. The term “news cycle” has become shorthand for the terrible things we’re experiencing, but “news cycles” are stories about real people. And a news cycle can trigger personal grief.

“Grief is a response to loss,” Nicole Alston, M.S.W., an associate at the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University, tells SELF. It can be easy to recognize grief when it feels personal—when you’ve lost something or someone close to you—but it might be helpful to think of grief as a formula, Alston explains. “Life minus the loss of good health equals grief. And life minus the way we thought things were in this country or the world can equal grief.”

Most often, when we find ourselves processing emotions from news stories and events, the advice is to unplug. This is good advice, but even after you’ve logged out of Twitter or turned off the TV, you might notice that you’re still dealing with heavy emotions.

“It's very common to have a difficult time sleeping in the throes of grief,” Alston explains. “It's very common to have a hard time concentrating. And then, of course, the more you don't sleep, the worse you feel and the more difficult it is to operate at your best,” she says.

Let me be clear: None of the information below will make the grief disappear. I can’t control the news cycle or the private devastations you’re experiencing at home. But I created a small mental health checklist for you to read when the world feels heavy, and you’re being crushed under its weight. Grief doesn’t stop, but it does become manageable, Alston explains, and you have to find ways to keep yourself healthy while you move through those emotions. I hope this daily mental health checklist helps.

1. Have you eaten anything today?

Often, when you’re glued to the television or preoccupied with stress, your appetite suffers. But making sure you’re eating and taking care of yourself is imperative. Even if you don’t feel like preparing elaborate meals, consider snacks and smoothies to make sure you’re nourishing yourself. Setting a reminder to eat or asking someone you love to remind you to eat could also be helpful. Here are more tips for making sure you eat even when it’s the last thing you care about.

2. Have you had water or fluids?

The same rule applies to drinking water. Water is your body’s main chemical component, and it makes up over 50 percent of your body weight, the Mayo Clinic explains. The good news is that you don’t need to guzzle six to eight glasses of water every day to actually get the amount of water your body needs. (Here’s more on that.) I know it can be incredibly challenging to worry about fluid intake when the world is on fire, but try to notice and address any thirst cues you might be experiencing. You can also opt for fluid-rich foods like watermelon, spinach, or other fruits and veggies.

3. Are you sleeping okay?

Interrupted sleep is a feature of grief, and there are so many things that might keep us up at night. If you’re not sleeping as restfully as you’d like, you can try a few potentially simple fixes to encourage sleep, like taking a warm bath before bed, turning off the TV (and any other lights), or experimenting with sleep apps. None of these will make the world less anxiety-inducing, but hopefully they’ll help you rest.

4. Is it possible for you to take a nap?

If you’re tired right now, maybe just maybe you can close your eyes for 20 minutes and nod off. While too much napping can make it harder to sleep at night, a perfectly timed snooze can give you a little more energy to get through the day. You deserve to rest. Here are tips for making nap time a possibility, along with some sleep products that can be really helpful for napping too.

5. What emotions are floating around in your body?

Sometimes when our anxieties get the best of us, we find it hard to pinpoint exactly how we’re feeling. Or, more commonly, we might dismiss our feelings as irrational. “Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are entitled to our feelings—every single one of us,” Chante' Gamby, L.C.S.W., previously told SELF. If you’re not sure exactly which emotions predominate right now, consider looking at a feelings wheel to help you get a sense of what’s going on. Remember that there’s no wrong way to feel right now. You don’t have to fight your emotions or dismiss them.

6. Have you unplugged?

Tuning out for a little while is often the go-to advice for people who are feeling overwhelmed, but it bears repeating. If events on the news impact your mental health, it’s okay to turn off your TV or log off of social media. Sometimes it feels like our attention is the best way to honor tragedy and disparity, but there’s a pretty big difference between paying attention and depleting yourself. If you feel even a modicum of guilt, remind yourself that you can use your time away to brainstorm ways to make meaningful change.

7. Have you talked to someone you trust about what you’re feeling?

When we’re used to carrying on like everything is okay, we can forget that talking and sharing our emotions helps us process them. If you haven’t chatted with a family member, friend, clergy, or mental health professional, and you think you need to share—please don’t hesitate to do so. When discussing how we process feelings like anger, Cicely Harshom-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist and mindset coach, previously told SELF that “being in community is a way to navigate rage.” The same holds true with grief (which is why there are support groups), so consider reaching out to people you love and trust to share some of your feelings.

8. Do you need to draw boundaries around some of the conversations you’re having?

Just as a community can help you work through your feelings, some conversations can feed your anxiety. Notice how you feel when you chat with certain people. You might need to draw boundaries around the talks you’re having. Whether someone catastrophizes events or argues against what you’re feeling, it’s okay to step away from discussions that make you feel worse.

9. Can you think of a few reasons you’re grateful right now? (Even one.)

There are so many reasons to feel despair. But part of cultivating resilience—the ability to move through challenges—involves finding moments for hope. Can you think of one small reason you’re grateful right now? It’s okay if you’re drawing a blank, but trying to find a reason each day might have benefits for your mental health.

10. Do you need to reach out to someone for professional support?

These are “unprecedented times,” and if you’re overwhelmed by what you’re feeling, or you’re having thoughts that scare you, it’s okay to reach out to a professional. We have resources for dealing with being a Black person in America right now, tips for finding an affordable therapist, and ideas on getting the most out of your therapy sessions right now. If you’re in crisis and need to speak to someone immediately, text HOME to 741741 and connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor who can support you. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255—to find support 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

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