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Mindfulness and Racial Trauma

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" Your worst battle is between what you know and what you feel"-Unknown

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The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for the Black community, with data showing disproportionate rates of illness and deaths due to socioeconomic factors like insufficient access to health care, crowded and multigenerational living situations, and preexisting medical conditions that increase the susceptibility of infection. On top of that, the ongoing police violence targeting Black and brown people ― and the nationwide protests that have since followed ― has triggered a wave of racial trauma that’s difficult to process. It creates this perfect storm where you need as much in your toolkit as possible, now, more than ever, those in the Black community need accessible coping tools, practicing meditation and mindfulness is vital to processing and recovering from racial trauma, which can cause muscle tension, heart racing, shallow breathing, and fatigue.

Meditation practices attend to the mind and body, this helps us, first, recognize what our body and mind are experiencing without judgment, and second, release the tension through breath work and meditative practices. It regulates the autonomic system and other stress responses. These stress responses can be either over- or under-active when you experience racial trauma.

For Black people in this country, it’s really important to think about because a lot of the other diseases we have, like diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, have all been shown to vary with stress and to decrease with meditation, Engaging in these interventions can lower things like blood pressure and lead to better control of a lot of physical conditions and help with our overall wellness.

A 2019 study in the journal Behavioral Brain Research found that as little as 13 minutes a day of meditation over an eight-week period improved attention and mood for people who were new to the practice. The study also saw reduced anxiety among subjects ages 18 to 55.

But incorporating mindfulness into daily life isn’t exactly simple; there may be a barrier to entry in the Black community, due to cultural, religious, and socioeconomic reasons. For one, many identify as Christian, and sometimes meditation practices could be seen as going against a Christian form of spirituality if one isn’t properly informed about what the practices really are.

Moreover, depending on what kind of community you live in, the environment and what mechanisms are available for you, even if you wanted to do self-care, how can you do that if your environment is unsafe or you don’t have money and you can’t go somewhere or hire an instructor?

Below, are some accessible mindfulness and meditation resources and how to start a regular practice:

Start a daily practice by doing meditation first thing in the morning.

Beginning the day with meditation can help to start you off with level-headedness and it can help you with mood management, giving you an emotional head start to face whatever challenges the day ahead brings.

Meditation can help you focus on the here and now and slow down a lot of the buzzing thoughts you have in your mind, and deep breathing helps to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, which helps release endorphins and calm your body.

Meditation and its daily use in the morning as a prevention practice serve as a protective layer against the wear and tear of daily racism. Using it as an intervention following a racist stressor when we need something to help us recover from a race-based stress reaction or more chronic racial trauma is one of the primary benefits of daily meditation.

Starting out with just three to five minutes of meditation after waking up is a great foundation to build on, with a goal to get up to 10-15 minutes (or more) in a session.

Use a quick grounding exercise during moments of acute stress.

In addition to dedicating a little time every day to meditation, mindfulness tools can be very grounding during moments of high anxiety.

The stress hormone, cortisol, can manifest in your body, causing pain and discomfort and compromising your immune system, During this pandemic, we want to make sure your immune system is as strong as possible so we’re not making ourselves more susceptible to something that’s going on in the world in addition to having all these racial tensions.

If a moment is particularly stressful, I recommend the DBT 5-4-3-2-1 method to counteract any panic. List five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It helps ground you and puts you in the present, and not focus on the past or the future. Deep belly breathing, where you put one hand below your diaphragm and one on your chest, focusing on the body’s sensations, also works to calm the brain and body.

Practice mindfulness in the form of creative pursuits or other activities.

Research shows that crafts (think painting or coloring) can put the brain in a meditative state. Exercise also releases endorphins and reduces stress, providing a healthy break that is a coping mechanism in and of itself. Taking time for creative outlets ― like journaling, playing or listening to music or what I have been engaged in for the last year or so, painting, provides a time for reflection as well as an emotional catharsis.

Regular mindfulness will help limit some future stressors.

Part of mindfulness is about creating more self-awareness around the response to physical and emotional stress triggers. Those are the times you want to take a deep breath, do some counts. Stopping and recognizing those feelings going on in your body, being self-aware, that’s another thing mindfulness and meditation help you achieve. Meditation and mindfulness are not going to be the quick fix but rather one coping mechanism for negative experiences.


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