I Don’t Feel Safe; It’s Killing Me.

~Lenice Hill-Williams

From microaggressions to white tears and everything in between, and while we’re on the subject, outside of the lines of race dealings are the regular garden variety of issues that bombard any non-white person’s day.

So interwoven into the fabric of how Black people live that we placate the instances of racism with the list of status quo narratives that we’ve experienced to be true, time and time again. The entrenchment is so intertwined that we communicate to one another about the issues using non-verbal gestures.

Black people have to be on guard 24/7 simply because of the heavy melanin that hues our skin. We do so because the epigenetic messages encoded in our DNA give us the bread crumbs to survive. But we are still being unnecessarily taken away from family members for simple non-lethal acts such as barbecuing in our back yard, watching television in the comfort of our own home, sleeping in our bed, and much more. Thus, our ancestors’ cheat codes, combined with the accounts of others and blended with our personal experiences, tell us that we must do to remain guarded so that we stay alive. This hypervigilance is our regular modality. It is a curse and a blessing. 

The human brain is wired for survival. So we catalog and box everything, with special attention to those things that cause us harm. With the brain, there aren’t levels. From verbal abuse to blunt force trauma, all of it goes in the same box; it will do me harm. So navigating the world with a covering that automatically makes you a weapon to the majority makes your brain have to prepare for safety.

A lot of individuals refer to this mechanism as the fight or flight response. But you know academia, they progress our learning and give us new perspectives. Since the initial phrase, we have learned that there are more than two responses on this spectrum, and it can be navigated in many ways. Since it also is a way for our bodies to defend our lives, it is now called the “Defense Cascade” instead of the fight or flight response.

This cascade is a wonderful thing to prepare our bodies to defend against anything that could be harmful. Most Black people feel as though we are in harm’s way most of the time. But cascade was not meant to be on all day, everyday basis. It should be turned on in a fleeting manner, every now and again.

Since it is not. It’s harmful because cortisol and many other natural chemicals and hormones flood our system to prepare our bodies to stay safe. This continuous cocktail is dangerous to those who are constantly under stress, strain, and duress. Because our systems are rapid-firing chemicals that our body should get in small doses. This over-exposure is making Black people more susceptible to chronic illness because the efficient machine that is the human body is trying to fix the issue of the misfiring of the defense cascade cocktail.

But. There. Is. Hope! There are things that we can do to suppress the rapid fire of the cocktail, mitigate the risk of chronic illnesses, or avoid getting them all together. Know that academia is once again assisting in this manner, and systemic oppression has now been added as a social determinant of health. So more doctors, social workers, and others will soon know that the issue is affecting our health.

There are things also things that we can do to empower ourselves to better our health, and there is no time like the present to get started. Just remember that there is HOPE:

H is for you to remember to, HOLD Yourself Accountable. Have a vision for your life. Know what your ideal self is doing in the distant future and how you’ll spend your time. Set goals that will help you manifest your vision. Remember to make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Once you have your vision and SMART goals, then work on changing your mind. Do that by believing that you are worth the effort that it is going to take to achieve your goals. Also, create affirmations to repeat to yourself when your brain starts to rehash negative things and ideas.

O is for Optimism. Simply start by stating things in the affirmative. This, in and of itself, will force your brain to think of things in abundance. If you force yourself to say the glass is half full, even though you have stated that it was half empty in the past, you will retrain your brain to find the positive in each situation. This will change your perspective, habits, behavior, and then mind. Once your mind is changed by this domino effect, it’s easy to change anything else.

P is for Patience. The time that you’re going to have to give yourself is weeks, months, maybe years. It took you years to accumulate the habits that you now have, and we are undoing the miseducation just to re-educate ourselves. Give yourself grace. Just as you did when you were a toddler and learning to walk. You didn’t give up on yourself then, so have the same tenacity today. Continue to get back up again and again until you are performing in the manner you desire.

E is for Exercise. There are manifold benefits to the mind, body, and spirit of those who exercise on a regular basis: It improves your immune system, which is compromised by the rapid-fire cocktail. It releases endorphins which are naturally occurring feel-good chemicals that can help by stabilizing your mood and improving your mental health. It also has a whole host of additional physical and mental benefits that will boost your wellness factor.

It is my hope that you have read this article, find out what you can do immediately to start improving your health, make goals and start executing them as soon as possible. You deserve the time and energy it will take to be the best you that you can be. Stewardship is about taking care of those things that you have charge over. The sooner you start being a better steward of your health, the sooner you can improve the stewardship in all other areas because you are bringing your A-game. Then you can begin to thrive. It all begins with you. Now go and be(come) well.

Lenice Hill-Williams is the Founder and Resilience Strategist at Nour!shment, LLC, Podcast Host for Health On A Humble, mother of two neuro-diverse teen entrepreneurs, licensed spiritual practitioner, and multi-certified health and wellness coach, with over thirty years of experience helping people reach their next level in life.

You can connect with Lenice and her business on social media on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube.

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