When people witness a traumatic event there is a change in one’s behavior and/or cognition.  For over 400+ years there has been racial injustice in the United States (U.S.) against Black people.  This is discrimination based on one’s race.  There is now a call to action as we look at the racism in America and the effects on Black peoples’ Mental Health.  Black people may experience long-term effects on mental health that may include post-traumatic stress disorder (and symptoms such as reliving the traumatic events, withdrawal, intrusive memories, flashbacks, mood swings, and feelings of panic).

The duration, and intensity play a role in how impactful the traumatic injustice is.  There are small t’s and Large T’s.  This means there are small trauma’s which encompass everyday life events.  These events are more threatening to one’s self-esteem (EGO) and are usually not life threatening.  For example:  financial concerns, divorce, conflicts at work, or differences with family members.  Whereas Large T’s are life threatening.  These events leave people feeling a great deal of helplessness, and faintness.  For example:  abuse, assault, a major accident, or catastrophic happening.  At times, people respond to traumatic events with fear, avoidance, a change in one’s worldview, and severe negative emotions.

The extent to which people are traumatized happens either from environmental factors or genetic inherited ones, and under certain conditions.  With racial injustice there is discrimination based on nativism (innate traits), that may also perpetuate empiricism (based off sensory experiences).

There is motivation to tell the vulnerable population the importance of staying emotionally regulated even during difficult times, and when subject to heinous acts against Blacks.  When emotions are not regulated there is an increase in impulsivity and spontaneity.  We are not talking about the types of automatic thinking that come from repetition like riding a bike (learning, practicing, and repeating).  This lack of impulse control can lead to risks such as accidents, self-injury, missing danger signs, blurting out things one may not intend to say, violent behaviors, and destroying property.  Or even worse.

Tips for emotional regulation when responding to trauma pertaining to racial injustice (take deep breaths):

  1. Take a time out – Stop the current action and take a break to think things through.
  2. Mindfulness – Be self-aware (listen to your internal dialogue) and know your triggers (emotional response to an event or situation) – Having an awareness of physiological reactions and your emotions when in distress will help people be present, and in the moment.
  3. Learn your physical symptoms when in distress – Taking notice of symptoms like trembling, shaking, sweating, dizziness, twitches, tingling, headaches, breathing, fatigue, or heart palpitations tells you how your body responds to a threat or perceived threat.
  4. Search for cognitive clarity – When thinking clear people reduce cognitive distortions (thinking errors) and irrational thoughts, which decreases risks.
  5. Schedule time with your providers (doctors, psychotherapists, psychiatrists) – Process thoughts, emotions, behaviors, physical symptoms (how your body is responding to stress), and for medication management.
  6. Remember the intended outcome – Don’t get sidetracked by triggers. Remember your goal to create change.
  7. Staying informed, knowing the law, and your rights – With education you can petition for the change you hope to experience.

By Janelle Johnson, MA, LPC, NCC

© 2015 Colorado Black Health Collaborative
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