We are filled with sorrow, outrage and grief at the tragic loss of George Floyd, and we know that some of our team and clients are feeling this pain directly too. Today we wanted to not only say that we stand with you against racism and share our commitments as a team but to recognise the validity of racial trauma and tell you that we see you, we hear you and we’re here for you.
Written by our nutritional therapist, Kaysha Thomas
(Follow Kaysha on Instagram)
With racial trauma, racism is at the epicentre. It’s about implied racism, lived racism and experienced racism. Racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress may result from workplace discrimination, everyday discrimination, hate crimes, racial profiling, overt racism, witnessing racial violence, being racially harassed and being subjected to micro-aggressions or experiencing institutional racism.
Racial trauma is not necessarily that we have the racial discrimination directed towards us personally, we can also suffer from racial trauma if we witness somebody else of the same race as us receiving racial discrimination. It’s important to understand this. The other thing we need to be mindful of is that not everybody who experiences racial discrimination experiences racial trauma. So two people, it could be me and another black woman, could both have racial discrimination directed towards us, she may walk away with racial trauma and I may walk away feeling stressed, my nervous system will eventually regulate and then I will be fine. What I really want to stress is that not everybody will have the same reaction to the same racial discrimination and it’s important that we respect that. So if one person is saying that they feel traumatised by a racist event then that person and their body feels traumatised by that racist event. Likewise, if you are feeling traumatised by a racist event, it’s not for you to be trying to compare yourself to what others are feeling to see whether you should be feeling traumatised. If you’re feeling those feelings then that is true for you and it’s important that we honour that so that we can resolve and move through the rest of the threat response cycle.
The other thing that is quite unique about racial trauma is that we are exposed to the trigger – the threat – multiple times, in that we unfortunately experience racial discrimination on both a macro and on a micro level, many many times in our lives. Macro – is an event such as the tragic loss of George Floyd, but then micro is little, subtle racial discrimination that we encounter, sometimes it’s so subtle that we don’t even recognise is occurring. We call these micro-aggressions.
Micro-aggressions are the most “acceptable” forms of racism meaning it often goes unchallenged. Not everyone recognises it. You have to FEEL it to believe it. I recently listened to the podcast episode, Let’s Talk About Microaggressions, with Irene Moore and Ateh Jewel and found myself intermittently nodding along as it sounded all too familiar to me. Dr Jewel put it beautifully when she spoke of how experiencing micro-aggressions was like death by a thousand cuts. It’s slow and soft little nicks in who you are and your identity, but it’s just as deadly. It’s so subtle that often you will have a bodily reaction but consciously you can’t even fathom out what’s gone on, you can’t figure out why it is you’re having this bodily reaction.
Both macro and micro-agressions have an effect on our nervous system and they all have the potential to create racial trauma.
“There is a growing body of research to suggest that those exposed to racism may be more likely to experience mental health problems such as psychosis or depression. In the black community, mental health problems are rarely spoken about and can be seen in a negative light. This can discourage people within the community from talking about their mental health and may be a barrier to engagement with health services” (Sources). We need to destroy the idea that suppressing emotions is a sign of strength.
Suicide rates are higher among young men of Black African, Black Caribbean origin and among middle aged Black African, Black Caribbean and South Asian women than among their White British counterparts. (Source: Mental Health Foundation)
Those who are traumatised, internalise, believe and normalise the abuse. Right off the bat I’ll say that trauma is complex. Left unresolved it will continue to perpetuate. If a person lives with a traumatic experience for long enough, they start to normalise it and take the words of the abuser on as their own. Your first port of call is to work with a registered therapist. Psychotherapist Nathaniel Oke recommends working with someone who can help you challenge the false beliefs that you have taken on:
(You might also like to read our post: How To Recognise Trauma)
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Trauma is a response to an event (or sometimes series of events). The nervous system is where our body is protecting itself from something that it believes to be a threat. After all, the body’s main priorities are survival and safety.
Trauma is created when a person experiences a traumatic event and the threat response is initiated. Under normal circumstances, the threat response cycle involves chemical messengers that prepares us; trigger, response (e.g. fight, flight or freeze), threat resolved and then calm as our parasympathetic nervous system has kicked in. We eventually then just rise back to our normal homeostatic level of all is well within our body and nervous system. However, when the threat is too great, happens too fast or even too close to a prior event, the nervous system sometimes gets overloaded, the threat response is left incomplete and trauma is embedded (this is particularly common if a person was unable to take flight or fight).
A person’s nervous system may get “stuck” in the activation stage of fight, flight or freeze response (which looks like hyper-vigilance, anxiety, overactivity, chronic tension) or it can get “stuck” in the calm state (which usually looks like apathy, depression, lethargy). The brain doesn’t start to send any message that the threat has now been removed, the amygdala (the alarm part of the brain) just keeps on sounding as if the threat was still imminent. This often happens when a person is trying to suppress to avoid their emotions, trying to suppress or avoid what is going on for them in their body so their body doesn’t ever get to go into that state of calm. It’s important to remember the individual who is experiencing the trauma and THEIR response to it. This unresolved stress (i.e. an incomplete threat response cycle) needs to be resolved. This is not the design of the threat response cycle – we are not supposed to stay in this period of activation for a long time. If we have these chemical messengers in our body for prolonged periods, it makes us sick both mentally and physically.
Mentally, we’re anxious, we’re hyper-vigilant, we are avoidant, we may disconnect because it’s too much to sit with these uncomfortable feelings. Physically it can cause a lot of muscle tension, can lead to inflammation in the body, pain, almost always digestive issues because when we’re primed for fight, flight or freeze we have got energy, we have got blood going mostly towards our limbs as opposed our digestive system. Our digestive system then slows down as there is not enough blood flow going to it so therefore it doesn’t work so well, so you may see loose stools or constipation. This is all because a person is using avoidance mechanisms which are really unhelpful coping mechanisms, to just try and deal with this uncomfortable feeling that they get in their body.
These coping mechanisms can look like eating disorder behaviours, they can be drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sleep, disconnecting from the world, isolating themselves, being over busy in themselves – it’s exhausting! It leads our body to a place of being unwell and imbalance. The other thing is that when we have these chemical messengers coursing through our body, our immune system is really depressed as well so we leave ourselves quite vulnerable in other ways. The take-away from all this is really not to avoid your emotions.
It is important that we don’t try to disconnect from these feelings because by trying to disconnect and avoid, this is how we exacerbate them and they just hang around at the activation stage for longer than we need.
Helping Your Body To Heal From Trauma
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I mentioned that a person’s nervous system gets “stuck”. This is that there is undischarged traumatic stress in the body (dysregulation of the nervous system). As a result, a person can have a trauma response to anything they perceive as a threat. Now, notice I said perceive? The threat may not always be accurate. It may well be inaccurate and, in some instances, altogether imaginary.
It’s important to note that the perception of an imminent threat feels very real to the person regardless whether it’s accurate, inaccurate or imagined. The body continues to serve its main purpose, to keep us SAFE and to survive.
I have this saying that I say to my clients – “We have to be able to feel in order to heal; we cannot heal what we cannot feel.” Although it sounds super corny, it is so so true. If we don’t resolve these emotions, our body doesn’t receive a message that the threat has been resolved and that we can move into that state of calm, the body has this idea that we’re still in this place where the threat is still imminent.
So, in terms of healing from racial trauma, we have to address what it is that’s causing this heightened activity in our nervous system. We can’t suppress it, we can’t avoid it, it’s a case of you’ve got to go in and you’ve got to take responsibility for your healing.
So how can we create safety in order for the body to heal?
- Meet all of your basic needs – Regular meals, hydration and enough restorative sleep.
- Speak to a therapist – Working with a therapist of the same race can be particularly helpful with racial trauma. I’ve been doing some wonderful research about working with the body so it’s not just looking at Talking Therapy but looking at some kind of Somatic Therapy as well.
- Be mindful of social media usage – Social connection is important for our mental wellbeing. However, it’s important not to consume triggering content.
- Set healthy boundaries – avoid taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another. Be mindful that speaking about trauma in an uncontained space can be triggering.
- Connect with your community!
- Meditation – Meditation is a wonderful way to calm the nervous system and ground you.
- Journaling – Wonderful for when you just have too much whirling around in your head. Don’t like writing? Perhaps try creating an art journal.
- Mindful movement – that is exercise/movement.
- Check out former client, Grace Victory’s post with tips on how to look after your mental wellbeing right now.
Nutrition Basics For Trauma
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This is nutrition 101 to be honest. However, I’ll put it into context of the effects of trauma and how we can help support the body through nutrition. The important thing to remember is that chronic stress is a catabolic process (it breaks down healthy tissues). Therefore, we need to give the body sufficient building blocks and counteract inflammation caused as a result.
- Eat regular meals – Irregular meals sends the signal that food is scarce and disrupts blood sugar levels. As a result the body releases cortisol which stimulates the release of glucose from its energy stores.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Omega 3 fatty acids are also a structural part of brain cell membranes.
- Support digestive function – Stress and anxiety cause the digestive system to slow down (hello constipation) or speed up (hello runny poops).
- Eat a rainbow (of colourful foods) – this ensures a good variety of antioxidants. Key in defending the body against the damaging effects of oxidative stress which is often present with anxiety.
- Limit stimulants (e.g caffeine) – Stimulants such as caffeine can disrupt your sleep function. Stimulants also re-create stress conditions for the body by increasing stress hormones in the body.
- Include magnesium rich foods – This helps to relax tight muscles.
- Eat protein rich foods – Key for production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), blood sugar regulation and tissue repair.
- Don’t cut carbohydrates – glucose is the brain’s preferred source of energy. Carbohydrates are also key in maintaining optimal energy and blood sugar levels.
- Optimal hydration- the brain is around 70% water. Dehydration has a negative impact on cognitive and digestive function.
Our commitments as a team:
As therapists it is vital that we are all equipped to deal with racial trauma. We will introduce and accelerate specific training to ensure we are informed and as confident as possible in addressing these issues. We have a unique opportunity to use our influence to guide our clients (and each other) to embrace a more loving view of the world and each other. Racial injustice continues to exist within our society and it is very evident in our specific industry that people of colour are not represented or afforded the same opportunities. We remain committed to playing our part in challenging this.
We will use our platforms – our blog and social media channels – as a force for good.
- We will always credit black creators we repost.
- We will diversify our feeds.
- We will collaborate with organisations and members of the BAME community to amplify their voices, experiences and resources with regards to racial trauma and wellbeing.
- We will open our channels for our diverse staff members (if and when they feel comfortable to) to speak about their experiences and thoughts on mental health in order to empower women from diverse backgrounds.
- Where we can we will support non-profits (financially, digitally or otherwise) which focus on the mental health of the BAME community.
- We will acknowledge what is going on in the world and recognise what may be being triggered in the current climate.
- We will acknowledge systemic racism, publicly and permanently supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
- We will name racial trauma as a real, lived experience for people.
- We will share content relating to different races/cultures/religions and how people of the specific race/culture/religion may experience their eating disorder/trauma differently because of their heritage/history.
Internally we will continue to support each other and have open and frank conversations about racism in the open, honest and safe environment we have created at Recover. We will all work to understand our own privilege – specifically white privilege, bias and barriers – so that we can all become accountable allies. We will continue to hold space for our staff and clients to participate in protests, volunteer and take the time to process racism – implied, lived or experienced. And we will review our diversity and inclusion policies to ensure Recover offers equal opportunities for all.
We will build on these commitments as we put in the work to educate ourselves further.
“Always remember empowerment is from within, the strength you have will guide you.
It’s been challenging, it’s been painful.
We are frustrated, we are tired.
Make a difference – stand against stigma, speak out on the fundamental systematic global racism.
Your voice matters, your voice is important.
BLACK LIVES MATTER EVERYDAY”
Written by our senior health & wellbeing coordinator, Lisa-Ann Jones
(Follow Lisa on Instagram)
Don’t suffer in silence
If you or a loved one may be suffering with racial trauma, we are here to help. Reach out to our friendly advice team today.
Write for us
Have you struggled with racial trauma? We’d love to hear from you! Whether you want to share your story or an inspirational/motivational piece for those in recovery or who are thinking about getting help, you could help others who are experiencing similar thoughts, feelings and behaviour. We’re open to all ideas and you can be anonymous/use a pseudonym if you prefer.