Racial discrimination, children being gunned down in classrooms, and a healthcare system that has historically disregarded Black folks — are just some of the reasons we are stressed. On top of all that, studies also show that between May and June of 2020, Black folks experienced a 31% increase in stress relating to police violence.
While there are so many pressures and worries in our lives, taking control of our mental health is one of the ways the Black community continues to rise.
That’s where the work of Carenda Deonne a Charlotte, North Carolina-based certified stress management life coach, speaker, and author comes in. Deonne says she experienced several stressful situations that led her to commit to helping others alleviate their stress. In 2019, she started a business to help women and corporations cope with and decrease their stress levels.
Deonne says it’s important for her to help women alleviate stress because she believes everyone has been created for and in purpose. She wants women to maximize their full potential and embrace their purpose without feeling unworthy.
“I want to see women have those celebrations in their lives, have those wins, and have those victories,” she says.
To help corporations promote a less stressful work environment, Deonne also does workshops focused on reframing reactions to stress. She provides them on both individual and group levels.
During a conversation with Word In Black, Deonne tells us why working through stress in the Black community is so important and shares simple steps to get started.
Word In Black: Why did you decide to become a stress management life coach?
Carenda Deonne: I personally went through a lot of stressful moments in my life. I’ve been through two failed marriages. I’ve also been through various health challenges and experienced the very tragic loss of my baby brother. All of those situations brought upon stress, and I started to see how I was internalizing that stress and how it was affecting me, meaning insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of my hair, gaining weight, and I started to make unhealthy choices when it came to diet and exercise.
I decided that I had to make a choice to do something different. I knew that stress was causing me to have those unhealthy habits and not be able to move forward with my life — it was keeping me stuck. I decided to become my own client first and started working on simple ways I could incorporate throughout my day how to alleviate stress. I started doing more research, and I was growing in it as a profession and got my certification to help other women.
WIB: What were some simple things that you initially started incorporating into your own life to alleviate that stress?
Deonne: I started writing a gratitude list. It wasn’t just about the things I was grateful for, it encompassed that I was grateful for a new day or the ability to have a new chance at life. But the gratitude list also incorporated things that I learned through those painful moments. So being grateful for the patience, being grateful for being kind to myself, being grateful for giving myself the opportunity to forgive myself and forgive others.
I also started speaking daily affirmations; it shifts your energy and mindset to see the bigger picture instead of focusing all your time and energy on the situation you are going through. It helps you to see the rainbow even if you’re experiencing rain.
The other thing I did was increase my serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps your mood and feelings. Instead of staying in the house all day, I decided to get up and start getting sun before 11 a.m. And that helped tremendously — it helped me to be more clear, and more focused, and helped to increase my mood. Last but not least, I increased my water intake. So instead of reaching for the coffee cup, I made sure to drink a full bottle of water every morning before reaching for my coffee, just to get my body hydrated.
WIB: Stress looks different for everybody. But how dangerous is it to bottle up stress?
Deonne: It’s very dangerous to bottle up stress because it’s layered. What people may not understand is that you can look (good) on the outside, but inwardly, there are things that are happening, and you feel those things. You know that something isn’t right, your heart is having palpitations and shortness of breath, and you’re not sleeping well — it’s a layered effect. If you don’t deal with it, one thing leads to another. And one thing begins to trigger off of the other, if you’re not careful, it will cause some significant effects physically, mentally, and emotionally, and it can cause death.
WIB: How would you describe the relationship of stress to the Black community?
Deonne: I would say it’s definitely high. There are so many things that we have to face in our communities, and there are times in which we feel like we are alone, we are isolated, and we’re the only ones going through it. Or we have this ego or pride that tells us even though we know we need to reset or reach out and ask for help, it’s like I’m superwoman or superman.
One of the things my mother, grandmother, and auntie used to say was that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a village for a community to thrive. One of the things we have to do is ask for help and know that it’s OK, it doesn’t make us weak or incompetent. We have to be open to receiving, sometimes that’s hard for us because we’ve had to work so hard to get the things that we have.
We also have to be open to various professions of people that can aid and provide help and resources — whether it’s a life coach, a therapist, or a counselor. I tell my clients all the time because they are experiencing stress, it does not mean something is wrong with them… or there is this terrible thing about you or this disdain mark on you. We want to be able to talk to someone, open up, feel safe, and be flexible in our ability to give.
WIB: For folks with sleeping problems and other stressors on their body, what are some techniques you teach people to alleviate stress in a healthy way?
Deonne: The first thing is to acknowledge the fact that you are stressed about a situation, or you are wanting to embrace something different regarding the situation that is causing stress. The second thing is to understand yourself, like having a clear identity of yourself: if you are a person that has a hard time sleeping, you know it’s going to take a bit longer to get your body to relax.
You want to start setting boundaries that you can be consistent with. So, if there’s a certain time that the phone needs to be cut off, then you cut it off. If there is a certain time that you want to make a cup of lavender tea, or just some hot water and lemon to just get your body a little bit calmer, then you set that time and you do it.
If you have trouble sleeping and you know that noise keeps you awake, you may not want to listen to music or a bedtime story. Maybe you need to do deep breathing or journal your day. If you feel you have a lot of energy at night, you may not want to light candles or take a bath. You may need to exercise, dance like no one is watching, or spend 30 minutes cleaning or organizing your closet. After exerting that energy, you are sure to get some beauty sleep.
You can also look at natural supplements, I always say to consult your doctor to make sure it’s OK, but there are times when I take melatonin and it helps me to relax. You also want to have an accountability partner. This is different than a mentor. Your accountability partner is going to make sure that you are staying on course. When you’re talking to your accountability partner about what you’re looking to achieve, you want to be clear on your why … so that they can continue to encourage you for the bigger picture.
When alleviating stress, the goal is not how well you can multitask, but your ability being 100% present with the tasks that you have. Prioritize and take them one at a time. Give that task 100% of your energy, and when you can’t commit to 100%, stop and celebrate your wins!
WIB: What’s the difference between a stress management life coach and a regular talk therapist? And would you recommend someone who has a talk therapist to get a life coach as well?
Deonne: A stress coach looks at your today and focuses on your future, and let’s put in place what will help move you forward starting now. A therapist really uncovers your past, things that have happened to you in your past, and things that have led to where you are right now. A coach doesn’t really focus a lot on the past; we listen, and we hear it, but our main goal is how we can get you ready to have a better future.
I definitely would recommend it because they both are effective, but they have different strategies. I think that sometimes in order to embrace what needs to happen moving forward, maybe you do need to have those deeper conversations of things that have happened in your childhood or an experience growing up or something you have not talked about with someone.
As a coach, we don’t really give advice or tell you what to do, but we work with you — let’s talk through this together. We serve more as the student, honestly, and you serve more as the teacher. So, we learn from you in order to put together a plan to help you move forward. I think it’s acknowledging where you are and what services you think you need — having both to me is absolutely fine and possible.