By Aaron Allen
According to medical experts, stress can impact your health and some of the health disparities that exist today.
Due to economic determinants, education, geography, the environment, lower quality care, inadequate access to care, the inability to navigate systems, and other factors, many African Americans may be impacted by stress, but may not know the full extent of its impact on their overall health.
According to Dr. Ben Johnson, a clinical psychologist, one of the biggest stressors that people may face is associated with uncertainty. Meaning that often times people worry about things in the future and/or things they have no control over.
“The reason why this exists is because the biggest stressor in the world from my conclusion is uncertainty,” says Johnson. “So, when people are uncertain, they start asking “what ifs”, “how come”, those type of exploratory kind of questions without having a reasonable answer.”
“This can cause people to be less trustful, cynical and research shows this is the reaction when people are fearing,” added Johnson. “And as we have learned stress can be one of the major causes of poor health and even death in the Black community if we do not find a way to learn how to manage it.”
Studies examining the role of social, racial and biological stressors on health suggests a link between socioeconomic status and ethnic disparities in stress and physical and mental health. Some ethnic/racial groups are more economically disadvantaged and may be more susceptible to socioeconomic status related stress. For example, research has shown that African Americans are under a great amount of stress when it comes to overcoming discrimination. Not to mention the stress that the daily demands life places can have on people.
“Your stress can be based upon where you are at the current time,” says Johnson. “So, your mental health state is important to managing your stress. What can help people is to operate within a reasonable sense of what their demands are. The demands are things that we are associated with like your job, your socioeconomic role in life, your responsibilities you have. So, managing the demands, making sure that they make sense and that you are able to execute them is the behavioral control that will support your emotional wellbeing.”
Among people of color, 44% report discrimination is a significant source of stress in their life, compared with 38% of people of color who said the same in 2019. Looking at races individually, Black Americans are the most likely to report discrimination as a stressor (48% vs. 43% Hispanic, 42% Native American, 41% Asian and 25% white).
While everyone deals with their own levels of stress, Johnson says that it is important to recognize that a person’s tolerance for stress and their ability to manage and cope with stress can be very different.
“Stress is not the same for everyone,” says Johnson. “For a lot of people stress is a combination of the inability to solve problems, a process of anxiety on how they are going to do things. The emotions stress of uncertainty or other social and economic demands can evoke are fear, anxiety and sometimes anger because stress can be disorganizing.”
“When that happens, we can get overwhelmed and when stress is overwhelming then your behavior becomes much more random and you’re likely to do things that you would not otherwise do, more towards like being desperate,” Johnson continued.
To help battle uncertainty and the stress it can cause Johnson believes a sense of personal awareness, being present, and being aware of what is going on around you can help reduce the anxiety associated with stress or being “stressed out.”
“Most people in their everyday lives function fairly well,” says Johnson. “When one gets to a higher level of stress then your capacity to make functional and efficient decisions declines. So, when people say, “I’m stressed out” that means that I have lost all the resources I have to resolve the problems that normally would be simpler to resolve.”
According to Ashley McGirt-Adair, a trauma therapist in Seattle, if you let your stress spiral on for too long, it can have damaging effects on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Stress can impact your ability to sleep, your mood, blood pressure, digestion and your level of motivation.
“As a therapist pretty much everyone that comes to me is stressed out in some form,” says McGirt-Adair. “We really are not caring for ourselves. Especially communities of color, I work a lot with the Black community and we are often caring for so many other people that we forget to care for ourselves.”
“I always think of the first rule in an airplane, you know you have to put your mask on first before you can help anyone else put their mask on,” McGirt-Adair adds.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Adult Blacks are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites. Adult Blacks living below poverty are two to three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty, and adult Blacks are more likely to have feelings of sadness and hopelessness than are adult whites.
“We all carry energy and what’s the one rule of energy, it cannot be destroyed but transferred,” says McGirt-Adair. “So, we are constantly transferring different energies and that causes stress. People of color, we are impacted by stress in ways other people are not that impact our bodies and lead to things like chronic stress related illnesses that lead to earlier death.”
If managed properly stress doesn’t necessarily have to negatively impact your health and well-being. A few things you can try is to try not to take on too much and prioritize your goals. Cut yourself a break and be forgiving.Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Eat well, carve out some “me time” and meditate, deep breathing and ground yourself and get a good night’s sleep
“What does stress management look like?” asks McGirt-Adair. “One is understanding what stress is. A lot of times we don’t know that we are stressed out, but our bodies will tell us that we are stressed out. We’ll start having headaches, neck pain, a lot of physiological symptoms. Once you understand the cause and how it shows up in the body then you can better manage it and that is going to self-care practices, therapy, having a support system.”
“Knowing this, we have to do things to decrease our stress load,” she continued. “Find one thing, it doesn’t have to cost you anything, you don’t have to go out and get a gym membership, it’s free to walk outside, it is free to breath, it’s free to sit down on the ground in your yard and ground yourself. None of these things cost anything, it just costs a little bit of your time and we have to invest that time in ourselves.”
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