We recently witnessed yet another senseless and tragic death of a Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Unfortunately, this tragedy was not an isolated incident but an indication of the systemic racism that has plagued our country since its origin.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others have stirred the long-simmering embers of protest against systemic oppression rampant in American society. As millions march to demand justice for victims of racist violence and call for the dismantling of the structures of inequality, many people, especially Black Americans, are experiencing a range of emotions.
This emotional turmoil, in combination with the regular demands of daily living, has raised stress levels to rise to an all-time high. The struggle to regulate difficult emotions is further heightened by the news coverage and outrage on social media, which fuels our stress response.
Stress looks different for every person but can commonly lead to symptoms like trouble sleeping, tension in the body, headaches and fluctuations in appetite. Low to moderate levels of stress can support healthy functioning, but excessive stress, like what we are experiencing from our current environment negatively impacts cognitive, emotional and physical well-being.
While we may not always be in control the external stressors happening in our world, we can control how we react and respond to stress. Choosing to care for our mental health and wellbeing in order to channel our emotional stress into compassionate and intentional action is one strategy for managing anxiety, grief, and other challenging emotions.
Research has found that mindfulness – intentional, present moment awareness without judgment – is especially effective for reducing stress and increasing compassion.
Here are some mindfulness-inspired suggestions to help you navigate this difficult time with ease, grace, and compassion:
- Feel your feet on the ground and breathe – When we are dealing with excessive stress, we can feel disconnected and scattered. In the presence of heightened stress, you can re-center by taking a moment to feel your feet on the ground, noticing the feeling of the earth beneath your feet, and taking a deep breath.
- Put away your phone for a period every day – It’s not just the tragedy and unrest that are affecting our stress levels – it’s also the incessant news coverage and outrage in response to these events. Take a few moments every day to disconnect from your phone and other devices. Taking this time to digitally detox will help you become more aware of what news and media you’re taking in and make more informed choices about the content you consume.
- Hold space for difficult emotions – Take time to consciously bring to mind difficult or uncomfortable feelings you have been experiencing. Observe your reactions to your emotions and remind yourself that you can feel them without pushing them away or getting caught up in them. A particularly powerful practice for meeting difficult emotions is the practice of R.A.I.N.: recognizing, allowing, investigating and nurturing with self-compassion whatever difficult feelings are present.
- Send compassion to those affected – Bring to mind and heart those affected by the recent tragedies and by systemic oppression. Think about the victims of racist violence, their families, and people of color everywhere. Consider their struggles and send them compassionate wishes of lovingkindness like, “May you be healthy. May you feel safe. May you be free from suffering. May you be at peace.”
These mindful suggestions can support us in coping with the seriousness of the situation that we are in. As Reverend angel Kyodo williams said, “We don’t use [mindfulness] to avoid pain and confusion of social challenges, but to deepen our capacity to meet them directly.”
About the Author: Sonia Dhingra is a rising high school senior and an intern at Mastermind Meditation. She has spent the last two summers interning with the Stress Solutions team at the Brain Performance Institute (part of the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth). In her free time, she enjoys practicing photography and piano.
About Mastermind: Mastermind provides research-driven mindfulness and emotional intelligence learning for corporations, nonprofits and individuals across the U.S., including national brands like American Airlines, United Way, Peloton and FedEx. Mastermind’s science-based approach is designed to support mental wellbeing and build focus, awareness, compassion and connectivity that help us all build stronger, healthier lives and relationships. For more information visit MastermindMeditate.com.