QPoC Mental Health Matters: 5 ways to look after yourself
The world is a mix of fucked up and beautiful humanity at the moment. Which means it’s going to play havoc with our emotions and how we feel day to day. Some days I spring out of bed ready for a down dog (now now!) and other days, I feel so lethargic that even giving zero fucks feels like an effort.
It goes without saying, we need to look after our mental health. In the lead up to Mental Health Awareness month, I had the privilege of facilitating some safe space sessions online with our community on this very subject. As queer people of colour (qpoc), there can be specific challenges we face, so I hope this article is the equivalent of a soothing head massage.
I’ve always considered myself to be ‘strong’ and ‘resilient’. Others describe me as ‘social’ and ‘confident’. The truth is, I can get quite anxious, but because of the words I mention above, I’m more preoccupied with living up to the labels. In turn, my default is to suppress my emotions (I now journal, so there is light).
In short, don’t be like me!
As a qpoc, life before lockdown was already a tightrope of navigating racism and homophobia. Add in a lockdown, and you’ve got the recipe for stress at it’s best and a risk to your health and well-being at its worst. The experiences we heard were related to people having to step back into the closet/minimise their identities to the threat of abuse simply for being who you are. A common theme from those who were South Asian was living in multigenerational homes where a lack of privacy and space for self-expression was a real issue (having grown up as part of a big Punjabi family, I know this to be true).
I’ve shared some concepts that made me stop and think, like really think about our psychology and how the mind works. They say awareness is the first step in creating change, so I hope these models help you do just that.
Fight, Flight or Freeze 😡😬😰
Our survival mechanisms are ON. The interesting psych behind this is that it triggers our reptilian brain (check out the triune brain) which controls our desire to eat, sleep and reproduce. As a result, it causes us to adopt what is known as Fight, Flight or Freeze - a state of being that is fluid; we may experience all three of these in the same day.
Tell me more about Fight, Flight or Freeze? It’s literally the body's way of coping with a threat, and is instinctive. Some of these states may be our default, but we all have the capacity to experience each of them. It depends on our triggers and how we interact with our world when in a state of survival.
Fight is when we are on the defense, we’re likely to feel highly sensitive and everything tends to feel personal. Basically, you want to fuck someone up - but don’t do it!
Flight shows up as feeling tired and lethargic, you may sleep more than usual and you may even consume more alcohol/cigarettes/drugs to transport you away from reality. We just want the present moment to pass and distract ourselves from it.
Freeze manifests itself as feeling stuck or helpless, the sense of being overwhelmed and generally low energy. It’s like we minimise any action to conserve energy and just get through the day.
Naming our emotions 🗣
Understanding our emotions helps us uncover if we’re stuck in Fight, Flight of Freeze. Us Brits are pros at answering with a ‘I’m fine’ when we’re asked how we are doing. It’s a non-answer and is super vague. The key to switching up our mental state lies in becoming better at naming our emotions in a specific way (here’s a link with words for positive and negative emotions). Our emotions, feelings and behaviours are interlinked, so by understanding our emotions, we can unpick what thoughts they are connected to (and whether they are true) and how they are shaping our behaviours (so we can move from simply reacting to responding).
Creating safety 🤗
OK, so now that we understand why we’re feeling emosh and where these feelings are coming from, we can be intentional in how we create safety. Especially if our living situation is not ideal, because then it becomes essential. Two words people - psychological safety (you can read more on the SAFETY model here).
It’s a bit of a long read, so a quick summary is that there are different ways we can create safety and not feel stuck in survival mode (because it’s exhausting). From building routines and setting boundaries, to expanding what trust looks like during this time, it’s a useful way to look at safety and find ways to expand its presence in your life.
There is enough out there on self care (and we LOVE this infographic with so many brilliant ideas). Plus it’s a given, if we don’t do this for ourselves, who will? In some cultures (namely Indian), this can feel indulgent and we can rationalise (away) our need for it. But it’s important and simple things like practicing gratitude and/or grounding exercises (when you activate your 5 senses to bring you into the present moment) have been shown to make a positive impact.
So What Can We Do?
Here are 5 things I’d recommend for qpoc, especially those living at home/in a potentially difficult environment :
Coming out now may not be a good idea. This sounds obvious, but coming out during this pandemic, especially if you are living at home/with others and unsure of how they may react, is not a risk worth taking. We’ve heard stories where people have come out in a fit of rage (that fucking fight response!); instead, focus on stepping away from unnecessary conflict. There will be time to ‘come out’ in the future.
Remove yourself from conflict, where possible. This could mean physically moving away to another space in your home or leaving your home for exercise. In some cases, having to pacify or de-escalate may be the only option because your safety has to be a priority. This isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s balancing the psychological cost of engaging with/winning an argument with your well-being.
Deal with one problem at a time, and prioritise them. It can feel like everything is going wrong, let alone the challenges that may come with wanting to express our sexuality or gender identities. This situation isn’t ideal and everyone’s emotions are likely to be frayed - so place your safety at the centre of any decisions you take. The priority has to be to make it through each day, safely - which may involve some compromises.
Trust can’t be absolute at this time. In ‘normal’ life, I determine whether I trust someone or not - it’s pretty binary. However, in the current situation, it’s worth thinking about who you can trust with what during this time. For example, you may trust your parents with the provision of food, your siblings with a fair division of housework and your friends with your emotions - it may not be the version of trust that you’re used to, but finding ways to create and build trust is fundamental to safety.
Boundaries! Being Indian, boundaries can feel like a luxury when living at home - but it’s not impossible. Having some structure can make it easier to create boundaries, for example are there specific times you want to use the TV/bathroom or certain times you’re ‘off limits’ because it’s ‘you time’. Having a level of predictability can go a long way.
As an aside, it’s *super* important to stay connected to the people who you can truly be yourself with. And to have real conversations with them about your emotions. This situation will not last forever, and although our world is likely to be different when we emerge from this lockdown, we’ll hopefully come out of it with a clearer sense of knowing ourselves and the things that are truly important to us.
Look after yourselves - if you need to chat, we’re only a DM away 💜
*it goes without saying that I’m not a therapist, this is just my take on life, mental health and how we can help ourselves. If you feel you need proper mental health support, services are offered by LGBT Switchboard and MindLine Trans+ . In addition, Asian Woman Festival has put together a support directory aimed primarily at South Asians while Spark & Co. have pulled together a resource hub for People of Colour across a range of subjects in response to COVID-19.