It’s almost every day now that we’re faced with another tragedy concerning the loss and disregard of Black life. The immediate rage that ensues begins the individual and communal stages of grief that takes those of us who identify with the victim(s) on a roller coaster of emotions. Often times, many Black folks are not mentally ready. On some level we’ve come to expect these stories, but it doesn’t lessen the pain. It doesn’t help that the heightened levels of emotionality associated with these negative events has been shown to have adverse affects on human physiology. We can only imagine the troubling physical effects these emotions and mental states have on Black folks after the countless reverberations of racially charged incidents.
As a practical theologian whose focus is on the neuroscience of spirituality I sit in the crossroads of two places. I understand the importance of spiritual practices for the individual and collective psyche such as prayer, which has been the immediate response to travesty in our community. But I also understand the real physical and neurological ramifications of long term exposure to negative emotions on the human body.
Neuroscience shows that experiences leading to heightened emotions forces every detail surrounding that moment to be stored with great detail. It’s similar to having a permanent sear mark on our brain. When specifically referencing troubling experiences this is the reason why our bodies emotionally respond as though whatever traumatized us is happening all over again. It doesn’t matter how long ago the event took place.
The volatile emotions Black folks experience from the devastation of violent acts towards Black lives can prove dangerous if not properly handled. To give you an example, when we (humans, which has to be stated because some folks don’t recognize Black folks as human) are angry, the prefrontal cortex of our brains (where we do most of your thinking) along with the our adrenal glands fill with cortisol, and effectively keeps us from thinking clearly. The problem with having a clouded mind is it essentially renders you less effective in activities like strategizing and also induces episodes where people act out of subconscious rage. If experienced long enough, cortisol can actually take a negative toll on our physical bodies through harmful genetic expressions. The same goes for other negative emotions. However, when properly utilized these otherwise volatile emotions can be harnessed in a sustaining and life giving way.
Maintaining a clear and sharp state of mind is imperative. Proper care of the mind will provide the ability to physically and mentally handle the many faces of racism on a daily basis while preserving positive body states and genetic expressions. In order to do so it’s important to remember to do these five things.
1) Call upon your spirituality (meditation, prayer, visualization, singing, etc)
2) Learn how to harness those feelings in a generative way through creativity (writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, programming, strategizing, etc)
3) Utilize some form of community (dialogue with like minded folks i.e. friends, family, twitter, someone)
4) Stay active. Don’t let folks take you out of your routine. If you have one great. If you don’t, pick one up. (CrossFit, Yoga, Running, Pilates, Weight Lifting, etc) You don’t have to become a gym addict, but getting the blood flowing clears the mind, increases mental alertness while increasing dopamine which ultimately helps to relieve stress and boost productivity.
5) Have sex. It relieves stress. It’s that simple. It also releases endorphins and neurotransmitters like oxytocin that elicit trust which is definitely something you’ll need to counterbalance the effects of systemic oppression.