Black Women and Stress

IMG_0372Being at the intersection of blackness and womanhood comes with unique stressors and pressures. One important step towards positive mental health is acknowledging the things that make life more difficult for us and then engaging in coping strategies to address this stress. This post will share an overview of unique challenges that black women contend with; many of these topics will be explored in depth in future blog posts. I grouped these stressors into a few common categories and include suggested coping mechanisms.

Exhaustion from Fighting for the Community

Whether you are a black woman organizing and participating in marches or speaking out against racism on social media, working to defend and uplift the black community can be emotionally exhausting. Many of us feel that we must constantly fight for ourselves and our community. As black women, we may feel unable to show any signs of weakness or vulnerability because we worry that if we are negatively perceived, these perceptions will reflect on the entire community. It might also feel like we cannot take anything lightly for fear that finding something funny or not calling someone or something out will be taken as condoning prejudice and discrimination. These pressures can lead to exhaustion.

Suggestions for Coping:

Take time to regroup. Constantly fighting and struggling for change can lead to burnout if you do not take time to rest and recuperate. When you notice that you feel worn out, irritable, or just generally exhausted take an intentional break. I suggest staying off of, or limiting the time you spend on social media for at least 1-3 days. Limit your news intake and try not to watch/listen to/read the news first thing in the morning. Remind yourself of your values and what you hope to achieve; this might involve reading something inspirational, talking to someone you look up to, and/or taking time to write about the things you hope for.

Imbalanced Relationships with Black Men

Black women are often expected to support black men at all costs and this can lead to problematic dynamics that cause stress to black women. To be clear, I am not implying that black women should not support black men. However, it is important for us to acknowledge and address the problems that arise when black women are forced to support black men to the detriment to our own well-being. One challenge is that black men are not asked to support black women in the same way, which leads to a stress-inducing imbalance. Whether in the context of familial, romantic, or friend relationships, always giving support and rarely receiving it in return can wear on us.

Suggestions for Coping:

Take some time to reflect on your relationships with the men in your life and consider the balance of give and take. If some of these relationships are imbalanced think about how you might begin to alter the dynamic. You may be able to change some relationships by talking to the person and there may be others that you should take a step back from. Work to strengthen your relationships with men who are supportive and understand the stress that black women experience. Think about what you are willing to do and tolerate and then set your boundaries accordingly.

Pressure to Take Care of Family

Black women are expected to be primary caregivers for children and the elderly, to cook, clean, offer emotional and financial support to family members, and to be strong in the midst of almost any challenge. While helping so many people in so many ways can be wonderful, it can also prevent black women from taking care of themselves. Often, black women sacrifice their own health because all of their time and energy is spent on helping those around them. Black women are a huge asset to their families and it is essential that we make time to take care of ourselves even as we care for others.

Suggestions for Coping:

Choose 1-3 self-care activities to prioritize every week. Examples include getting enough sleep (7-9 hours/night), exercise (e.g. a dance class or brisk walk), personal time (a time when you are not being asked to do something – you may need to turn off your phone), and quiet time (you could use this time to do a devotion, meditation, or read something encouraging). I know that these things can be hard to do but see if you can start by implementing one thing, one time per week. Ask friends and family to help you to engage in self-care.

Proving Yourself at Work

The work place, particularly those that are predominantly white, can be especially stressful for black women. Black women may feel pressured to constantly prove their worth to their bosses and coworkers. We live in a society where it often seems like black women have to be perfect and work at least twice as hard to be recognized. In companies where institutionalized racism is present, microaggressions can be constant and slowly wear down the morale of black women. Even if you do not work at a predominantly white organization, sexism, gender discrimination, and heterosexism can be present and cause stress in other workplaces. Feeling like you are overlooked and undervalued can cause anxiety, anger, and frustration.

Suggestions for Coping:

Find allies at work who will understand your experience. If there are no other black women at your job, try to connect with black women who work in similar contexts. Take your vacation time; when you leave work at the end of the day and when you go on vacation actually take a break from work (this could mean turning off your work email). See if it is possible to turn your complaints about your workplace into requests for changes that you can constructively communicate to your boss or the human resources department.




6 thoughts on “Black Women and Stress

  1. This right here is SO on point. I was on the verge of saying good bye the day before Marshawn McCarrel.
    The part about the pressure to take care of family. I’ve been taking care of my Mother since I was a teenager. It’s been on me for all of the above that you’ve mentioned and manly because my Father had another family that he created while still married to my Mom and at 40 years old the truth has finally cave in on me that I have gained nothing from what I believe putting my own life on hold to help others.
    I felt like that I was manipulated between both of my parents and used to help one take care of his family and my Mother so she wouldn’t have to take care of herself. They both now say “No one made me do that.”
    I have sacrificed so much from an intended marriage and a miscarriage of a child (Shamed by my own Mother for being pregnant to begin with because I could not take care of a child and her too) to later being bankrupt for helping my Mother. Only to be told those choices were mine and that it was on me. I just feel like I have nothing to live for and that I am on my own borrowed time. I have paid for my own casket and will prepare for my own burial. I just don’t want to do this thing called life much more longer.

    1. Hi Nicole,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and share your feedback. I am glad that the blog post resonated with you. It sounds like you have a lot that you are dealing with right now. If you are thinking about ending your life please call 911 if you are in imminent danger of harming yourself or you can call 1(800)273-8255, a national suicide prevention lifeline that has counselors available 24/7 to talk and support you if you need additional help. Also, I encouraged you to check out my post on finding and choosing a therapist so that you can get connected to some support as you continue to deal with what sound like very challenging family issues. Unfortunately, I cannot provide support to you in an individual clinical capacity but I hope the resources I have included in this message are helpful to you. Remember that there are more things to live for than you might remember at any given moment.


      Dr. Adia Shani

  2. The proving yourself at work resonated with me so much! I find that my stress is magnified because I come home from a stressful day at work (which is more often than not), I carry the stress with me because I live alone. I am not allowing myself to unplug or relax. I’m going to try to take some time each day for me. Thanks!

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