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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jess

The Numbing Effect...

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

When we hear the word "stress" we often associate it with certain images or symptoms that we see in mainstream media. We might have an image of someone who is visibly frazzled, pacing non-stop, have a short fuse, or seemingly easily distracted. Stress is generally defined as a sense of tension; this tension can exist emotionally, physically, or even soulfully. Stress is also defined as a perceived threat or demand that removes one from his/her comfort zone. Stress can be circumstantial, limited to one specific time or incident, or it can be very complex and chronic.

Often, stress impacts all aspects of our being. Stress generally presents itself in many symptoms, not limited to: headaches, GI problems, hypertension, sleeping problems, difficulty focusing, difficulty identifying and communicating emotions/needs, becoming cynical, over-thinking, loosening boundaries, and becoming less patient with others. The impact of stress often knows no bounds when not careful; it can leak into our relationships, work productivity, school assignments, or even our spiritual well-being, sometimes causing irreplaceable damage. Ultimately, in order to stay functional, many of us become numb.

The disparities in observations of stress in the U.S. among black people is significantly higher than for whites. What is the contributing factor? Racism. It is stressful for poor black children to not have access to appropriately funded schools with culturally competent teachers. It is stressful for black parents to constantly receive phone calls from their child's school about their "hyperactive" or "defiant" behavior. It is stressful for black women of all economic statuses to see her gynecologist and pray that she be taken seriously and survive her pregnancy. It is stressful for blacks in Academia to not be exposed to an abundance of research and literature written by black professionals or to be simply doubted in their ability to progress through a doctoral program. It is stressful to be challenged by a white person who uses the Bible to continue to establish power, invoking reckless privilege as a means to argue why black people shouldn't protest or advocate; however, they don't consider that black protests of any form are no comparison to the history of violence inflicted upon black people the past 400 years. No matter what range of income a black person may have, it does not serve as a barrier against experiencing racism. I always like to remind people that black is not a synonym for poor, but blacks are more likely to experience poverty because of a history of institutionalized, systemic racism.

We must become more aware of our stress levels and give ourselves the emotional reparations we are due. What makes black stress even more deadly, is our tendency to not even recognize it. We are so used to being numb, as a means to survive a predominantly white world that has never been a collectively safe space. Being in a prolonged state of survival takes a toll on our nervous systems, impacting our overall well-being. Black people, historically, have not had the privilege to simply engage in self-care because of added pressures to work without taking time off, having to work twice as hard in school to be taken seriously, or often caring for multigenerational families within one home. The impact of stress is across all domains of our lives and we must be intentional about stopping to recognize it!

Black people can no longer afford to be numb. Consider the last time you had any type of medical procedure done to your body. The physician will first numb the area, to prevent unbearable pain. Anesthesiologists are so greatly valued, as they know the exact amount of medication to give the body for a nearly exact amount of time that numbness is required. I challenge you to think about what the long-term effects are of being numb for too long? Could there be potential damage? Could future potential be limited due to lack of use? Black people have been under persistent, chronic, complex stress for centuries, yet have continued to persistent and contribute beautifully to the pulse of this country. Now, imagine the world where Black people are free- free from persistent stress, free from numbness, free from constant triggers of racial trauma. 'Black Girl Magic' and 'Black Boy Joy,' are simply our baselines; we are divinely created beyond recognition, resilient beyond measure, and royal beyond our wildest imaginations. Let us free ourselves from emotional numbness and begin to feel every good and perfect gift we are due!

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