If you have been social distancing at home for the past few months and have been tuned into all things COVID-19, on top of the growing tension throughout the country, it’s safe to say that you’ve most likely reached your breaking point already—and you are certainly not alone. The stress of balancing a new normal while being separated from loved ones and friends for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly have you reaching for any and every way to deal—sometimes in unknowingly unhealthy ways. This stress is specifically taking its toll on African-American women, who are battling the weight of COVID-19 as well as racial injustice, all while juggling their everyday lives.
One way to identify unhealthy coping mechanisms? Anything that helps you escape that may be detrimental to you physically, psychologically, or emotionally, whether it be that 5pm glass (or bottle!) of wine or shutting out the world while at home. Not all coping mechanisms are the same, and if you feel yourself reaching out to outlets like social media or work to help get through this time, make sure you are recognizing the ways coping can turn from helpful to harmful.
1. Overworking from home
Balancing work and personal life can become very daunting, especially when you have to manage both in the same space at home. It’s easy to throw yourself into work as a distraction, especially when working from home feels like you’re always “on-call.”
Diving head-first into work can easily lead to job resentment, mental burnout, and work-life imbalance. If you are unknowingly working past your traditional 9-5 to escape or to cope, take note of how overworking is taking a toll on you mentally and physically, and make sure to step away when work starts to become only for distraction rather than an attraction. When you find yourself mindlessly creating work for yourself, step away from the office or desk and work on something solely for you, like cooking a good meal or spending time catching up with friends. Make sure to also create physical and mental separation from your work by setting up a designated space where work begins and ends there.
2. Over-using social media
Social media is how we keep informed and involved, but it can also create an unhealthy obsession with what’s going on around us, causing us to dwell on its constant updates and rely on it to stay connected. Scrolling through your phone to cope can have the opposite effect on your mental health and can shift your focus from staying informed and connected to building on your stress. This is especially true for African-American women now, as social media can be triggering and risk creating more angst, and justifiably so.
Our favorite apps have their place to help us cope during these tense times when used productively and sparingly, but don’t let it be your only tie to the outside world. Set time limits on how long you spend on your phone, mute accounts that may be triggering (even if it is the news!) and spend time offline to decompress. You don’t need to always be plugged in.
3. Rekindling toxic relationships
It’s natural to crave connection in almost any form—and in any way we can get it—to feel grounded. This could bring us back around to not-so-healthy relationships we cut off and reviving toxic bonds that can seem harmless in the short term when in need of a familiar face. Using relationships that don’t serve you in order to cope can often bring back the chaos you tried to escape in the first place.
Be intentional with who you choose to replenish your energy with and set boundaries when connecting with others to help cope. Setting boundaries isn’t something to feel guilty about; it can help change the dynamic of your relationships to create space that is healthy for you and for them. It can be as simple as letting them know when you need space to decompress on your own or pause before you say yes to anything. Anyone who truly cares about you should be able to respect the boundaries you set, as this relationship is as much about you as it is about them.
4. Throwing yourself into change
It’s enticing to want to throw yourself into something completely different and “productive,” like taking on more than one job, adding a new member to the family by adopting a pet, or learning a new skill. Feeling discontent can leave you wanting to add more to your plate, posing as a welcomed distraction from the weight of life. Although you may have more time on your hands, productivity isn’t always healthy; sometimes, the best way to cope is to do nothing and stay the course of your regular routine, keeping you grounded and less overwhelmed with all the new projects you feel that you must do to distract yourself.
5. Extreme isolation
Although we continue to take caution when leaving the house during this time, staying in the house around the clock to shut out the world as a coping mechanism can be a breeding ground for unhealthy habits to form. It can feel like protection mentally and physically, as it’s easier to have a barrier between yourself and the world when you fear for your health and safety, especially as a Woman of Color. Staying in the home too long though can play on your need to stay shut in completely, isolating yourself from friends and loved ones as well unknowingly. Even if it’s just for a walk, take time out of the house to re-ground yourself and take a break from your normal surroundings.
Coping during these times should be about using positive outlets to help you get through in healthy ways. How are you coping during this time and have you recognized a pattern in your coping mechanisms?