Making Health And Wellness A Priority As Career-Oriented Black Woman

April 19, 2016  |  

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April is National Minority Health Month, and while we know the dismal statistics regarding diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other common illnesses that affect Black women one thing we often fail to consider is the dramatic impact work can have on one’s health.

According to a recent study, women need more sleep than men because, quite frankly, dealing with patriarchy really wears us down.  The study by Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Center found women need about 20 more minutes of sleep than men because of our male-dominated society. And what could be more patriarchal than corporate America?

Black women in corporate America not only face the stresses of sexism daily but also racism. “I worked many years in corporate America and was faced with both daily–patriarchy and racism. And it can be very stressful. This is one of the reasons I started my own business,” said multicultural healthcare expert Sheila Thorne, President and CEO of Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group, LLC. “In the workplace Black women are often so misrepresented. Sometimes Black women are seen as the angry Black woman if they make complaint, so often Black women will keep to themselves and try to handle everything without asking for help–to be the superwoman. This is a lot to deal with and causes major stress. And imagine if you are a darker skinned woman and you really stand out in the office–there is no way for you to skip a meeting with it going unnoticed.”

What we often don’t notice ourselves, however, is how that pressure affects our own health. “There have been numerous studies that show that middle-class Black career women have underweight babies more often than their poorer counterparts. And these women are getting prenatal care, but it is the stresses of their lives–at home and at work–that are probably one of the causes of this,” said Thorne. “The constant struggle in the workplace Black women face is unique. Racism, especially subtle racism, is a special kind of stress.”

That stress leads to particular health concerns for Black women. “Among them are heart disease, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer is now high up on the list,” explained Thorne. “We also suffer from diabetes and HIV at a higher rate. And mental health is huge. We suffer clinical depression a lot more that other women for a variety of reasons. Black women over index in nearly all chronic diseases and we have a higher mortality rate for these chronic diseases.”

In fact, the death rate from breast cancer for African-American women is 50 percent higher than for white women. And racial and economic inequities in screening and treatment only exacerbate this. “In the U.S., 60 percent of low-income women are screened for breast cancer vs. 80 percent of high-income women. But even within the same economic stratum, white women have higher screening rates than African-American and Latino women. African-American and Latino women on average undergo more radical breast cancer surgeries than white women,” reported Forbes.

There are things that Black women can do to guard their health, even despite the gap, Thorne advised. “The answer may seem very simple but, know your risks. Know your family health history; educate yourself on your options in regards to screenings. There are different screenings you should have at different ages. Go every year for your checkup. I do it every year so I know where I stand. Know your body and listen to your body. Talk to your physician.”

In fact, that’s what Thorne did recently when she realized she was experiencing consistent fatigue. “We talked about this and she said the only think I need is more sleep, and lack of being rested can truly affect your health,” said Thorne. “Turn off the cell phone, decompress. You will be amazed at how much this can help. Seek out spiritual comfort if that is something you do; reach out to your family network. Get help if your need help to create a balance in life. Have someone take care of the kids and go to get your nails done or just to take a walk. Work on stress management. If you have a disease then you have to pay attention to your physical and mental health. Everybody has ups and downs but if you have prolonged sadness or feelings of lowness, get help. You can have a great job, a car, fancy clothes, but if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”

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