Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble: I want Black women to remember that “we are valuable just because we exist.” We need not attend to other people’s opinions of us, nor their ideas of who we are and how we should behave. If we carry those burdens (i.e. the opinions and ideas of others), they weigh us down and prevent us from experiencing the fullest version of ourselves. This requires us to always be proactive in our self-care. We begin by being gentle with ourselves and remembering that the systems in which we operate at school and work were not designed for our success. So I remind Black women to remember that our very presence (in many of these settings) is an act of resistance (because we were not expected to survive, let alone thrive). When we remember this, it can be a game changer and can empower us to know that it is okay for us to slow down or step back when we need to. Stepping back and slowing down are not indicators that we are weak or “less than”; instead these actions are ways to use active coping and remind ourselves that we are exhausted simply because we spend so much time every day dealing with racial and gender trauma and fatigue. I think this is a radical way of framing our experience and prioritizing our self-care.
The stereotype of Black women is that we’re strong. Often, we’re busy caring for other people and their needs that our own fall by the wayside and we end up trying to push through sadness, stress on our own. Can you speak to why we shouldn’t and what we can do instead?
Yes. The single most important thing Black women can do is remind ourselves that we matter, period. The clothes we wear, our career, level of education, status as a caregiver, etc. are non-germane to who we are as living, breathing entities. Therefore, we only need to awaken each morning to know that we are gifted (because we have been given yet another new day). We want to always appreciate the gift of each new day by focusing on the things that move us forward, not those that weigh us down. And sometimes, what weighs us down is others’ expectations of us. My wish is that we always remember something I learned a long time ago from Iyanla Vanzant, which is basically that focusing on ourselves is NOT selfish, it is self-fulfilling. As we learn to fulfill ourselves, less by what we do for others and more by how we love ourselves, we build our self-concept into something rooted in our own values and ideas. As we do that, we give ourselves the freedom to make “choices” about how we allow others into our lives rather than being passively dragged into what others require of us. And in that sense, we empower ourselves to avoid the stress and fatigue of always seeking to meet others’ expectations. I want my sisters to remember at the end of the day that “No is a complete sentence.”
How would you say we should go about not letting the things we see on the news and that we’re bombarded with on social media that often leave us questioning our value from getting the best of us?
Curate Your News: You choose what you see and do not allow the 24-hour TV news cycle to feed news to you. Find a source that gives you just the headlines and read that. Then be done with news for the day.
Curate Your Social Media Feed: Scroll through your feed and randomly stop on a post. How does it make you feel? If the emotion is anything less than positive, unfollow that feed. Trust me, you won’t miss it.
Set and Articulate Clear Boundaries with Your Loved Ones: Use that “No” muscle. If you do not feel like helping someone with a project, practice in the mirror how you will say “no thank you” to that person. Find a trusted friend you can practice using your “no” voice with, have them practice with you by making lots of requests until you find the way to say no that resonates with your spirit. Then use your no as much as you can to protect your peace.
Reset: Take time to go outside into nature, even if it is stepping out your front door to stand on your doorstep. Sometimes you just need a moment to breathe.
Speak Kindly to Yourself: I want you to speak to yourself the way you would to the person you love most in the world. Always. Even when you make a mistake. Just be gentle.
With Saturday being World Mental Health Day, what overall message do you want to share with people, especially those of us who treat self-care for the purpose of preserving mental health as an afterthought?
My primary message is always the same: Everyone deserves optimal mental health, but getting to it is not a passive endeavor; it requires active coping. As Black women, we are required to stand up and put ourselves first, because if we don’t, we fail to teach our Black girls how much they matter and we fail to teach others how they are required to show up for us. As we work on demonstrating how our mental health matters to us individually (by making our mental health a priority, raising our own awareness of how we can take care of ourselves, eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness, and by practicing active coping), we teach others both how to engage us and how to take care of their own mental health.
Follow Dr. Alfiee and her projects on Instagram and Twitter at @dralfiee and @aakomaproject, and at her blog, dralfiee.com.