Eukela Little, a student scholar at Elon University, is on a mission to help Black women prioritize self-care with her buzzing research project.
This week, the mental health advocate and her mentor Buffie Longmire-Avital launched the “Strong, Black and Selfish: Reframing the Strong Black Woman Persona to include Self-Care through a Mobile Health Intervention,” an 8-week experiment that will explore ways in which Black women can empower themselves and improve their mental health by putting themselves first. Little wants to help set her fellow female Black counterparts free from the confines of the unrealistic standards and harmful tropes that society sometimes places on us, like the “strong Black woman” archetype.
“It starts with an awareness that you were overwhelmed and that you do see yourself as a strong Black woman,” said Little’s mentor, Buffie Longmire-Avital, who is the associate professor of psychology at Elon University. “But what does that mean and how can you still be a strong Black woman that is selfish, centers self-care and recognizes that you are just human?”
“We’re finding out that they can,” the star student shared. “But there have to be some things that take place for that to happen.”
Little’s research includes a culmination of video interviews with mental health experts and Black women students that will be attached to a prompt and played for a group of 30 participants during weekly self-care sessions. Each session will include topics centered on “understanding self-care, mindful mediation” and ways to turn “intention into action.”
Online, the award-winning student has launched an Instagram page called Project S.E.L.F (Self-empowering and Loving Formation), a community platform that shares more information about the correlation between Black women and self-love. It also serves as a space for Little to document her personal self-care journey. She hopes that the initiative will help implement some of the tactics explored in the project while inspiring others.
“I use the Instagram page in a lot of the talks that I give,” Longmire-Avital added of her mentee’s online community. “It serves as a source of recruitment, but it’s also a way of reflecting on her experiences and breaking down barriers every step of the way.”
The strong black women trope can be linked to depression
Some experts in the mental health community believe that the strong black woman schema can be linked to a high level of depression in Black women. Erica Richards, chair and medical director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Sibley Memorial Hospital told John Hopkins Medicine that the cultural trope could lead to Black women not actively seeking mental health care because they don’t want to be perceived as “crazy” or “weak.” Lack of health care and inconsistent treatment plans also play a factor.
“There’s a feeling in a lot of Black communities that women have to be strong and stoic. Women are so busy taking care of everyone else — their partners, their elderly parents, and their children — they don’t take care of themselves,” she explained. “However, women should be reminded that attending to their own needs, whether physical or emotional, doesn’t make you weak. It makes you better able to care for your loved ones in the long run.”
Tips on practicing self-care and prioritizing mental health
Richards recommends following these tips to help protect your mental health and well-being while putting self-care at the top of your daily list throughout the week.
- Get good rest: Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep destabilizes your mood, making everything you do less effective.
- Move more: Exercise 30 minutes every day for better health and a boost of feel-good endorphins that can help some people manage or prevent depression symptoms.
- Eat well: A healthy mix of fruits, vegetables and protein keeps energy levels steady, helping you better manage the ups and downs of your day.
- Connect: Schedule time with a friend every week, even for a quick cup of coffee or a walk. Many studies have shown that social support improves women’s mental well-being, helping to reduce stress and the effects of depression.
- Meditate: Johns Hopkins researchers found that people who took an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation were able to improve their depression, anxiety, and pain symptoms.
- Know your limits: As much as possible, decline requests that create unnecessary stress, such as hosting parties or planning events. Setting boundaries at work, such as not checking email after a certain time, can also help reduce stress.
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