It’s easy to let ourselves get lost within our phones, swiping up, down, left and right. Double tap the cute pictures of your friends with a pug, scan through that dope article about the right kind of menstrual care for you, but what about the more difficult parts of being online — especially as a person of color — when your Facebook is saturated with images of white supremacists marching, holding confederate flags, and doing Nazi salutes in broad daylight?
What of the images of Black and brown bodies in the street as families cry for their lost loved ones? And what of the Facebook “friends” gaslighting our experiences with racism? The racist trauma that we are exposed to online can have a profound effect on our mental health.
Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, a psychologist and the creator of Therapy for Black Girls, explains the impact of being online during heightened times of violence: “Visual memories are our most powerful memories so constantly seeing videos and images of people being killed and attacked, these white supremacist gatherings, police brutality, and all the other images we are bombarded with can take a toll on your system.”
While we may sometimes feel the need to post and write about current events like the white nationalist marches and attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is also important to remember that the exposure to so much frightening news can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair and a sense of paranoia whether the environments you are in are safe or not, according to Bradford.
I’ve been online for more than 10 years now, and while I have formed wonderful relationships with others through both Twitter and Facebook, I have experienced the opposite as well. Beyond the stalking, harassment and doxxing (which still isn’t being addressed responsibly), lies insidious forms of racial and gendered trauma. You may have been a part of a conversation where your experiences or perspectives as a person or woman of color are invalidated by someone who swoops in with a “well, actually” or a #notallwhitepeople — these situations are just as frustrating, they are what is known as racial micro-aggressions and they can occur online and in-person.
When these highly stressful interactions occur it can be easy to forget to center yourself and do what is best for your mental health. When our newsfeeds are saturated with a constant feed of violence, it’s best to focus on nurturing yourself because for Black, indigenous and people of color, self-care is a form of resistance.
Here are four ways to heal during times of online stress:
Keep your basic needs in mind.
You’ve been online for hours, and you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of triggering images littered across the TL. Have you been drinking any water or eaten anything today? The constant or frequent exposure to images of violence online can manifest itself in different ways, explains Philadelphia-based licensed professional counselor Katrina Pinkney — including hopelessness, low self-esteem and self-confidence. Symptoms of racial trauma that go unnoticed or untreated can eventually build up to more severe symptoms like depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Log off and be mindful of the very basics of self-care: stay hydrated, eat a few meals everyday — meal-planning can help if you’re motivated to do it, but if you can afford it, ordering food online is fine too. Addressing your most basic needs before or after logging on is crucial to your mental health and we tend to forget that self-care isn’t just mani-pedis or LUSH facemasks — which is great if that works for you — but actually doing what helps us function without crumbling.
Take a break after taxing engagements.
Engaging with racists online is tempting, sometimes it’s even necessary and that is up to you to discern. I have had my fair share of back and forths with Nazis, white supremacists and even well-intentioned white people who have either become abusive or aggressive when confronted with my experiences or expertise about racism. “[These are] just as valid as in-person aggressions because it’s still a form of racism. Racism dehumanizes and devalues a person based on their race,” explains Pinkney.Teen Vogue
Racist online interactions can trigger negative feelings, focusing your energy on what soothes you after interactions like that is important. Talking it through with a friend helps me a lot, so does a warm shower, snuggling under blankets or practicing meditation in 20 minute increments throughout the rest of the day, or as Dr. Bradford suggests, “It’s ok to take a break and play UNO or watch your favorite TV show.”
If you can, log off.
It should go without saying but logging off entirely for a day or two is a grounding experience. “With online capabilities, it’s more difficult to completely escape or avoid. Now, society is more apt to go online to meet our basic needs (e.g. food shopping, paying bills, etc.), so it’s definitely less avoidable,” explains Pinkney. So if you cannot completely log off for long stretches of time because part of your life requires you to be online, limit your screen time to something manageable. Engaging with your other senses and allowing yourself to stretch beyond the world online can feel great.
Take this time to be with people you love, read your favorite book, learn a new activity or simply lay down on your bed and stretch, daydream and nap. Existing online and educating white people or others with privilege is taxing and a form of emotional labor, so be sure to prioritize your relationship with yourself.
Don’t feel bad about blocking people.
It is ok to cut out and block toxic people who harm your mental health. I apply this to myself constantly. The older I get, the more I realize that I just don’t have the time to even be exposed to people who cause me any form of anxiety, self-doubt or pain. There isn’t any shame in simply blocking people on Twitter if you don’t want to engage with them — blocking is necessary and healthy — in the words of the great Congresswoman, Maxine Waters, you should be reclaiming your time.