Black women are the epitome of everything and more. From the way, our melanin pops in an array of shades, to the way our bodies curve in all the right places, to the way we hold it down and command attention when we walk in the room. Black women in every way OWN this world. Simply put, we are DOPE! In all of our dopeness, we’re often crowned with the title “strong black woman” because we show up in such a powerful way, in so many ways, and are often stripped of our humanness. Not sure what I mean; let me explain.
Too many times as black women, the weight of the world is bearing on our shoulders, and yet if asked how are you, the natural response is, “I am fine.” When in reality, we are overwhelmed, weary, unhappy, stressed, and so focused on being everything for everyone else that we have nothing left to give to ourselves. Not being able to pour from an empty cup is a real thing, and letting the weight we often bear continues to be heavy turns into things like depression and anxiety, leading to health issues such as high blood pressure, cancer, and strokes, to name a few. This is known as the “Strong Black Woman Schema which refers to the expectation of the unyielding strength, assumption of multiple roles, and caring for others amongst black women (Liao, Wein, Yin 2020). Along with this, the National Mental Health Alliance statistics also show that only 1 in 3 African Americans seek help for their mental health, although they need it.
The stigma surrounding our community related to getting help for mental health issues and the idea that we always have to be strong does not serve us well. So here are some ways to help remove the strong black woman persona, reduce stress, and improve your coping skills so that you can operate in your dopeness without a mask.
- Put YOU first – You are Priority
This is often said but not often done. When you have to show up in a variety of ways, it is easy to get pushed down to the bottom of the list. Understand that if you don’t have much to give to yourself, you can’t possibly give to others. Everyone reaps the benefits and gets the best from you when you put yourself first. Remember, self-care aint selfish.
2. Journaling – Writing is therapeutic
This is often what I like to do to exhale emotions or anything unsettling to me and my mental health. Journaling allows your thoughts to communicate through the pen and on paper. This is healthy because you don’t have to worry about getting feedback once the words are out. There’s no judgment or resolution given, just a way for you to express yourself freely. Bottling up your feelings is never healthy, and should you not want to talk to others, this is a way to get them out.
3. Understand It’s Ok Not to Be Ok – You don’t have to be strong, Sis
We are human. Although we show up like superheroes, the cape has to come off. Understand that taking off the “strong black woman” suit doesn’t mean you are not strong. It means that you are giving yourself permission to embrace your feelings and tap into your vulnerable side. Your strength is not measured by how much weight you can carry, so put those bags down, and make sure you are ok.
4. Find Your Tribe – You are not alone
Although it may seem like others may not understand, your story resonates with many other people. We fight silent battles, but we don’t have to. Find people in your life who allow you to show up in an authentic capacity not only because you NEED it but also because you deserve it. We need a tribe, a village, a group that allows the mask to come off without judgment, without criticism, without jokes, but will hold you accountable, pour life into you, and give you space when you need it.
5. Therapy – Getting help is the real flex
Therapy is a game-changer. It activates the superpower that we all need, which is HEALING. Therapy allows you to connect with a trained professional who is well-versed in techniques and has the skills needed to help you move into a healthier space. Through therapy, both personally and professionally, I’ve learned that we all need a space to unpack our baggage and, piece by piece, understand who we are and how we became that while being able to manage the emotional, mental, and physical stress we carry. Therapy is hard work, but it’s worth it.
Now, don’t let the pressures of life continue to weigh you down. In the words of the great Maya Angelou, “When women take care of their health, they become their best friend.” Show up for you not because you have to, but because you deserve to.
Liao, K. Y.-H., Wei, M., & Yin, M. (2020). The Misunderstood Schema of the Strong Black Woman: Exploring Its Mental Health Consequences and Coping Responses Among African American Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 44(1), 84–104. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684319883198
Black/African American. NAME. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Black-African-American