Black Mental Health in the Workplace
As Black people in predominantly White work environments we may feel as though we have a lot to prove. After all, we’ve been taught that we have to work twice as hard to get half as far. We can find ourselves feeling isolated, like there are unspoken rules and expectations, we have little or no mentoring, and sometimes receive microaggressive comments about or "tone" or "professionalism." This can be mentally exhausting. To try to head off that exhaustion before it sets in, consider these 5 tips for maintaining your mental health in the workplace.
5 Tips for Maintaining Your Mental Health in the Workplace
1. Appraise: Many people equate work with stress. This perspective can be helpful or
harmful depending on what stress means to you. The effects of stress are dependent on the way that we appraise (or think about) the stress. The way we generally imagine stress is that fight, flight, or freeze response, which is basically just our bodies preparing us. Preparing us for what? Maybe it’s preparing us to meet a challenge and surpass even our own expectations. Can you see the difference in how that makes you feel, to think of work stress as an opportunity to meet a challenge and exceed our own expectations?
2. Control: Identify what you have control over and what you don’t. You have control over, how much time and energy you put into projects. You have control over the quality of work you produce. You have control over how you choose to interact with others. Anything that you cannot control; the opinions of others, the weather, the choices of others, etc. are things you need to let go of trying to control. Instead, refocus your energy and intention on things that you can shape, change, and improve.
3. Prioritize: Prioritize your work and yourself. Where do YOU fit in to your workload. Maintaining or mental health is not something that just happens as a byproduct. It is something that we have to actively engage in. So, identify when emails will be answered, phone calls returned, projects and presentations worked on, but also prioritize your breaks, your meals, and your start/end times.
4. Delegate: How often do you decide, you’re just going to do it yourself because you want it done right? That may be fine, or that may be a waste of your time, contributing to your stress level. Think about what your time is worth, maybe even calculate your hourly rate from your salary. If someone told you that they would pay you that rate to do the job you insisted on doing yourself, would you accept that? If the answer is yes, then it’s worth it. If not, delegate that job to someone else and LET GO! You don’t have to do everything, and you’re probably happier not doing it all.
5. Breathe: I am constantly stressing the importance of deep breathing and meditation. I find that many Black people are uncomfortable with the idea of meditation, which likely comes from Christian upbringings that teach us that it is unsafe to empty our minds, in fear of welcoming in something evil. What I want people to know, is that it is possible to meditate without emptying ones mind and while still maintaining a Christian thought process. I will provide more details about this in future blog posts. Some of the benefits of deep breathing and meditation in the workplace include enhanced problem solving skills, greater clarity, feeling grounded, not being drawn into workplace drama as easily, feeling more positive about work, and a superior ability to empathize. Simple ways to practice mindfulness (a meditative practice) at work are; stop and notice when your functioning on autopilot, bring your awareness back to the present moment, then attend to your breath and what you’re experiencing in your body in that moment.
6. Mentor: Find a mentor and mentor others. Engaging in a mentoring relationship provides a sense of community, decreases feelings of isolation, and increases job satisfaction. Mentoring can not only benefit you, but benefits the other person in the mentoring relationship. Although having a same race mentor is appealing, it is not necessary. Many of the benefits of a mentoring relationship can be experienced in a cross-racial mentoring dyad as well.
I originally wrote this blog post in October of 2017. Since then, I've had several personal and professional experiences that have me seeing the value of writing specifically about how to heal yourself when workplace exhaustion is unavoidable. Stay tuned!
How do you maintain your mental health in the workplace? What are your biggest challenges to maintaining your mental health in the workplace? Please share in the comments below.
Irene Summers Temple, PhD is a licensed Counseling Psychologist in private practice at Irene Summers Temple, PhD LLC in Rapid City, SD. She specializes in multicultural counseling, coaching, and consultation, serving helping professionals, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ individuals, fostering mental wellness and identity development.