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Recognizing and Coping with Racial Trauma

One year has passed since George Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020. As we remember Mr. Floyd and honor his life, we are also faced with the painful reminder of his horrific death. These reflections may bring about or enhance existing symptoms of racial trauma. Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), refers to the mental and physical outcomes caused by direct encounters with, or repeated exposure to, racism, racial bias, discrimination and hate crimes. Recognizing the symptoms of racial trauma is the first step in learning how to cope with these traumatic experiences. Recognizing Racial Trauma Racial trauma can cause symptoms mirroring those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can be felt both physically and psychologically. “The toll of racial trauma and stress is not limited to psychological outcomes. The negative effects of racial trauma also affects physical health outcomes. These symptoms are often exacerbated by the common lack of access to adequate medical services for people of color as a result of systematic racism.” - The University of Georgia What are the physical symptoms of racial trauma? There are many ways racial trauma can manifest itself in physical symptoms. Some examples include:

  • Physical pain

  • Respiratory complications

  • Digestive issues

  • Activated stress response system

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Hypertension

What are the psychological symptoms of racial trauma? Some of the psychological symptoms of racial trauma include, but are not limited to:

  • Re-experiencing distressing events through nightmares or flashbacks

  • Stomach aches, headaches and rapid heartbeat

  • Chronic stress, depression, and/or anxiety

  • Risk avoidance in various aspects of life

  • Reduced hope about the future

Coping with Racial Trauma There is no right or wrong way to cope with racial trauma and the symptoms that traumatic events bring about. Each individual needs to follow the path to healing that is best for them, however, these actions can be a good start:

  1. Practicing Self-Care: Racial trauma can influence your mental and physical health, so prioritizing your wellbeing is most important. If you are looking for effective self-care ideas, this article covers 6 Black Therapists on the Best Ways to Practice Self-Care Right Now.

  2. Connecting with Others: Connect with people in your community who have gone through similar experiences and can be a source of healing. Connections can be made both with friends and family in person, or through online communities.

  3. Finding Professional Support: An inclusive therapist can help you work through trauma. You can use sites such as Inclusive Therapists and Therapy for Black Girls to find culturally responsive + social justice-oriented therapists.

  4. Utilizing Online Resources: There are many free resources available online to help with healing, learning, and connecting. This article highlights 44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in This Country.

Get to the point: Racial trauma can have a lasting impact on both mental and physical health. Recognizing both the physical and psychological symptoms of racial trauma and identifying ways to cope with them is the first step toward healing. While the path to healing can be deeply personal and is different for everyone, practicing self-care, connecting with others, and finding professional support can help. Resources: Coping with Racial Trauma How to Recognize and Cope with Racial Trauma


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