Mental Health Care in Stressful Situations

Dr. Purushothaman
May 15, 2019

For many people, discrimination is a reality that they can’t run away from. It is something that happens to them frequently or something they are exposed to regularly.
Experiencing or witnessing discrimination can create symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These include shock, anger, sadness, guilt, and stress.

The stress of dealing with or being exposed regularly to discrimination, in particular, can lead to a variety of mental health problems including anxiety and depression. These issues, in turn, can lead to other health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, and even substance abuse.
Because of this, there is no doubt that discrimination can and does have harmful effects on a person’s physical and mental health.

Managing Discrimination-Induced Stress

Regardless of the frequency and degree of your experiences with or exposure to discrimination, you can maintain your mental wellbeing by arming yourself with the right coping tips and strategies.
Below are eight of the most effective techniques to manage stress caused by discrimination:

  • Calm yourself down

    If you are the target of discrimination, you will experience a barrage of emotions: anger, sadness, embarrassment, resentment, and more.

    These feelings can trigger different unhealthy physiological responses such as an increase in your blood pressure and heart rate. More importantly, you will have difficulty thinking straight because of these emotions. As a result, you may do something that you will regret later.

    If you are in such a situation, try your best to calm yourself so that you can start thinking clearly. Start by taking deep breaths to lower your cortisol levels. This will help alleviate your stress and anxiety. You can also apply other relaxation exercises such as meditation to calm your body’s stress response.
    Once you have calmed down, you will be able to think more clearly about what you want or need to do next.

  • Don’t dwell on the incident too much

    Being a victim of or witnessing discrimination can be hard to forget. You will spend days feeling hurt or guilty that you were unable to do anything to do about it.

    It is perfectly acceptable for you to feel these emotions; however, try not to dwell on them too much. If you do, you will fall into the pit of depression.

    Snap yourself out of your negative thoughts by reminding yourself that there is nothing wrong with you. Even if you think that there was something you could have done to help the victim (or yourself), it’s too late to do anything now.

    Don’t dwell on the past; instead, resolve to take a proactive stance the next time you witness or become the subject of a similar situation.

  • Take a stand

    Whether you are the constant victim or witness of discrimination, you can’t always remain silent.
    Any form of discrimination, whether big or small, is not acceptable. Oftentimes, people who show prejudice do not know this. As such, speak up and let them know that what they are doing is wrong.
    If your explanations are not getting through, defend yourself. Do the same for other people suffering from discrimination who can’t defend themselves. Getting involved will help you in more ways than one to develop and sustain mental fortitude.

  • Find a suitable outlet for your emotions

    If you’re angry or sad, don’t simply bottle up your emotions. Find ways to use these emotions to be productive instead of destructive.
    Working out, taking a boxing or self-defense class will help you direct your energy in the right places. They will help quell your raging emotions as well.
    Another option would be to do something that you love doing. This means indulging in your hobbies: dancing, gardening, knitting, carpentry, reading, watching movies or listening to music. By doing so, you will be able to take your mind off the upsetting episode. You will then find it easier to relax and think clearly.

  • Practice self-compassion

    Don’t waste time thinking about why you were discriminated against; you will never find an acceptable reason. Instead, make better use of your time to accept and love yourself.
    By practicing self-compassion, you will feel better about yourself and overcome your bitterness about your past experience. These will help you maintain your mental health and even make you more resilient, strong enough to face future challenges.
    One self-compassion exercise that will help you overcome the effects of discrimination is speaking more kindly to yourself. Your words and thoughts are powerful; they can shape how you think and act. When you keep repeating to yourself that you are loveable and capable, you will be — regardless of any challenge you will face.

  • Disconnect

    Discrimination is also rampant in the media so that watching the news and socially shared videos and reading posts and reports can stress you out. If this is also adding to your anxieties, practice mindful isolation.
    Mindful isolation means disconnecting from or avoiding situations that remind you of your bad experiences. This entails turning off your mobile device or computer to take a break from social media. It also means watching or listening to less stressful news or programs.
    Disconnecting from the media or the outside world will help you process your thoughts and emotions more efficiently as well. It is an effective technique to try if you still haven’t overcome a particularly emotionally-charged experience.

  • Have a support system

    Having a group of people you can turn to anytime will go a long way in making you feel that you are not alone. Whether they are your family, friends, or colleagues, make sure there is always someone who will listen to you and support you.
    You may even consider joining or starting a support group for people who have gone through what you have experienced. Process your feelings with them so that you can unburden yourself of all the negative emotions and thoughts you have.
    And even if you don’t feel comfortable talking yet, when you hear others talk about their experiences, you will pick up things that can help you out. You will learn new and better ways of handling things in case you find yourself in a similar situation again.

  • Get help

    There will be instances wherein a certain experience can be too overwhelming that you will find it difficult to go back to work, school, or your daily routine. If you find yourself in this situation, do not hesitate to seek help.
    If you are still studying, talk to the school counselor. If you are working, speak with someone from the human resource department. These people are in a position to help and protect you.
    You should also see a licensed psychologist or therapist if you are still having difficulties managing your stress and anxieties.

  • It is a sad fact that in this day and age, discrimination is still around us and that it can happen to anyone anytime. Although you may not be able to do anything about it, you can avoid letting it affect your mental health and rule your everyday life. Following the above tips will go a long way in helping you stay healthy and happy.

The Article Contributed by Dr. Gemma Gladstone

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