“Work feels so pointless,” my sister sighed, during our video chat last week, as protests against the police violence that killed George Floyd sprung up across the country. She’d let her work pile up and struggled to climb out of bed. I can relate; I’ve lagged on chores and freelance assignments. Because of the urgency of addressing two public health crises — a pandemic and a racism reckoning — my responsibilities seem so small and inconsequential.
As an Asian American, I occupy a liminal space where I've experienced racism, but nothing that's made me fear for my life, as it would've if I were Black. Floyd's death is resurfacing painful memories of this racism, while also forcing me to take a harder look at how I've been complicit in anti-Blackness. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic's disproportionate impact on Black Americans is only illuminating this country's long, ugly history of systemic racism. In this moment, anything that doesn't contribute to destroying white supremacy once and for all feels utterly irrelevant.
Because of the urgency of addressing two public health crises — a pandemic and a racism reckoning — my responsibilities seem so small and inconsequential.
At the same time, we can't let our work and dirty dishes pile up forever. And if we want to fight white supremacy and continue building the world we want to see in the long run, we need to show up as our best selves. Depending on your proximity to these struggles — COVID-19 and racial violence — your level of distress and distraction will vary. This is a guide for those who are feeling it deeply.
First, recognize that it’s totally normal to drag to your feet on work and other day-to-day tasks right now. “There’s bigger things that are more important — racial injustice, police brutality,” Mpho Perras, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Oakland, tells me. Who cares about laundry when a human being was just murdered on camera? “We can plainly see George Floyd is just laying there, saying he can’t breathe. I think it really hit home for everyone outside the Black race this time.”
For Black Americans, the sadness, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness over a member of your community’s death at the hands of police is nothing new, says Perras, who is Black. The global response to Floyd’s death is distinct, but also makes it feel more immediate. Following similar incidences, “I have been able to go to work,” she says, “but this time, it was tough.”
The pandemic, which is anxiety-inducing enough as it is, has only made it harder to manage these emotions, Perras explains. Many of the self-care practices you’d normally rely on in tough times, like hitting the gym or crying it out at a friend’s place, may no longer be available to you.
So how can you deal with epic human failures and a world on fire, all while still completing mundane to-do items and staying employed?
Sleep is critical, Perras says. Try to clock in at least eight hours a night. “We need our sleep. It affects the way we move throughout the day, and it affects our mood.” Meditation or prayer can also help you find calm and peace.
Cut yourself some slack, and talk to your boss about taking a few days or hours off, if you can, Perras suggests. You might work from 8:00 a.m. to noon one day, or start at 6:00 p.m., “and that’s ok.” (And if you’re a CEO or business owner, be proactive. Check on your employees and give them the option of taking time off.) The same goes for chores. Don’t clean the apartment if you don’t feel like it. Let the dishes wait an extra day.
Cut yourself some slack, and talk to your boss about taking a few days or hours off, if you can.
And especially if you’re Black, “there’s got to be some hope, because hope is what gets you up in the morning,” she says. “Find one little thing you can be hopeful for.” You might find that through protesting, or resisting anti-Blackness in other ways if you can’t protest, like contacting a legislator or donating to the Loveland Foundation’s Therapy Fund for Black Women and Girls. “I think the main thing is that people want to feel like they have power,” Perras says. “How can you gain your power back and keep moving?”
She also strongly recommends journaling, especially at night, to process your day and the emotions you experienced. Free-write, maybe starting with how you’re feeling today. Actually name your emotions, so you can work through them. Otherwise, they could manifest as anger or depression, or you might numb them by overindulging in alcohol or engaging in other self-destructive behaviors. Be specific, beyond happy, sad, and okay. Do you feel anxious? Helpless? Betrayed? You could also write about the change you wish to see, which you can then communicate to your legislators.
Staying connected is also crucial. Talk to your friends, Perras says, and if you have the means, seek therapy, especially if your emotions are interfering with your work, personal life, relationships, or the way you move through the world. If you’d prefer a therapist who shares your identities, search directories like Therapy for Black Girls or the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. The Psychology Today therapist database also allows you to filter therapists by ethnicity served, sexual orientation, and gender identity. You’ll have the opportunity to schedule phone consultations with potential candidates to further feel them out.
Basically, be kind to yourself. We’re living through some seriously challenging times. Whether it’s calling your local legislator or taking a personal day, give yourself what you need.