Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Coping with racial trauma

Race is a social construct, and the concept of race is often challenged, however that does not change the fact that racism exists and the impact it has on its victims can be severely traumatic. 

Different levels of racism

People of colour experience racism at different levels, including individual, collective and institutional. This means that racism-based stressors exist not just at an individual, but also at societal level which can make the world feel unsafe. 

Individual based stressors are when we directly experience racism (someone attacking you because of your race, shouting racial slurs). We can also experience vicarious racism when we witness racist events happening to other people of colour. Racial trauma is often triggered on day-to-day basis through racial microaggressions which can be experienced at work (an assumption of competence based on race), outside of work (a stranger touching your hair or asking to do so), school (labelling children of colour as problematic/or assuming a certain level of intelligence based on race). A systematic example could be the seriousness with which complaints from people of colour are taken and the expectation for us to decide what the consequences of racism are without clear policies in place.

The psychological impact

These experiences can cause us to feel overwhelmed and unsafe as they illicit a trauma response. This means that our brain perceives racism as a threat to the self and sends stress hormones to the body for us to protect ourselves. The result may be us being in a constant state of hypervigilance which can result in social withdrawal in order protect and remove further potential threats. This can also manifest into anxiety, low mood/depression, low self-esteem, fear of speaking out and so many more issues.

Racism can be exhausting to encounter, especially when most of the experiences of racism are denied by the perpetrators and others. Finding ways to validate your feelings and taking care of yourself is important

Tips on coping with racial trauma

  1. Finding safe spaces to communicate and explore these feelings and experiences might help in alleviating some of the trauma. 
  2. Finding ways to reconnect to your body and being reflective of your experiences in order to validate them.
  3. Connecting with family, friends and community members for support.
  4. Connecting with other people who have experienced racial trauma.

Further information

For more information about racial trauma, sign up to our webinar 'Understanding The Psychological Impact Of Racial Trauma' taking place on Thursday 24 February 2022 at 12 noon GMT.

Sarah Nghidinwa, counsellor/psychotherapist

Find out more about our webinar and book your FREE place today >

Sarah Nghidinwa is a counsellor/psychotherapist at First Psychology's Edinburgh and Online centres. She will be presenting the webinar 'Understanding The Psychological Impact Of Racial Trauma'.

Thursday, 17 February 2022

Coping with insomnia and tips for better sleep

From time to time, we all have those nights when we may struggle getting to sleep or even waking up several times during the night, but when this becomes more of a regular occurrence, you could be suffering from insomnia.

Insomnia is when we either have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and it can be quite common, especially in adults, not to mention exhausting and frustrating. Insomnia can be brought on by various factors such as:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Too much caffeine or sugar
  • Hot or cold temperatures

Stress and anxiety are among the greatest causes of insomnia as our body and mind are unable to relax due to the constant worrying thoughts and fears that keep us awake. In a study published on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it states that: “In the last two decades, several models have been proposed to understand the etiology and pathophysiology of insomnia and most of them have emphasised the importance of the joint effect of stress and psychological factors in the pathogenesis of insomnia.”

Getting a good night’s sleep is extremely important for us to maintain a healthy body and mind so when we are deprived of it for long periods of time, we can start to experience unpleasant side effects.

How a lack of sleep can affect us:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher risk of diabetes, heart attack or stroke
  • Obesity
  • Weak immunity
  • Depression 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Poor memory

Because insomnia can be so damaging to our mental and physical wellbeing, it’s vital that we put things into place that can aid our sleep. By making small changes to our sleeping habits, it is possible to increase our chances of a restful night.

Tips for better sleep

  1. Stick to regular sleeping times. Try and go to bed and get up in the morning at similar times each day as this will train your body and mind to alert you when you are tired. Also, try to avoid having naps throughout the day. 
  2. Don’t struggle with sleeplessness. If you find yourself lying awake staring at the ceiling while thoughts are whirling around in your head, try doing something that will ease your restlessness and make you feel sleepy such as reading, taking a warm bath, or meditation.
  3. Create a peaceful sleeping environment. It’s never going to be easy getting to sleep if there are bright lights or loud noises, so prepare your bedroom for tranquility. Try putting up blackout curtains, play soft relaxing music, spray lavender oil on your pillows and make sure the temperature of your room is comfortable.
  4. Avoid stimulants, particularly before you go to bed. Caffeine and sugar are often the culprits for sleepless nights as they stimulate both your brain and body so that you’re less likely to relax. Try cutting out anything that contains stimulants and replace them with drinks such as chamomile or green tea, water, or warm milk.
  5. Exercise more. Just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise during the daytime can assist our sleep, and even more so when it’s combined with being outdoors in the fresh air. 
  6. Have wind down time. An hour before you go to bed, get into a routine where you spend some time winding down. This will allow both your body and mind to relax before you try to sleep. Turn off all electronic devices, practice meditation, read a book or just listen to some soothing music. 

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Understanding and helping someone with depression

Depression is a mental health condition caused by many different factors. It can come in various forms such as postnatal depression, dysthymia, or seasonal affective disorder. Although depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, there are also other factors to take into consideration including stressful life events, certain medications, and medical issues.

According to the World Health Organization "depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 3.8% of the population affected, including 5% among adults and 5.7% among adults older than 60 years. "

Symptoms of depression 

There are many symptoms of depression but some of the most common ones are:
  • Feeling down and tearful
  • Feeling helpless and worthless 
  • Having a lack of energy or motivation
  • Tiredness and poor sleep patterns
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Loss of interest in the things you usually enjoy
  • Change in appetite

Tips for helping someone with depression

  1. Firstly, if you recognise that someone has depression, it’s important to encourage them to seek professional help as the experts are able to give the most appropriate help.
  2. Listen to them. Sometimes people may get frustrated when they’re in close contact with someone with depression and think that they can advise them on what they need to do, but the best way you can help is simply by listening. Just by listening you can prevent the person from feeling alone and judged.
  3. Keep in touch. Depression can cause people to feel isolated so by sending a short text message or giving them a quick call can let them know that you’re there for them. 
  4. Don’t criticise someone with depression as it’s not something they can simply snap out of. It can be difficult to understand depression if you’ve never experienced it yourself but the best way to help is by not judging or pressurising someone into doing something they don’t want to do.
  5. It can be tempting to take control of things, especially when the person with depression is very close to you, like cooking, cleaning or running errands. But it’s important that you don’t do everything for them and encourage them to do these things for themselves. 
  6. Practise self-care. Caring for someone with depression can certainly put pressure on you and unless you look after yourself, it could also start to affect your own mental wellbeing. You could try things such as meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness to help you maintain a healthy mind. It’s also vital that you have a balanced diet to keep your body and mind at their optimum health. 

Further information