For Black Women, 'Living While Anxious' Often Leads to Poor Health
Adia Harris, Contributing Writer
You know the feeling right before jumping into a freezing cold pool? When your heart thumps wildly, anticipating that moment of shock when you make impact with the water? The feeling is intense, but luckily it only lasts an instant; you hit the water and the initial shock disappears as your body relaxes and adjusts to the water’s temperature.
But what if that feeling of relief after impact never happened? What if no matter the situation or its outcome you could never become relaxed or ever feel at ease? That’s what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety. For black women it often feels as if we are perpetually waiting for the proverbial ball to drop. If we get a promotion we constantly worry about proving ourselves worthy of keeping the job. When in love, we hold our breath waiting for the romance to turn sour. And when our loved ones are happy and healthy, we clutch at our hearts in fear of the day when this is no longer the case. In a lot of ways we believe we are the custodians of the harder parts of life, and we must remain hyper-vigilant and ready to clean up life’s messes that are surely on the horizon.
According to the New York Times article, America the Anxious, 1 in 5 Americans are dealing with an anxiety disorder. Out of those 40 million or so individuals, women are twice as likely to be affected by the majority of these disorders, including general anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, specific phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you factor in socioeconomic stressors, the disproportionate effects of anxiety disorders on the African American female population significantly increases. And that’s an extremely big deal.
We are all biologically equipped with a stress response system, more commonly known as fight-or-flight. When stimulated by an imminent threat, our bodies release a surge of hormones that prepare us to protect ourselves from injury. However this hormone release is meant only for responses to immediate stressors, not long-term stressors that cause chronic anxiety. Research indicates long-term activation of this response disrupts almost all of the body’s processes and increases the risk for health problems, most commonly coronary vascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, cognitive impairment, and both inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.
Executive wellness coach and physician Carol J. Scott M.D., homes in on the reality of negative health impacts brought on by race-related discrimination among black women in her Huffington post article Stress, Health and African American Women: A Black History Month Notation. She cites research that provides evidence of how subtle mistreatment over time leads to increased surges in diastolic blood pressure (DBP) for African American women as well as the alarming rates of ambulatory medical visits and incidences of strokes and deaths in hypertensive black women compared to other ethnicities.
In short, exercising strategies for long-term stress release is not only a key factor for black women to improve mental health, but also physical well-being and resilience.
Here are two resources that shine a light on what anxiety means for the African-American woman and solutions to combat feelings of overwhelm on a daily basis.
Health Disparities and Stress Fact Sheet (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2016, from https://www.apa.org/topics/health-disparities/stress.pdf
Anxiety and physical illness - Harvard Health. (n.d.). Retrieved June 26, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/anxiety_and_physical_illness