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How to Cope with Racial Trauma

Over the past 40 years, medicine has come to better understand the implications of post traumatic stress, leading to a greater emphasis on treatment and relief for victims of trauma. 

Psychological trauma can stem from a wide variety of experiences (and not every traumatic event will lead to persistent negative symptoms; the truth is over 70% don’t), but trauma following a racist incident can present its own unique challenges and effects.

Study after study has shown that racism in the United States produces psychological and emotional effects that can easily disrupt the victim’s quality of life and ability to function in a healthy way. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Racial trauma can result from major experiences of racism such as workplace discrimination or hate crimes, or it can be the result of an accumulation of many small occurrences, such as everyday discrimination and microaggressions.”

You don’t need to experience firsthand racism or ethnic discrimination to be traumatized by it. In the age of viral media, all it takes is a few clicks to come face-to-face with some of the most horrific images of racist brutality since Jim Crow. Witnessing racial discrimination, even through a computer screen, can conjure previous personal experiences, as well as the ghosts of historical trauma (sometimes called “intergenerational trauma”). 

What makes this sort of nationwide racial trauma so insidious is the fact that it’s everywhere. To heal from post-traumatic stress disorder, many mental health professionals recommend gaining distance from the traumatic experience. But, with racial bias and violence constantly on display in the news and our social media feeds, it can be extremely difficult.

With this in mind, it’s essential to adopt a mindset of coping with systemic racism — that is finding the right tools and support to cope with the racial landscape around us. While we all continue to work for equality, justice, peace, and round out  Black History Month here are some coping mechanisms to help you persevere through race-based traumatic stress:

  • Affirm your identity. In the darkest of times, it’s important to remember the good. Seek out positive symbols of your, and others, ethnoracial identity and cultural heritage by reading books, exploring music, going to museums, connecting with members of your community, or even taking a trip abroad. Don’t allow racist myths to define you or keep you from celebrating identities.
  • Get more sleep. When you’re frayed and worn down from chronic stress, you’re in no position to fend off trauma. Aim for 7-8 hours/night, with some screen-free time before bed, and allow yourself time to recuperate whenever your body and mind are telling you that your physical health needs it.
  • Let it out. Don’t let your emotions fester. Practice self-awareness through mindful body scans and purposeful reflection to get a handle on how you’re feeling. Then, put shape to those emotions by journaling, singing, creating, going to therapy, or even just going to coffee with a friend.
  • Find a support system. Whether it’s your family, community, inner circle, or therapist, a support system will help you process your race-based trauma in a productive way and monitor your well-being better than you ever can on your own. Don’t let stigma stand in your way. Reaching out for help is a sign of emotional maturity and wisdom — not weakness. We’re all stronger together, both in the fight and in our lives.
  • Take a break from the news. Being informed is one thing, but being overwhelmed never helps anyone. Learn to recognize the signs of trauma and step back from the deluge when it starts to affect your health.
  • Take action. While it’s important to pace yourself, doing nothing can make you feel powerless, exhausted, and even more traumatized. Use your frustration about racial injustice for something productive — organize, protest, call your reps, educate others, educate yourself, and remind yourself every day what you’re striving for.


Racism won’t just go away on its own. We have to actively create the world we want to live in and to take care of others, we first have to take care of our mental health. As with any health issue, it’s important to recognize the signs, address the cause, and take steps to heal. Don’t just grit your teeth. Practice self-care — then you can take care of the rest.



*If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers at Diversus Health today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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