Defining Black Wellness For Us, By Us
I thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Black History month. It brought me great joy to celebrate the achievement, innovation, and genius of Black folks across the diaspora. I have to admit though, beyond celebrating our creative ingenuity last month, what I most enjoyed was our very intentional focus on wellness. In my previous article, I wrote about Making Black Wellness Black History, especially in light of the rise in suicidality in the Black community. So it has been doing my heart well to see so much explicit conversation about our wellness. As I welcome in March, my heart feels a bit lighter as I know that we made Black Wellness Black History.
As a licensed psychologist, I undoubtedly know that Black wellness is critical. My clients understand that Black wellness is critical. Collectively, I believe that our culture understands that Black wellness is critical. What I have found is less clear and explicit to us as a people is how we effectively define Black wellness. Moreover how do we know when we’ve reached the proverbial “Promised Land” and are operating in this said wellness. In my own life, I’ve struggled to make the pivot from surviving to thriving, and I know I’m not alone. From my professional assessment and personal observation, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, in the Black community, wellness historically hasn’t been defined for us and by us. Secondly, our community hasn't seen representations of wellness that we can relate to. In mainstream media, wellness often centers white people while also simultaneously minimizing its significance by reducing it to quick fixes such as a day at the spa or a luxury vacation. I enjoy a spa day and luxury vacation as much as the next person, but these things don’t do justice to the very nuanced nature of wellness, much less Black Wellness.
Wellness is a state of being, and in my experience this state of being consists of six different categories or domains. They are as follows: emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, sexual, and professional wellness. While each domain stands alone, the reality is that they are interdependent and must be looked at holistically in order to achieve balance. So let's begin to make black history first and foremost by identifying the domains of wellness that make our lives blanched and healthy and defining them.
First there is Emotional Wellness. I can vividly recall a time in my professional life when things were going well, but I was constantly living in a state of anxiety because I was uncomfortable with the comfort. The idea of just “being” was so novel to me that I was subconsciously craving chaos. On the surface emotional wellness can be defined as the ability to handle life’s stressors and adapt to change. The key phrase is” adapt to change” because the only constant in life is change, and change can send us on a path of discomfort, confusion, and self-discovery because of the emotions that come with it. Therefore, when change arises, it is best not to stuff, endure, or ignore our emotions. Instead, we should observe them, acknowledge them, lean into them, and allow them to provide the insight that they so desperately want to impart. This level of engagement and intentionality around emotional wellness will usher in new levels of our existence within ourselves and engagement outside of ourselves if we feel the fear and do it anyway. Emotional Wellness is the cornerstone of so many things yet so many of us struggle with mastering the tools such as vulnerability, authenticity, and empathy to pursue it.
Physical Wellness is the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life that allows us to get through our daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress. Physical wellness is the most publicized form of wellness. In our self-absorbed culture, a healthy body is often equated to a healthy state of being. Because there is very little stigma attached to pursuing physical wellness, we are not resistant to this being a central part of our well-being.
Spiritual Wellness is also very nuanced. I define spiritual wellness as a state of well-being and awareness that not only provides insight into self but also how God is moving in, through, and around you. It also encompasses the ability to give and receive without consequence. I believe that when we are spiritually well, we are operating from a space of alignment and moving with purpose and synergy with the divine. This alignment ultimately leads to a more liberated, higher expression of ourselves. Historically, spiritual wellness has been a divisive force because it has been weaponized for the purposes of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Personally, I’ve struggled with finding my own spiritual equilibrium as I’ve worked to dissect religious teachings that didn’t lead to my spiritual wellness. Professionally, I’ve held space for many folks who wrestle with the tensions that come with integrating their spirituality and aspects of their identity that have been marginalized by religious institutions and their families. When we consider all these blockages, it makes it hard for us to be spiritually well because the same spaces we look to liberate us are too often a source of oppression.
Relational Wellness is defined as how we experience the important relationships in our lives. Healthy forms of relational wellness allow us to live full and satisfied lives. Think about it. When our relationships are thriving, it serves as fertile ground for cultivating our growth, evolution, and sense of well-being. As a collectivist culture, our relationships with each other and the ecosystems in which we reside keep us rooted. They make us feel heard, seen, and valued, but many people struggle with the skills necessary to not only develop intimate forms of relationships but to also maintain them.
When discussing Sexual Wellness, this concept is often excluded from Black folks sense of well-being. While I can’t pinpoint one reason why this is so, I can highlight a few things that lead to our sexual miseducation. Black folks have long been subjected to stereotypes of hypersexualization, suppression of our sexual selves via oppressive religous dogma, and the very public history of sexual violence and trauma that our ancestors have endured which has lead to inherited generatational trauma are some of the few reasons that Black folks struggle with acheiving sexual wellness. We can’t call ourselves sexually well until we learn to hold attitudes and beliefs that foster increased feelings of agency and empowerment, greater capacity for pleasure and intimacy, and the ability to freely communicate with partner(s) explicitly about our sexual needs and desires. Repeat after me, sexual wellness is my birthright. So we must pursue it radically.
We are considered Professionally Well when we have the capacity to grow, change, and evolve in our professional identity. Although challenges may arise, they don’t detract from our state of wellness or our ability to progressively move forward. Professional wellness also means that despite hindrances such as institutional racism, sexism, and classism, we are able to show up as our most authentic selves and still have the agency and autonomy of our counterparts.
Rarely do we hear conversations about these six domains of Black Wellness. So I hope this serves as a starting point. As a Black woman, it feels revolutionary to not only define wellness in a way that centers us and is by us, but to also place this wellness front and center in our lives. We are indeed our ancestor’s wildest dream for we have the opportunity to define wellness and pursue it. We cannot pursue that which we cannot define or see for ourselves. So now that we’ve defined Black Wellness and can visualize all the domains that it includes, let's get to work!
Now for a wellness exercise, I encourage you to pause for the cause. Center yourself and identify the domains of wellness that you are thriving in. Now take another pause and identify the areas that need improvement. This is a judgment free zone. You are not alone! There is support and tools that can help you move beyond a place of surviving and into a place of thriving. While Black History is officially over, we are still making Black History by centering Black Wellness. Everyday that we center wellness, we are not only changing our present narrative but crafting a new reality for future generations to come. You too can begin today to craft new realities for your future and generations to come, and I can support you on the journey. Join our mailing list for weekly insight and tools for Black wellness here: https://www.drlawanda.hill.com