How You Can Cope With Racism and Racial Trauma

By Lauren Krouse

Racial trauma is the phrase we use to describe how racist incidents, racism, and racial discrimination can add up in your life and become a source of chronic, toxic stress that can feel overwhelming—especially if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it. 

But you can begin to process racial trauma with a community that makes you feel seen, accepted, and loved for who you are. 

Here are a few ways to do that: 

Validate Your Own Reality

It’s not uncommon to feel like the effects of racism on your life are somehow your fault, there’s something wrong with you, or you just have to get over it and pull yourself back up again. But racial trauma is real and what you’re feeling is real. It is not your fault, and you should not have to deal with it alone. 

Talk About It

Find a trusted adult, friends, or family members who are open to having honest and open conversations about race and racism. Ask if they’re in a good place to talk about these topics and support each other as you share similar experiences, reflect on them together, and exchange ways to cope.

Separate Who You Are From What Has Been Given to You

A practice called identify affirmation can help reduce the negative impacts of racial trauma. With identity affirmation, you work with a therapist to recognize false beliefs you may have internalized about yourself, separate who you are and what you value from these thoughts, and push back against negative messages society gives you about your racial identity. 

It’s like rewriting a more truthful and loving script for yourself. To rebuild a sense of self-love and compassion, ask yourself: How do I find beauty in my identity and who I am? What are my values and how can I honor them? 

Give Yourself Time to Recover

Self-care can be a powerful way to reclaim the time, space, and rest you need and deserve. It’s not just a way to heal and recuperate from racial trauma, but also a way to insist on loving yourself in a world that can be hurtful and hateful. Practices such as mindfulness and journaling can also help you process heavy thoughts and feelings and consider new perspectives and strategies. 

Take Breaks From Bad News

If you’ve noticed doomscrolling is giving you surges of anxiety or bringing you down, you do not have to be a direct witness to everything. It’s OK to take a screen break or decide not to watch a traumatizing video. You’re not letting anyone down or denying what’s happening. You’re protecting your own health and well-being, and that is the most important thing.

Find Ways to Take Action

It’s easy to get trapped in despair when you think about how much is out of your control, and those feelings are normal, OK, and important to accept. At the same time, you also want to think about what can make you feel empowered to push back against feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness. 

For example, you could join a racial justice group to push for transformative change, connect with activists you admire for inspiration, or build your own healing and learning circle with like-minded friends. Just finding joy in the little things and having fun with people you can be yourself around can also be so healing. 

Find out more ways to use activism as self-care

Remember: You Deserve Rest, Care, and Support

Combating racism is going to take all of us working together to push for progress and justice. In the meantime, racial trauma creates real stress, exhaustion, and pain, and you need rest and care to manage those effects. Try to give yourself the nurturing love and compassion you’d give anyone else, and keep in mind that community has always been the key to surviving and thriving in difficult times. You deserve so much support. 

If you’re struggling to find someone who can listen, hold you up, and help you find a path forward, it is possible to create new connections and build a support system. Learn how a culturally competent therapist could help or contact a helpline run by people from your community to be heard right now. 

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.