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Managing Mental Health & Racism

How might anxiety and shame interact with racism? There is such a thing as layered support: multiple pillars to lean on. This can serve as a buffer to manage intense feelings.

Anxiety has an ability to narrow what’s possible: don’t go there, don’t do that, what if that’s weird? Ongoing worries pass through our brains. We predict, anticipate. Physically, our hearts might speed, throats constrict, legs throb. Shame is tied to the belief that something is fundamentally wrong with us. This may present as slouched shoulders, lack of eye contact, and refraining from voicing ideas. 

Separately and together, shame and anxiety can feel debilitating. This overwhelm can grow when prejudice, racism, and discrimination join the mix. For instance, Black and Latinx children who report perceived racial and ethnic discrimination are more likely to have symptoms of ADHD, mood disorders, and other mental health conditions compared to white children. Suicide is the first leading cause of death among Asian American young adults age 15-24. 

It can be reassuring to know that shame and anxiety are useful signals for danger and understanding. Imagine: running away from a bear, a person of color cautious when traveling, a person regretful after conflict. Our brains and bodies are wired to protect us from harm. Even more, it can feel empowering to understand how your mind and body uniquely experience anxiety

And yet there are moments when anxiety and shame aren't helpful. Our brains might become stuck on an emotion, unable to notice that we are safe and can trust an interaction. In these new experiences, we have access to choice. With support, we can notice our feelings intensify—and as they enlarge, we can form neutral or balanced thoughts. We don’t have to repeat the thoughts that magnify the pain, filtering interactions and events that keep us stuck. 


How might anxiety and shame shape your sense of safety, culture, and identity? Our very first product incorporates the rigorously-tested and widely-used "gold standard" of treating anxiety: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). We also explain how it is possible to change for the better using CBT. 

Know that there is such a thing as layered support: multiple pillars to lean on. This can work in tandem with self-compassion. There are many ways to experience support. This could mean deepening relationships with friends, family, and community. This could also mean joining efforts to advance policy. You might seek inclusive, culturally-competent care by scheduling a consultation with an LGBTQ-affirming therapist of color. No matter the therapist’s culture or identity, when seeking professional help, it’s important that you are respected and listened to.  

Dr. Diana Hu writes about feelings of anxiety and shame in our clinician-led newsletter, Waiting Room. She explores the impact of culture and identity, drawing on research and Dr. Kristin Neff’s self-compassion as a buffer to anxiety and shame.

Access the first issue of our newsletter here. Subscribe to Waiting Room here

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