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How are you prioritizing your mental health?

This is a question I asked myself while enjoying the sun, sand and ocean waves with friends while on vacation in Florida last week. The beach is one of my favorite forms of therapy. Unfortunately, I can’t pack up the beach. But I can find ways to incorporate that peace into my daily life.

July is National Minority Mental Health Month, when communities of color band together for mental health awareness. So I’m shining a light on the Black Southerners who are making sure that you don’t feel alone when you don’t feel OK (which is completely OK!).

—Starr

Finding joy in your purpose  

Shekinah Lee has dreamed of guiding people along their mental health journeys since she was 12. She grew up watching her father help others as a mental health professional. Now, she is continuing his legacy as an associate licensed counselor at Yellow Bird Counseling in Birmingham, Ala., and the founder of Purposed Joy, a business which helps people discover joy by finding their purpose.

This was a journey Lee went through herself. Despite wanting to be a counselor as a child, Lee’s mother suggested she go to college for nursing instead. After struggling in college, Lee sought the help of an advisor who told her that college wasn’t for her and that she should probably drop out. And so she did.

But after two years of surrounding herself with positive influences, Lee got back in the game and graduated from Miles College with honors before getting her master’s from Montevallo University. She created Purposed Joy in November 2019 to provide people with the same support and direction she received.

“Even though it might seem like a little dark for a second, your purpose can be that light for you,” Lee said. “Which is where that whole name – Purposed Joy – comes from.”

Lee uses multiple avenues to encourage others through Purposed Joy. Before COVID-19 hit, she hosted self-care brunches and other group therapy events where people could have fun while participating in a therapeutic activity. Lee plans to bring the events back. Last December, Purposed Joy hosted a reset mixer, where participants wrote on plates everything that could hold them back from having a good year – fear, procrastination and doubt – and smashed them, releasing those concerns.

She covers multiple topics in short videos on Instagram and Tik Tok, such as how you can fight shameturn up the confidence and the importance of consistency. Every Saturday, Lee and her co-host, Alison Johnston, go live on YouTube to do Self-Care Saturday where they chat about fitness, time management, finances and other topics. Because self-care is more than just hanging out with friends or getting your nails done, Lee said.

Joy is actually Lee’s middle name. So she talked to me about how she maintains happiness and how the following activities affects our mental health.

Helping others: Along with being a counselor and managing Purposed Joy, Lee is also an elementary school counselor. Seeing that “ah-ha” moment in a person’s eyes – whether it is a student or a client –  brightens Lee’s world.

“Being able to assist someone else takes the attention off your own issues or struggles for the moment. Reverting that attention to someone else can always be encouraging — almost refreshing in a way. There’s power in community. There’s power in helping the next person. There’s power in that whole aspect of giving.”

Learning something new: It’s OK to not know it all. In fact, learning something new can be a stress reliver for multitaskers like Lee. Currently Lee is learning about stocks and cryptocurrency through YouTube videos and an app called Coinbase.

“Being in a place where you don’t know anything and you’re having to learn from someone else, that allows you the opportunity to not have to be the leader and relieve that stress from you.”

Building your mental health kit 

Lee isn’t the only one who is spreading their melanin magic in the mental health workforce. Here are a few other resources that can become part of your toolbox when your mood or self-care needs a bit of a pick me up.

  • Men to Heal: Black men face the social pressures of being providers of their homes who have to be strong all the time. Founded by licensed mental health professional and U.S. Army veteran James Harris, Men to Heal helps Black men explore the full range of their emotions both online and through Harris’ self-published book, “Man, Just Express Yourself!” After creating the organization in 2019, he also opened the Healing Hub in Richmond, Va., which give men access to outpatient therapy, massage, yoga, mindfulness and financial literacy sessions.
  • “Set Boundaries, Find Peace”: Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed therapist in North Carolina, has become the go-to person for finding balance in your work life and relationships. I bought her book “Set Boundaries, Find Peace” shortly after it dropped in March. I love how she breaks down boundaries in a relatable way and gives you scripts on how to effectively and respectfully communicate boundaries. She also has tidbits on how to advocate for yourself if someone pushes back against your boundary. If you can’t buy the book right now because you are a little low on cash, Tawwab also has some free worksheets available on her website.

Woosah of the week

Now that I gave you a few tidbits to navigate your mental health, it’s time to jump into our second “Woosah of the Week” lesson by LeNaya Smith Crawford.

Crawford is a licensed counselor and holistic healer who owns her own practice and yoga studio in Atlanta.  She is also the creator of “I AM JOY”, a four-part, self-paced course that teaches you how to cultivate joy in your own life . I’ve signed up and learned a lot in just a short amount of time. Hopefully some of y’all have already signed up by using the code “BLACKJOY” so you can take this $77 course for $47. If you haven’t joined us on the journey to love and light yet, no problem! You still got time, fam!

So, I gave some insight about the first part of the course a few weeks back, which was a masterclass about how you can bust through the barriers of joy. This second lesson is all about breath work.

Kick your nervous system out of fight or flight mode and into a space of calm.

Our breathing doesn’t just keep us alive. When we focus on the breathing intentionally, we can flip the switch on our nervous systems, going from fight or flight mode to a state of calm.

There are multiple breathing techniques. In her video, Crawford guides you through a technique that boosts your energy and lifts your mood. I tried it out and y’all….just say goodbye to those drowsy spells during the middle of your workday.

Another favorite technique of mine that Crawford doesn’t mention in the video is the square breath, which is what I do for moments when stress is derailing me from my day’s purpose. I’ll guide you through it:

You are going to breathe in for four seconds

Hold on your breath for four seconds

Breathe out for four seconds

Hold again for four seconds

Repeat this four times and if you want to add a little fun to it, you can imagine the ocean waves

Stay calm, book that therapy session, take your meds if need be (no shame. I take them too. As Michael Jackson said, “You are not alone.”)

And keep spreading your Black Joy!  See ya’  next time!