A fence or a bat?
A protective factor or a coping mechanism?
Either/or? Nah, both.
So here’s the thing. In the last blog post, we talked about the fact that more people, especially Black people, are getting comfortable with mental health services, whether it’s talking about it, being about it, or advocating for it. And while, I would simply say- “My work is done”… It’s not. There are so many layers to mental health and mental health advocacy that you and I get to take the conversation a tad deeper. And, in that last blog, we talked about the correct use of mental health language because there is power in language and thus there is power in names. So, while we distinguish between a sensitivity and a trigger, we also have to distinguish between a protective factor and a coping mechanism.
So think of it this way:
A protective factor is consistent, stable, predictable, easily accessible, and used frequently. Think of it as a fence around your home…or an alarm system…It’s always there to protect you, whether there is an intruder or not the fence or alarm system is always there.
A coping mechanism is used when needed. It’s there and available but it takes a bit more effort to get to it, to have to use it…or to even want to use it. It’s like a bat next to your bed. It’s there, it’s heavy, and it’ll get the job done. After you use it, you may be spent (physically or emotionally) and you may recognize that you are tired after you use it because…you ONLY had to use it because there was a threat of an intruder. Which means your mind, body, and spirit had to respond to this unwelcomed experience.
So when we break it down even further, both the fence and the bat are necessary. In fact, the fence is absolutely necessary because it’s preventive, it’s a sign to intruders that it’ll be hard work to “break in”, it doesn’t take as much effort to use and it's easy to access, regularly. But a bat MAY be necessary, in case something “triggering” occurs and you have to respond to it.
Now here’s the thing.
We NEED protective factors.
A lot of the language used during mental health talks, refers to coping mechanisms…but these are rooted in "coping”…which means something happened…and these/those are the ways you respond.
But…rarely do we hear or use language around protective factors. The question becomes…what do you do BEFORE an incident occurs. Like, we have savings accounts…. to protect ourselves from debt….and we eat healthy to protect ourselves from hunger….and we take vitamins to protect ourselves from illness….and we follow speed limits to protect ourselves from crashes (or from tickets…or we just take the risks…nah, that’s for another day…hahahaha). But seriously, we have locks on our doors and all sorts of things to protect us, our material possessions, and the things that we value. But, what are we doing to prevent and PROTECT ourselves from emotional turmoil or strife?
I know, I have to be grounded. If anything comes my way and I am not grounded…I am going to…well, fall out or fall over. So my daily protective factors and habits occur in the morning…because I am a morning person and because it serves as active protection during the day.
For me, I protect myself with/by:
Daily exercise- It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something first thing in the day…and thus I feel equipped to accomplish and/or conquer anything that comes at me for the rest of the day.
Meditation- This serves as an opportunity for me to acknowledge my God and my ancestors…to extend gratitude (daily) for their decision to allow me to have this life (trials and triumphs) and to ask them to illuminate my path (daily) and to guide me on my decisions (daily).
Drink water- I drink more water before noon than the rest of the day. Usually because I need it and it’ll prevent me from getting headaches, irritability, or looking burned out.
Walk- I’m usually with my dog, Milo Kwame (yes, Kwame…He is Black like me…judge yo mama, not me- hahahahaha) but this gives me another opportunity to be grateful for: my ability to walk, to see, to hear, to smell, to acknowledge the miracle of life through the trees, to accept transition through nature, to feel like I am part of something bigger than me.
Listen to music and dance- Yup, every morning, I choose to listen to music and dance. My wife loves to watch the news and I love her for it because she keeps me informed. But, in the work I do, I hear some pretty tough stuff (as you can imagine), so I protect myself so I can be available for them, which means, I can’t watch the terrors of the world (via the news) so instead I listen to music (I love Jazz- Hey Mike Phillips) and chill music (after my workouts because I’m a Trap Queen when I’m burning calories).
But, I think you get the point. So, what are your protective factors that you do daily?
It could be checking in with family 1st thing in the morning…so you remind yourself you are loved and part of a community…or it could be reading a book…so you have some inspiration and ideas for the day….it could be burning incense and sending prayers out into the universe. It could be…anything…
But remember, it’s daily, preventative, manageable, and makes you feel….protected…before anything crazy happens.