Black Lives Matter Meditation Could Help Heal Racial Trauma

Black man meditating outside

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  • The Black Lives Matter Meditation for Healing Racial Trauma is a guided meditation to support Black individuals with stress recovery.
  • Researchers hope that it may help Black individuals to manage racial trauma well enough to make progress tackling inequities.
  • Colleges need to take the health needs of Black students seriously to help them manage racial trauma.

Racism has real mental health impacts. A study published in the Journal of Black Psychology found that the Black Lives Matter Meditation for Healing Racial Trauma may provide a useful coping resource to address stress.

This study assessed the efficacy of a 17-minute racially specific guided meditation, which combines mindfulness, affirmations regarding the Black experience, and loving-kindness meditation.

Given the strides made in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the pandemic, this momentum can be kept up with a better grasp of how such a mindfulness program can help to address racial trauma.

Understanding the Research

This pilot study was conducted with 26 Black college students who were presented with a vicarious racial harassment stimulus (VRHS), then half of them participated in a Black Lives Matter Meditation for Healing Racial Trauma, as compared to a control group, while measuring heart rate.

While the average heart rate increased by 2.07 beats per minute from baseline to stimulus, it did not fit the hypothesis, i.e. findings were not statistically significant between the group of participants who accessed the Black Lives Matter Meditation in comparison to those subjected to silence.

Limitations of this study included the small sample and lack of statistically significant findings, but some positive qualitative feedback about the meditation included the use of affirmations that related to the Black experience, the words “Black Lives Matter,” and the music.

Racial Stress Harms Black Communities

Faculty member in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing program, Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC, says, "Race-based stress can have psychophysiological effects including an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Experiencing, witnessing, or hearing about racism can cause stress and anxiety."

Racial stress can lead to poor cardiovascular health, so Thompson explains that this is relevant as heart disease is one of the leading causes of death among Black Americans. "Early intervention following exposure to race-based stress can help to prevent progression into racial trauma," she says.

Thompson illuminates, "One who has suffered race-based trauma may meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms may include hypervigilance, recurring distressing memories, flashbacks, psychological distress when exposed to cues that symbolize or resemble the traumatic event, irritability, and sleep disturbance."

Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

One who has suffered race-based trauma may meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

— Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC

This study was conducted with Black college students in a controlled setting, so Thompson explains that actual exposure to racism can have more profound and lasting effects. "The Black Lives Matter Meditation for Healing Racial Trauma incorporates mindfulness, affirmations of the Black experience, and loving-kindness meditation," she says. 

Thompson highlights, "Race-based trauma can have a severe, lasting impact on both mental and physical health. Individuals who have experienced trauma should seek an evaluation and treatment if indicated. They should develop coping skills to effectively manage symptoms and thereby reduce the effects on their mental and physical health."

Broader Interventions May Be Needed

Mental health equity research, clinical psychologist, and director of medical affairs at Big HealthJuliette McClendon, PhD, says, "The key takeaway from this study is that meditation can be useful for managing reactions to racial stress and trauma, but it’s only a piece of a larger puzzle. Moving forward, I would like to see more research assessing the value of comprehensive interventions for racial stress and trauma."

McClendon explains, "Meditation can be one part of a more holistic set of coping mechanisms used to manage the impact of discrimination on one’s mental health. Racial stress and trauma can manifest in your health in a few ways—including physiologically and psychologically."

For physical manifestation, McClendon recommends taking a few minutes to relax through meditation can be beneficial for managing temporary responses, such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweaty palms, etc. "However, meditation isn’t a clinical treatment," she says.

McClendon further illuminates, "If one experiences repeated exposure to racial stress and trauma over time, it can eventually lead to serious changes in biological systems that can increase your risk for chronic disease. Psychological responses can be equally severe."

In this area, McClendon explains that meditation can be utilized to help with the immediate aftermath of a racial stress event. "Sitting, processing your thoughts, and allowing yourself to feel the emotions associated with what you just experienced can be very helpful," she says.

McClendon recommends incorporating other interventions in dealing with the more severe impacts of experiencing racial stress and trauma, such as changes in how you think about yourself, other people, and the world. "The color of a person’s skin is an integral part of who they are," she says.

McClendon illuminates, "When someone experiences racial harassment, particularly if frequently exposed to racist attitudes, they may start to internalize them. This can lead to lower self-esteem, a warped sense of self, and a feeling that you're the problem, rather than an understanding that this is a broader societal issue." 

For those who have experienced racial harassment often, McClendon explains that their sense of safety may be undermined. "And for those who have internalized these racist thought processes may carry negative attitudes and beliefs toward the dominant culture, which can then impact the way they interact with the world," she says.

McClendon highlights, "Meditation can be helpful in addressing some of the physiological and psychological effects of racial stress and trauma, but it’s most effective when used as part of a broader intervention approach that thoroughly addresses all the effects of discrimination. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is an evidence-based treatment for mental health issues."

Juliette McClendon, PhD

Some people feel that the only action they can take after having experienced this is to try and change society—which is a lot to take on.

— Juliette McClendon, PhD

According to McClendon, one aspect of this issue that is not discussed enough is that the burden of stopping racism does not rest on those experiencing racial stress and trauma. "Some people feel that the only action they can take after having experienced this is to try and change society—which is a lot to take on," she says.

McClendon further explains that while trying to enable societal change is one option, there are multiple ways to do so, including the personal level, social support, advocacy, and activism, etc. She recommends finding coping skills and activities that bring joy and reduce stress, like meditation, and finding people who understand your experiences.

In her experience working with patients managing the impacts of racial stress and trauma, McClendon highlights, "They most valued being able to work with clinicians of color (people who can relate), having a space where their experiences of racism were validated, and having the opportunity to work on empowerment skills."

McClendon further illuminates, "They also appreciated a focus on social support, communication skills, and psychoeducation. Psychoeducation especially helped patients to understand what racism is, what it looks like, and where it comes from. This allowed patients to put their experiences of racial stress and trauma into context and clarify that these experiences are not a reflection of their self-worth, but rather are a result of the way that racism functions in society."

What This Means For You

As this study demonstrates, meditation may provide a coping tool for racial trauma. While those impacted by racism may feel pressure to address the issue, it may add to their stress. Black individuals are not responsible for racism, and should not be expected to address it.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Simons RL, Lei M-K, Beach SRH, et al. Discrimination, segregation, and chronic inflammation: Testing the weathering explanation for the poor health of Black Americans. Developmental Psychology. 2018;54(10). doi:10.1037/dev0000511

  3. Polanco-Roman L, Danies A, Anglin DM. Racial discrimination as race-based trauma, coping strategies, and dissociative symptoms among emerging adults. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. 2016;8(5). doi:10.1037/tra0000125

By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.