Rose Mednard and Jambalaya Media Group CEO Michelle Spence-Jones. (Photo Credit: Chetachi Egwu)
Rose Mednard and Jambalaya Media Group CEO Michelle Spence-Jones. (Photo Credit: Chetachi Egwu)

It’s no secret that black women face an inordinate amount of challenges in society. Just as obvious is the effect on their overall physical, mental and spiritual welfare.

In fact, a 2010 focus group study funded by the National Institutes of Health evaluated black women and the persistence of needing to be a Superwoman. Among the findings were that black women felt obligated to manifest strength and suppress emotions, resisted being vulnerable or dependent, had a determination to succeed despite limited resources and felt obliged to help others. All of these manifested in their perceptions of strain on interpersonal relationships, stress-related health behaviors (postponing self-care and stress eating) and the embodiment of stress (such as anxiety and depression). Stress can be a lot for anyone to deal with, even if it is normal for us all. Some of us just manage it better than others. People have different ways they use to deal with stress; some decide to use the best CBD oil they can find, others take themselves to the spa for a relaxing day and some practice meditation. Some people find that marijuana products help them to deal with their stress as well. These products, like mango haze, have been found to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. The important thing is finding what works best for you – that’s all that matters – as the main result is to relieve your stress levels.

‘Breathe’, a session designed to help Black women cope with everyday life in productive and meaningful ways addresses these factors. Created by media personality Jill Tracey, ‘Breathe’ was part of the fourth Jones Magazine Meet Me in Miami event.

“I know that women of all races, but particularly black women, we’re all having the same experience, whether we are climbing, about to climb, have already achieved everything we want…and we’re finding that it’s overwhelming, ” said Tracey. A lot of women are turning to herbal remedies like those from bud buddies to help control their feelings of stress, which is one option but it’s good to also try and tackle what is causing them in the first place. In this case, maybe we are asking too much of ourselves?

Tracey credits a personal experience with helping her develop the concept.

“I found myself at a light one day, cars were blowing, and I didn’t realize that I was still sitting there because I had like five different things on my mind,” Tracey remembered. “I was like, ‘Girl, you need to just stop and breathe for a minute’.” With that thought, the concept of the panel was born.

The session featured four women versed in various aspects of well being from entrepreneurship to money management, each urging participants to make changes that give them more breathing room.

Holistic home organizer and self-proclaimed “Clutterologist” Lauriann Stepp advised attendees to de-clutter their homes to create balance and harmony in their heads and hearts.

“My hope was to reach out to frustrated women and let them know that they are not alone,” said Stepp. “As far as the chaos that forms in our home and the emotional chaos that forms in our hearts, there is help out there.”

Stepp notes that she has been a neat-freak since she was a child, and would organize friends rooms in college. Eventually, she was able to leverage her love of order into a business.

“Clutterologist” Lauriann Stepp. (Photo Credit: Chetachi Egwu)

The road to helping others organize has not been without trial for Stepp, yet this helps her relate to her clients. In 2011, she lost her husband to complications from diabetes, using $7,000 in earnings from a successful Groupon campaign, launching her new business, to pay for funeral expenses.

“So, I’ve been through everything,” Stepp tearfully told the audience. “And when I encounter clients with all these different issues, I tell them all, I get it, I understand.”

Financial issues also cause significant stress for black women. Nichola Madry is a financial advisor, stockbroker and “couponista” whose talk focused on every day tips to save money toward retirement and other goals.

“It’s your money, and you tell it where you want it to go,” Madry said. “Even though you may be able to pay full price for something, why should you if you don’t have to?”

Madry notes that black women are often eager to please others when making self purchases, such as clothing, rather than looking internally for satisfaction. She urged the audience to be accountable for their spending by using cash instead of cards, a point that resonated with attendee Ellen Woods.

“I don’t carry cash, so this was a lesson learned. It’s so much easier to spend when you use a debit card,” Woods said.

Panelist Tomi Rose shared her journey from fiance of a Miami Heat player to struggling single mother of their child to reuniting with her ex-fiance ten years later at the top of her real estate game. She is now Senior VP of Sports and Entertainment with Opulence International Realty.

'Breathe' Speaker Tomi Rose. (Photo Credit: Chetachi Egwu)
‘Breathe’ Speaker Tomi Rose. (Photo Credit: Chetachi Egwu)

“My mom always told me turn your anger into anguish and your anguish into action. So I took action.”

Organized in part by Jambalaya Media Group, company CEO Michelle Spence-Jones felt that the panel was immensely useful for participants.

“It was giving women of color the opportunity to really just release and connect. I like to see women that are connected and doing positive things to support each other.”

Ending the session with prayer was the final effort to clear the way for a new beginning. The reality is that black women’s issues will not be solved overnight or by one event. For the Breathe attendees, hearing the stories of the panelists and getting concrete tips seemed to validate their own struggles in dealing with stress. For at least one hour, they could breathe, stress free.

This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Associate Professor of Humanities at Nova Southeastern University. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis in documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thoughts Media. Dr. Egwu is a regular contributor to The Grio. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.

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