Stress & Legacies

Every school year starts in pretty much the same way. The rush of families as they crowd the aisles of Walmart and Sam's Club is a familiar sight; the smell of tightly packed bodies recognizable as collections of sweet sticky sweat, strongly flavored perfume, and exhaustion has become one my nose welcomes every August; the undeniable feeling that is a thick mixture of excitement and unknowing seeping out of my pores in the final week of summer break is an old friend. Yet, sometimes, events that extend beyond the “I”  in ways that present “us” as a part of a longer history and story break the chain of familiarity that accompanies the start of each school year. These events may not occur in the week before,the week of, or the week after the first day of school. However, they become part of the narrative of “back to school”. This year, the taking down of Silent Sam was both the cause of and the result of a multitude of protest, emails, and discussions on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill. The overall monotony of “back to school” turned into a tenseness underlying the humidity that accompanied August.  As we continue to grapple with the larger issues of the legacy of slavery and the ongoing racial and ethnic disparities faced within our country, Silent Sam becomes a symbol of the ways in which our present interacts with our past. While this may be understood as a period of change and overall progress, it can also be a period of stress. The constant presence of hate groups, divisive rhetoric, and acknowledged threats can weigh heavily. These are not new stressors to the minority experience. However, our coping mechanisms for the everyday stress that accompanies these issues must be molded in ways that are productive to the creation of a healthier “us” overall. This is partially so that we are able to maintain our energy and forward momentum in the continued fight for equality and equity. Outlined below are three general “back to school” tips for handling stress going forward.

  1. Develop a strong support system- Look for people who will uplift you and encourage you to grow. These people may be your best friends, your family, or a professional mental health worker (, 2018).

  2. Meditate and journal- Find outlets that allow you to reflect on your current thoughts and feelings. Set aside five minutes a day to simply think back and breathe. This can be while drinking your morning tea or in between classes (, 2018).

  3. Exercise- Set aside thirty minutes a day, or longer, to focus solely on some form of exercise. Allow yourself to think only about your exercise and enjoy how it feels (, 2018).

These tips will not eliminate the stressors directly.  However, they may make it possible for us to change the relationship we have to stress and allow us to better impact and eliminate the stressors as we continue to forge new paths and make our voices heard.  

References (2018). Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Sep. 2018]. (2018). Tips for Coping with Stress|Publications|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Sep. 2018].

Kerstan Nealy