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Gen Z young woman sufering stomach ache anxiety disorder

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I’ve been thinking a lot about 2018 lately. Three years after leaving a volatile abusive relationship, that was the year I finally built the courage to walk into my first therapy session. At that time, my initial focus was beginning to process the trauma I carried from that experience. But of course, with the universe’s penchant for plot twists, I also walked out of that session with a brand-new diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It was a surprising turn of events, but it also explained so much when I considered it in hindsight (I’ve been anxious since I was child).

Black women and anxiety have a complex relationship. Research suggests they experience anxiety more frequently and intensely than white women due to factors like generational trauma, stemming from slavery and ongoing racial issues. Black queer women like me also face the unique challenge of navigating the intersection of race, sexuality and gender. These experiences create a cycle of anxiety that can be passed down, which I’ve experienced firsthand—my mother and maternal grandmother also deal with anxiety, a thread that likely weaves through generations of my matriarchs.

This constant undercurrent of anxiety, fueled by past trauma, culminated for me in a debilitating panic attack in December 2022. I was traveling by train in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, on my way to my job’s 5-year anniversary party, which I was super excited about. At first, I chalked up my sudden intense anxiety, nausea, sweaty palms, shortness of breath and racing heart to the fact that my menstrual cycle had just started; I woke up not feeling well that morning and ended up not going into the office so I could rest up for the event. Just blocks away from the venue, sick to my stomach, I recall having to get off the train and sit down on a bench to text my supervisor that my period was kicking my ass. “I’m not gonna be able to stay for long,” I wrote. I felt terrible. “No worries at all dear, trust me, I understand. Please take your time,” she responded (she is truly the best supervisor I’ve ever had). It wasn’t until a conversation with my therapist days later that I realized what actually happened.

SEE ALSO: 6 Identifying Signs of Anxiety

While this wasn’t my first panic attack, that one was such a pivotal moment for me and threw my world into disarray. The city went from my playground to a battleground. Everytime I’d try to leave my apartment, the panic attacks would start all over—at the grocery store, taking a walk, you name it. Train rides morphed into daunting expeditions, simple errands became Herculean feats, and eventually, even leaving the comfort of my own apartment felt impossible. So for weeks, I didn’t. I couldn’t. This isolation led to months of the world shrinking around me as another diagnosis began to take hold: panic disorder with agoraphobia, which was rooted in past trauma (my current therapist pinpointed unprocessed trauma from my abusive relationship as the source). 

In May 2023, I moved back home to South Florida, where continued therapy, anxiety medication, and the warmth of the sun were my allies. The self-care routines I meticulously built between 2018 and now became my lifeline. Slowly, I began to inch back into the world, reclaiming snippets of my life. But the yearning for my “pre-panic” self lingered. Healing, however, as I’ve come to learn, isn’t a rewind button. It’s a transformation, a journey of embracing the new me that’s blossoming in the face of challenges. The strength I’ve discovered in navigating this journey is truly empowering.

My diagnosis, though unexpected, became a catalyst. Therapy not only revealed my hidden well of resilience, but also equipped me with tools for navigating my inner world when things get scary. The mindfulness practices I’ve cultivated through therapy and my wellness coaching certifications have become my secret weapons, granting me access to a space of heightened self-awareness and a deeper connection with myself and the world around me.

My journey, however, isn’t singular. Conversations surrounding mental health are still delicately tiptoed around within the Black community. The weight of societal expectations often fuels a narrative of unwavering strength, leaving little room for acknowledging our vulnerabilities as Black folx. But the truth is sobering: given the statistics on Black women and anxiety, this silence, this reluctance to address our specific struggles, only perpetuates the cycle.

That’s why sharing my story is an act of both defiance and reclamation. It’s a call to dismantle the myth of the invincible Black woman. We are strong, yes, but we are also human. We experience a spectrum of emotions, anxieties included, and those vulnerabilities are beautiful. By acknowledging these realities, we create space not just for ourselves, but for the next generation of Black women to navigate their own journeys with authenticity.

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This journey with anxiety has been a fire that has both scorched and refined. It has taught me the true meaning of fortitude, which is not the ability to simply endure hardship, but the power to bloom anew despite any cracks in the armor I’ve built over the years. My story is a testament to the transformative power of self-awareness, the unwavering support of therapy, and the strength that lies dormant within each of us. This is what resilience is for me as a Black woman: living authentically, embracing vulnerability, and thriving in the face of adversity.

Steph R. Long is a Chopra-certified Ayurvedic health instructor, meditation instructor, and well-being coach. She’s also the founder of holistic wellness and coaching company SRL Well-Being and the former Deputy Director of Enterprise for Refinery29 Unbothered, where she oversaw health, wellness, and spirituality content.