Zaire Ali (Interview)

Art by Sam Liacos.

Zaire Ali, Ed.M., health educator, and graduate student on maintaining our support systems during our “new normal” and feeling safe enough to be vulnerable.

What does emotional wellness mean to you?

To me, emotional wellness is the constant understanding and maintenance of a person’s emotional health and overall wellness, because there are many different factors that can contribute to a person’s emotional wellness. A person who constantly maintains their emotional wellness usually accepts that it is okay to feel stressed, anxious, nervous, and to get angry, but they have mechanisms and/or strategies to bounce back and get them back to their baseline or normal state.

How can we take better care of ourselves emotionally?

Taking care of ourselves emotionally is no different than going to the gym or maintaining a proper diet, unless a person is living with abnormal circumstances (trauma, disabilities, or mental illnesses). Because of this, we have to constantly work to take care of our emotions and strive to be kind and love ourselves unconditionally.  Even when we are facing the toughest of times, love helps to keep us grounded.

How would you advise one to find a balance in the “new normal?”

Let’s just hope this “new normal” is temporary and changes with the seasons–But honestly, I would tell a person to do whatever is needed to maintain their sanity and stay healthy. Sunlight, exercise, and kindness is what we need. Everyone is living through these times together, not equitably, but we are living and that is half the battle right now–keeping sane long enough to get through the uncertainty is the best way to find a sustainable balance.

How do you advise brown and Black people to cope and process what feels like a roller-coaster of emotions–especially while being alone in quarantine?

I would say, do less, live your best life, stay safe, and be selfish. Black and brown folk thrive off of our support systems, our “village,” and quarantine is cutting many people off from their village, so finding ways to keep those support [systems] in place or find ways to integrate them into our lives during quarantine is my biggest bit of advice. Because of our race, we sometimes feel the need to do extra or overcompensate because society tells us that we aren’t good enough and we need to do more to be “equal” to others, but right now do your best and feel good about it.

Have you seen emotional hurt (such as heartbreak) manifest across other forms of wellness? If so, how so?

Yes, when a person gets heartbroken, sometimes they start to cope with it by creating a new maladaptive behavior that can make them feel better temporarily, but then starts to negatively impact another aspect of their wellness. For example, I’ve personally seen a heartbreak turn into an eating disorder and drug addiction. Those two new behaviors might make the person forget about their heartbreak, but now you have two new behaviors that are going to have an enormous impact on their wellness.

I think one of the long-term effects of the pandemic will be the mental health issues that it’ll leave us with. What do you see the long-term effects being, mental health wise? How can we combat it?

This is a complex question, but without being long-winded, I truly think we will see a lot of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because humans are creatures of habit, and right now, we are living through uncertainty which evokes a flood of emotions and feelings. To combat it, I would say go to therapy, start to exercise, do yoga, and look into medical marijuana because there is good research [behind] it.

What are some signs that someone is struggling with anxiety, and how do you advise them to cope?

Some signs might be, a person being irritable, easily aroused, reacts to loud noises, sudden change of behaviors, avoidance of large crowds, and often wants to be alone. The best way to help someone cope with anxiety is to ask them how you can support them because everyone experiences anxiety differently.

What do you recommend to remain vulnerable during such uncertain times?

Be around people you feel safe with. Being vulnerable isn’t easy because vulnerability encompasses trust and trust can be easily broken. Building and maintaining trust takes time and gradual progression because test can look very different across the board. But, trust is the tip of the iceberg and underneath is a genuine relationship that’s build on chemistry and a genuine connection. Trust is fragile so never rush it. Be your most genuine self and let it be.

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