Health is physical, mental, and social well-being.
All too often, life gets in the way of healthy eating and exercise. We forget to take time to manage life’s stressors.
Our identities and perspectives shape how we experience health and recognize and cope with stress.
This year’s Black History Month theme is Black Health and Wellness, a subject near and dear to CFA member Dr. Portia Jackson Preston. The CSU Fullerton assistant professor teaches stress management and public health administration and researches the disparate impacts of stress on Black students, staff, and communities at large.
“It’s important to do work to understand the experiences of students from underrepresented populations at our campuses,” Jackson Preston said. “The Black experience is a unique experience of combating racism and sexism and other structural issues, and it impacts our ability to engage in self-care.”
Much of Jackson Preston’s research amplifies what well-being is for Black faculty and students. She has assisted the Chancellor’s Office on well-being initiatives centering on basic needs. She also helped develop a seven-week curriculum of student self-care practices for use in class by CSU Fullerton and Los Angeles faculty, with plans to expand this program to the remaining 21 CSU campuses.
Jackson Preston also works on stress management practices for faculty. Black educators – especially women – face daunting challenges in a profession that encourages and expects continual self-sacrifice.
“I think it was Zora Neale Hurston who said, ‘Black women are the mules of the world.’ We’re supposed to be so strong, to make things look easy, to work twice as hard,” Jackson Preston said. “[Black women] live in a world that’s not ready for us, we live in a world that doesn’t know how to deal with us. Society has an obligation to see what the world looks like through our eyes. The life expectancy for Black women in academia is too short.”
Using her story as an example, even though she’s a public health researcher, it took the diagnosis of a chronic disease to convince Jackson Preston to slow down and care for herself.
“Stress was wreaking havoc on my life. When people would tell me stress can affect your health, I did not believe them,” she said. “When I was in remission, I cared for myself in a radically different way.”
Self-care allows us to connect with something positive in a toxic world. Jackson Preston suggests a few strategies: re-connecting with your foundation; embracing a beginner’s mind; nurturing what you want to see grow; letting go of control and perfection; and finding healing in community.
Jackson Preston embodied those five themes when she started her own garden as a way to heal from strains of the outside world. By partnering with plants in the growing process, she was able to connect with the land and her ancestors in finding her own resilience.
If we are to experience joy and happiness in our busy, complicated – and, for many, trauma-filled – lives, we must find ways to nurture and heal, even as we address systemic issues. Self-care can include walking in nature, engaging in play, spending time with loved ones, resting, and journaling.
“As educators, we are not taught to have compassion for ourselves when things don’t work out,” Jackson Preston said. “We need stress- and anxiety-reducing practices to help us cope and support each other.”