on the School Night special
In preparation for the show, Keidra Chaney, Fred Sasaki, and I turned to the writing of author and activist Audre Lorde for perspective on why artists and activists should concentrate on self-preservation, especially at a time when political and economic forces will actively seek to impoverish and weaken them. Lorde wrote in her 1988 book of essays, A Burst of Light, that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
Artist and professional counselor Alice Berry specializes in helping artists maintain a necessary resource: mental health. As a primer to the ensuing conversation, we offer an excerpt from her “Artist’s Guide to Mental Health.”
Artist’s Guide to Mental Health
Relaxation, Inspiration & Flow
Stress is an ever-present fact of life for most people at some time in their lives. For our purposes, when I refer to stress, I’m speaking of the physiological response to some event or situation that causes what is known as the “fight or flight response.” This is a thousands of years old evolutionary development that caused us to be able to react quickly when we saw a tiger coming for our group on the savannah. It developed for good reason, and it’s still really necessary, when all sorts of daily situations call for that type of quick response, both physically and mentally. The problem in our modern society is that we have difficulty distinguishing from real stress situations and responses and those that may not be life threatening. When that happens, the difficulty comes in not being able to return to baseline, or reset our bodies to a state where we’re not in a heightened response state.
When this happens over a period of time, our bodies and minds become “tuned for stress” and we go through life at a low level of fight or flight. The physiological effects of this can cause damage both in the short term and over time. Some of the long term physical effects of constant stress are increased cholesterol, leading to heart disease, an impaired immune system, and increased inflammation which is linked to a variety of health problems. There are also mental effects, which can be even more important for us to consider, since we are depending on the flexibility and quickness of our thoughts and ability to continue to be effective in the world.
Ongoing stress can shorten the attention span, cause automatic or chronic habitual behavior, and cause people to be less likely to notice detail or perceive subtlety.
It can be hard to tease apart automatic stress responses and those that we bring on ourselves. Subjecting ourselves to deadlines, engaging in negative behaviors, allowing ourselves to be in a state of constant worry or anxiety are all ways that mental activity can cause mental and physiological stress responses. One of the considerations we need to realize is that being aware of when and how we react to stress and how to manage it is a way of being empowered in society. Knowing what can be most effective to create a sense of wellbeing, whatever the technique or action, is not frivolous, it is critical. It is also important to remember that we cannot be helpful, loving or effective for other people if we are not healthy and strong in our awareness and sense of self. Being focused, balanced and mentally strong is a way to be more effective in efforts to create change in ourselves and change society.
on the event
Tonight, Berry will lead us through six basic types of relaxation techniques that can counteract the response to stressful events. Paying particular attention to artists and activists working for radical change, we will also discuss other ways to cope with stressors we face on a daily basis. Berry will be joined by activist Asean Johnson, musician Lakshmi Ramgopal, and writer Jess Skolnik.