Racial Trauma

Self-Care, Battle Fatigue, and other Resources

Counseling / Self-Help / Racial Trauma
VCU University Counseling Services [View Image]

Statement of Support

University Counseling Services recognizes the insidious nature of oppression that privileges certain individuals while disadvantaging others. UCS acknowledges that racism may manifest in different ways as we recognize that race intersects with other sociocultural identities, such as ethnicity, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability status, immigration status, and more. 

The recent acts of racial injustice that have occurred at the national and local level continue to highlight racial oppression Black individuals face. This includes racism in its many systemic forms and incorporates overt and covert acts by individuals, groups, and institutions. While these tragedies have been salient for many of us, we recognize the particularly traumatic impact they can have on the Black community.

As a staff, we are committed to the values of anti-racism, inclusion, and multicultural diversity. We are thus committed to provide culturally informed treatment and to promote the wellbeing of VCU students directly or vicariously impacted by these traumatic experiences. We encourage you to reach out to our office for support. Additionally, If you are experiencing a mental health emergency and want to speak with a crisis clinician, please call 804-828-6200 day or night. 

Black Lives Matter.


You are appreciated.
You are valued.
You can succeed.
You belong here.
Your life matters.

We see you.
We hear you.
We care about you. 

-UCS Staff

Racial Battle Fatigue

Racism can take a physiological and/or psychological toll on individuals.

Racism is a specific stressor that can affect the well-being of students of color, particularly Black students. A range of emotions can be felt in response to experiencing racism and discrimination. For instance, research has shown that Black individuals indicate feeling disrespected, angry, insulted, disappointed, outraged, frustrated, hurt, and shocked following a racist encounter (Carter & Forsyth, 2010). Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF; Smith et al., 2007) describes the physical and psychological stress-related symptoms Black people experience while coping with existing in hostile environments.

There are a variety of psychological consequences associated with racism, such as: 

  • Anxiety. Anxiety is a common reaction to experiencing racism. You may notice yourself feeling tense, constantly alert, having difficulty concentrating on other things or feeling worried about yourself or loved ones. 
  • Depression. Experiencing racism or seeing those of your racial group experiencing it can be discouraging and disempowering. This could result in feeling depressed, sad, helpless, or hopeless about the future. You might also notice a change in your appetite, such as eating more or less than is typical for you. 
  • Anger and irritability. Anger is a valid response to social injustice; it may be felt towards individuals, those in power, or society in general. You might also notice yourself feeling more irritable with others or everyday situations. 
  • Sleep difficulties. With much on your mind and managing various reactions, you may experience difficulty sleeping. You could have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently during the night, or have upsetting dreams.  
  • Withdrawing from friends and family. Racism can tax your psychological resources. If your energy is depleted, interacting with others can be exhausting. As a result, you may notice yourself withdrawing from friends and family. 
  • Lack of motivation. It can be hard to engage in academics or extracurricular activities when you are experiencing discrimination or witnessing it occur to fellow classmates, friends, or family. This might result in a lack of motivation, making it difficult to invest in important parts of the college experience as you might typically do. 
  • Numbness. You may be unsure of what you are feeling, have trouble finding the words to describe your feelings, or not feel anything at all. It is not uncommon to feel that you are in a state of numbness. 

Some of the physiological symptoms experienced due to race-related stress include:

  • Tension headaches
  • Elevated heart rates
  • Fatigue
  • Backache
  • Elevated blood pressure

All of these reactions are understandable responses to racial injustice. You are not alone if you are experiencing them and do not have to manage them alone. 

Virginia Commonwealth University
Division of Student Affairs
907 Floyd Ave, Suite 238
Richmond, VA 23284
Phone: (804) 828-6200
Email: uccounseling@vcu.edu

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