Michael Nwah: Are Nigerians Experiencing Resilience Fatigue?
“Nigerians are resilient people,” this statement is one of the most accurate descriptors for the people of Nigeria. Nigerians are the personifications of black excellence. I say this with full conviction and no iota of doubt. It’s little wonder that we excel in almost any sphere of life across the globe.
Resilience helps us cope with and bounce back from terrible situations. Historically adapting well is one thing that Nigerians are great at, so much so that we have adages and songs about our resilience, the most common being late Fela Kuti‘s Shuffering and Shmiling.
Unfortunately, while resilience and strength are both core traits necessary for growth, they can cause more harm than good for self and community care, especially for black people.
Wellness advocate and therapist, Jor-El Caraballo, L.M.H.C., compares black resilience to feel “like walking a tightrope.” She also stated that because black people are constantly stereotyped as people of strength and resilience (think superhuman), we tend to internalise these stereotypes. The downside is that it blocks us from accepting and leaning into moments when we are tired and weak.
When we refuse to give ourselves permission to feel, acknowledge, and explore the range of emotions and feelings outside of strength and resilience, we do a disservice to ourselves, resilience fatigue or burnout can occur, which, in turn, dips our emotional and mental health.
In a 2020 Forbes essay, Mark C. Perna wrote about crisis and pandemic fatigue and how cortisol and adrenaline can wreak havoc on our physical and mental wellbeing when our bodies remain in crisis mode. Marks pegs resilience as a major trait that we need to navigate pandemic and crisis fatigue.
There’s no silver bullet to solve all of our career and mental-health problems at once, but there is a trait that every worker, employed and unemployed, can start developing to tackle these challenges: resilience. But what happens when you burn out on that front too? What happens to a people like Nigerians that have had to navigate seemingly endless crisis? This brings us back to resilience burnout.
Resilience fatigue is the abject exhaustion people encounter from attempting to act (and stay) strong, motivated, positive, or inspired in the face of constant adversities, stress, and challenges. Since there is that burden to be strong, and the stereotype that black people are always strong and resilient, there is the temptation to keep smiling and moving. There is the temptation to keep the engine revving at the max non-stop, however, the good news is that we don’t always have to. So consider this your permission slip to remove the vest that has an ‘S’ on the chest. It is okay to feel your feelings.
It is okay to say “I don’t feel (or want to be) strong today.” To say “Today, I can’t be patriotic towards my country, today, I am sad, and all I want to do is cry, today, I am mad at everything – the system of things, the restrictions, the oppression, the societal constructs, everything.”
Give yourself permission to create space for these feelings. It is okay to feel guilt, fear, shame, anger, frustration, and more. Give yourself the permission to ask for both professional and non-professional help.
Two other tools I would recommend are practising meditation and self-compassion. If you are not familiar with meditation, start by breathing in and out, noticing your breath and staying ‘with’ your breath for a couple of minutes – when your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your breath. Self-compassion can take different forms for different people, you can read this to help you get started.
Remember that there is strength in accepting moments we feel exhausted, tired, defeated, and weak.