This Is the One Morning Trick This Afro-Latinx Founder Does to Find Her Zen

Janel Martinez of the blog Ain't I Latina? talks self-care, her Latinx heritage, and work during COVID.

Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.

Janel Martinez, writer and founder of the award-winning blog celebrating Afro-Latinx womanhood, Ain’t I Latina?, says she was always an inquisitive child—but had no idea that she wanted to be a journalist and writer. “You’d find me parked in front of the TV watching ’90s sitcoms like Living SingleThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Parent ‘Hood or flipping through VibeEssence or Jet magazines, to name a few,” the 31-year-old tells HelloGiggles. But while she did find parts of herself in the media, she didn’t see true media representation of Afro-Latinxs outside of her circle of family and friends. “I later found out several of my TV favorites were Black of Latin American and/or Caribbean descent, but that was never centered in their narratives,” she explains. “I wanted to see more of our stories told across mediums.”

This desire led Martinez to go to journalism school and major in magazine journalism, and eventually to a career helping tell Black and brown stories for various media outlets. She launched Ain’t I Latina? in 2013. “We’re highlighting and amplifying our stories via the website and our social media platforms,” she says of the blog. And due to her achievement, she was recently given a #YoSoy Award at the Hispanic Heritage Awards for being a Latinx leader in her community.

Even though Ain’t I Latina? has been up and running for seven years, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought some projects to a halt. Martinez is focused on using this time to remind herself to lead her team by example and slow down. “I used to invest heavily in grind culture and the idea [that] no one can outwork me. However, I’ve realized how unsustainable and harmful that perspective can be,” she says. “This was the first time in years I felt I could ‘slow down.’ It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic.”

Martinez explains that while she initially panicked when the pandemic caused multiple speaking opportunities to be canceled or rescheduled, she eventually realized that she had to navigate this “new normal” by putting her self-care first. “I became a bit gentler with myself. That meant that I wasn’t posting as much. I did what I could, provided resources and insight when I could but, ultimately, I had to take care of myself in order to be of service to myself and others,” she says.

For this week’s Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Martinez to learn more about her journey with mental health, her relationship with her Afro-Latinx heritage, and her go-to self-care rituals.

Mental Health

HelloGiggles (HG): How have the events of 2020 affected your mental health?

Janel Martinez (JM): I lost my grandfather at the start of the pandemic, and it led me to really take an honest look at how I was living. I went through a range of emotions. I still am. I had no choice but to slow down. My family needed me, and I needed to be the best version of myself to get through the initial shock of him no longer being earthside. I think every person living at this time is experiencing a form of grief. It just so happened that I’d grieve “my old life” and one of the most important people in my life. I’m still working through it. I’ve had to lean into my self-care rituals: journaling, yoga/running, and rest. Lean into my loved ones. 

HG: How have you been making sure you’re making room for joy and light in your life, even when the news is so bleak?

JM: I’ve limited my news consumption and have implemented what I refer to as “social media slowdowns.” Though it can feel like I have to be on social media all the time, at times, when I know I need to share specific content, I’ll hop on Twitter or Instagram, share it, and hop right off. I’ve stopped watching the news. I subscribe to certain news-related newsletters, so I may get my dose of what’s happening from my inbox but I skim and I’m done. If I see things getting too heavy on my timeline, I log out. I have to prioritize my peace of mind, period.

HG: What are your go-to practices for managing your mental health, especially in times of stress?

JM: My go-to practices are very simple, but keep me so grounded. I have to start my day with “me time,” which consists of journaling and moving my body. In a perfect world, I have time to go for a run or do yoga daily; however, if I don’t have time, just moving my body (i.e. blasting music and dancing for 5-10 minutes) does the trick. I fall off on occasion so I give myself some grace. I love essential oils, so during my morning and evening showers I place a few drops into the water while it’s steaming up and I feel like I’m in a spa. I typically do peppermint in the morning and lavender at night. Also, you can’t underestimate a good cry when needed.

HG: As a journalist and blog founder, how do you handle your work-life balance?

JM: I don’t believe in work-life balance. Somedays the priority will be my professional life and other days it’ll be my personal life, or some combination of the two. Accepting that there’s no harmonious balance has kept me sane. I rely heavily on my Google calendars, which are all synced, and now my weekly planner. Everything has its place.

HG: Do you deal with “Sunday Scaries” at all, and if so, what do you do?

JM: I deal with anxiety so it could be “Sunday Scaries” or “Friday Frights”—my mind doesn’t discriminate on the day. It can kick into anxiety mode whenever. What’s helped me navigate it has been staying present. I remind myself all I can control is the moment I’m in and it’s not helping me to “predict” outcomes when I have no idea how things will play out. It’s easier said than done, but I’m getting better at it.

Physical Practices

HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately, especially on weekends?

JM: I definitely schedule a run in on the weekends. I’ll use the Nike Training app for the pre-run stretch or maybe something I come across on Instagram, then I hit the park.

Community Care

HG: How have you been connecting with your loved ones recently—in-person, over Zoom, through letters, etc?

JM: I’ve been able to socially distance visit my parents, but it’s hard. I haven’t hugged my mom, my abuela, since the beginning of the year. I’ve probably attended two socially distanced engagements but haven’t been in the same space as so many of my loved ones. I’m still processing this “new reality.”  Phone and Zoom have had to do for the most part.  

HG: As the founder of Ain’t I Latina?, how have you been working to support the Afro-Latina community during this difficult time?

JM: We’re continuing to support our community amid this difficult time. No matter what’s happening in the world, my commitment to doing so will always be present. That takes on many forms from Instagram Lives, like the conversation I had with fellow Black Latina/Garifuna self-awareness coach Nory Pouncil on managing emotions during uncertain times, and Zoom panels to sharing uplifting content through our Instagram page, namely our Stories.

Personal Joys

HG: Do you have any self-care-related products or rituals you’ve been gravitating to lately?

JM: I love watering my plants. There’s something so grounding about seeing your plants respond to being taken care of. Caring for my maranta, or prayer plant has been really fulfilling.

HG: What advice do you have for people trying to balance activism and outreach with taking care of themselves?

JM: I don’t consider myself an activist. I’m a concerned being, though, and having a platform like Ain’t I Latina? does place me in a position where I am advocating for the representation of Black Latinx women. For me, I have to take care of myself in order to make sure I can support and amplify the narrative of others.

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