SAKINA for Easing Internalized Academic Oppression

Over the years, I have been paying attention to the anxieties radical scholars face: imposter syndrome, overwhelm, and fear. Over and over, people tell me things like:

I spend 50% of my writing time constrained by these anxieties. 

I go through complete despair.

It feels like torture.

I  waste so much of my time anxious and then I feel even worse.

I can relate. The years I spent struggling with internalized academic oppression practically broke me. I was either bottling it up or raging. I was far from grounded and lost my creative spark.

I began studying the biology of emotions. I now understand that if I want to heal for writing prosperity, I am going to need a re-grounding practice in order to train my body what the future I want feels like now and then grow that emotional state within me.

While capitalist society teaches us that our actions create our future (i.e. if we write a book, we will get tenure), the universe operates the other way around.  Our thoughts create our emotions and our emotions create our future. From a grounded emotional state, all else will flow. It’s another way of saying that what we put out into the world comes back to us tenfold.

I call my regrounding practice SAKINA, which means tranquility in Arabic. Here’s how it works:


Stop Working. Move away from your computer. Avoiding texting or social media. Do…nothing. The goal is to stop thinking. It will not help. Observe your emotions with self-compassion. No beating yourself up and no negative self-talk. As you observe your emotions, they will start to move and transform, even dissipate. You have to feel it to heal it!


Align with Joy.  Do anything that you enjoy—listen to your favorite song, smell some flowers, or feel the sunshine on your face. It’s hard to feel joy when you’re feeling down or depressed. That’s why regrounded is a practice. It takes time. With practice, you just might find the power of joy within you.


Kindle the Joy. Revel in positive emotions until they grow. Allow them to grow, elevate, and manifest. Think deeply about why you love this song, the hug, the flowers, or the sunshine. Say it out loud, sing it, scream it, and share it. The more you allow yourself to feel it, the more it will grow in you.


Inquire. Ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to take responsibility for my emotional state? Has academia led me to perceive myself as less-than or unworthy or to organize my behaviors in reaction to what I think/guess others are thinking about me/my work? Do I have the power within me to replace habitual trauma inspired thoughts with new ones? What if I affirmed that loving myself is the most powerful thing I can do or that I may never find harmony with an unharmonious system but I might find harmony within myself? What if I am the harmony I’ve been looking for?


Notice. Notice what it feels like to turn your attention away from the violence we are reacting to towards trusting in ourselves. Notice the harmony that grows when your desire (i.e. to write a book, conduct research, etc.) aligns with your thoughts and emotions (i.e. I am well resourced, with many ideas about this topic). Notice what you might need in order to love yourself more and to uplift your well of inner resources, and the worthiness that all of our beautiful selves were born with.


Act.  Implement the changes you need to align your goals with what you are putting out into the world, to manifest your desires and your writing prosperity. Plan to carve out space for your groundedness practice.

Sure, SAKINA is easier said than done. To be sure, it is not a one time cure but a regular practice, a journey of healing. I find it especially powerful when integrated with social movements committed to transforming violent systems into systems of collective love, light, and glory.

Nadine Naber

Nadine Naber is professor of gender and women’s studies and global Asian studies, and interim director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author and/or co-editor of five books, including Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (NYU Press, 2012) and Color of Violence (Duke University Press, 2016). She is a TEDx speaker, board member of the Arab American Action Network, co-founder of Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity, founder of Liberate Your Research, founder of the Arab American Cultural Center, and co-founder of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program (University of Michigan). Nadine is a Public Voices fellow, columnist for the Chicago Reporter, recipient of the American Studies Association Carl Bode-Norman Holmes Pearson Lifetime Achievement Prize and the YWCA's Y-Women's Leadership Award.

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