S1 E1 – Imposter syndrome
S1 E1 – Imposter syndrome Many young professionals, are haunted by the feeling of being a fraud, or an ‘imposter’. In today’s episode Clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane is in conversation with TSBU co-founder Andrew Le Roux, who opens up about his experience and how he got through it. In the discussion, Linda and Andrew share insights and strategies to cope and how imposter syndrome can actually be a chance for growth.Listen to the podcast below:
PODCAST: Connecting with your body to heal trauma
In this episode of the series Trauma: The Silent Scream, TSBU clinical psychologists Linda Mthenjane and Gugu Gigaba stir our curiosity by exploring where we carry pain and discomfort in our bodies. These are the places our bodies have closed around psychological trauma … and ultimately, it’s where the healing begins.Listen to the full podcast below: In starting an important conversation about trans-generational trauma and looking at what it would take for us to truly heal the trauma of the past, clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane details how our bodies hold trauma by sharing a story from psychologist Tara Brach.It’s a story about how a woman goes back to her traumatised childhood self and a “good fairy” helps her body hold her feelings in different places until she is ready for her body to start unwinding its secrets and she can let go.“Your body reminds you” says Mthenjane. “Your body doesn’t forget. It reminds you … you’ve been here before.” And awareness of that pain and discomfort is “the first level of prescription that we know as talk therapists.”Clinical psychologist Gugu Gigaba agreed and spoke about trauma as the silent scream. “It speaks to the significant despair, the significant experience of walking around in despair but not being able to express it or externalise it in ways that actually relieve you.”And so, Gigaba invites us all to walk on this journey with them. “Allow yourself to sit with whatever it is that you’re feeling and let’s try and see what the gift in that is … and how it helps us progress in our journey towards understanding this trauma.”She guides us through an exercise that helps us locate the pain in our bodies and to listen to our bodies until we feel a sense of calm. It’s a beautiful way to end this episode that can only be described as a psychological balm for our hidden wounds. Listen to the full podcast here and make sure you hit subscribe so you never miss an episode.
Feel like a fraud?
According to the American Psychological Association, Imposter Syndrome occurs among high achievers who struggle to accept their success, often attributing it to luck. We chat to TSBU clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane about imposter syndrome, what it is, what triggers it, and how we can break through these shackles that so often bind us: and ultimately open ourselves to growth.“If you’re breathing, if you’re human, you’ve probably experienced imposter syndrome at least once in your life,” says TSBU clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane. ‘It is a lot more common than you think. Whenever we open the discussion around this topic in our TSBU workshops, all hands shoot up in affirmation. So it is definitely something we need to address; particularly for young professionals facing the unrelenting demands of the 21st century workplace.”So what is imposter syndrome exactly?Linda Mthenjane: We call it syndrome, but it isn't an official diagnosis, so it’s more accurate to call it a phenomenon. And it’s really this feeling that ‘someone is going to know you’re not good enough’. That you’re going to be found out as a fraud somehow, despite your job title, your past successes, your degrees and education, your skills and abilities.Some people describe it as a disconnect between what they see in the people around them and what they feel inside; when it seems like everyone else is in control and together while they’re feeling messy and anxious.But the truth is that imposter syndrome mostly affects the high achievers among us. So instead of believing that you are mediocre, insufficient, or unremarkable, I’m telling you right now that you are, in fact, remarkable.What triggers imposter syndrome?Any transitional period in life, particularly a career-oriented transition is a hotspot for imposter syndrome. You could be a young professional transitioning from university to your first job and establishing your place in the world, or you could be a successful 40-something actuary moving to a new company. Imposter syndrome is a recurring theme throughout our lives and the new experiences that we move through.Another important trigger to be aware of is the workplace culture. When we applaud overwork, we’re feeding imposter syndrome. Work cultures that withhold praise compel people to chase even the smallest acknowledgement. Organisations that demand absolute perfection breed the mindset of never being good enough. Managers who constantly shift the goal posts can push you into an endless cycle of continuously trying to prove yourself.Is imposter syndrome connected to self-esteem?Very much so. Self-esteem is the ability to hold yourself in positive regard. So despite your complexity and fallibility, no matter where you are in your life journey, no matter what others are doing around you, you are still grounded in the inner belief that I am enough.When we experience imposter syndrome however, our inner beliefs are devaluing who we truly are. No matter what the external evidence is, our inner dialogue becomes a stream of judgemental, diminishing, and often shaming interference in our heads. And because our inner beliefs and thoughts shape our reality, we might find ourselves holding back and playing small rather than risk the chance of being exposed as an imposter.The good news is that our beliefs, while they may be deeply embedded, are not cast in stone. We can change them. And we do that by challenging them and harnessing positive self-talk as a daily tool. How can we change self-talk from negative to positive?A very powerful form of self-talk is I can do this. It’s a wonderful way to walk through life. But because so many of our core self-beliefs are formed in early childhood, some of us have to work a little harder to create the inner beliefs and positive self-talk that propel us forward.Simply recognising our negative inner dialogue is an important first step. And when it comes to actually changing the voice in our heads, I find that reframing the idea of positive self-talk as self-compassion is particularly helpful.Learn to take a pause and rather speak to yourself with compassion and kindness, and start adjusting your actions, even small ones, to match this new, more positive and empowering internal dialogue that you’re developing. The energy you might spend seeking external validation is far more valuable when you place it on developing your self-esteem; moment by moment, hour by hour. The dedication it takes to wire our brains differently is worth it.Do you think that imposter syndrome can lead to growth?I like to think that every challenge is a possibility, and imposter syndrome opens the doors to many opportunities. The opportunity to lean into your strengths, the opportunity to become vulnerable, and the opportunity for growth.Leaning into your strengths is a key choice that you can make when you’re challenged by imposter syndrome. Nobody knows everything. No one person is good at everything. I find that people who really overcome imposter syndrome are those who accept that they don’t have to excel at absolutely everything. They lean into their particular set of strengths while leaning into others for their strengths. And that really leads into the power of vulnerability.To be vulnerable is to push open doors you never knew existed. In my conversation with our TSBU co-founder Andrew Le Roux about imposter syndrome, Andrew shares how being willing to have the conversation, being willing to ask the ‘stupid’ question, opened a space of authenticity between him and his colleagues. It strengthened relationships, brought him new knowledge, actually added value to the discussion, and turned out not to be such a stupid question after all! There are such riches that can come from vulnerability.The growth comes when we turn our questions inward. It’s always a good exercise to unpack why we might be feeling like an imposter. In that ‘imposter moment’, we can choose to stay there, or we can choose to reframe what’s happening. Is there any validity to this feeling? Is there a new skill we could be learning? A new mentor we could approach? Can we open ourselves up to different ideas, different ways of doing things? What can we learn from others? Or do we simply need to embrace that we are all a work in progress? It’s an empowering thought, because every day we have the chance to actively shape who we are.
The Inevitable Stages of Relationships
‘I don’t love you, like I used to…’We grow up thinking that our goal in relationships is to find “the one”. And when we eventually meet someone special, it’s easy to belive that the honeymoon phase will never end. But love isn’t sustained by the heady first moments and (pheromones). Psychologist Linda Mthenjane unpacks the inevitable stages love undergoes to reach maturity. Understanding your contribution to the frustrations in your relationship, committing to being in it for the marathon rather than the sprint and understanding what your partner needs to heal and grow will bring you closer to your beloved. When we meet someone who knocks us off our feet, makes our palms sweat and simply takes us breath away, in those moments we cannot imagine that this intense chemical reaction may come to an end. What many don’t realise in those intoxicating early stages of a relationship is that we are on endogenous drugs. In fact neurobiologist like Stan Tatkin call it courtship brain or a love fog– basically an addicted brain. We have dopamine, noradrenaline - testosterone oxytocic, neurochemicals coursing through our brain and this changes the way we feel, the way we see our beloved other. What we know for sure is that we are not operating from our clear-thinking brain. For some people this stage lasts 3 months others three years but you can rest assured it will change – with the introductions of family, children, life. This chemical reaction will ebb. So, what does it take then you would ask to keep these flames going – in the face of Life, “reality” what I call – did you get the milk and bread hum drum of life. Is it possible to keep this spark alive? Our starting point is really just to understand the natural process of the ebbs and flows of all that is intimate . Knowing and talking about stages of a relationship helps us better navigate this journey . Therapists such as Gary Chapman , Terry Real, Ester Perel and Harville Hendrix have given these different names, the essence is clear : it is a time when we are 1) connected, then 2) disconnected and 3) more deeply and richly connected, if we put in the work we will reap the benefits. Let’s take a walk though these stages. The process I describe below in by no means linear -I have seen couples move from spring to winter in a matter of an afternoon – the seasons are largely cyclical – but the more we learn to repair well and quickly the deeper the relationship becomes. STAGE 1 - In Love or Love without Knowledge – When we fall in love our brain becomes flooded with neurochemicals such as phenylethylamine. These neurochemicals increase our positive outlook, diminish pain, and cause us to feel safe and calm. They anesthetise us so that we can commit to a relationship. When we fall in love we may feel a sense of oneness or completion with our beloved. Some call it a soul connection . This ‘love addiction’ as termed by Pia Melody’s like a fix. It also usually at this stage of the relationship that we don’t take note of each other’s flaws - those aspects of the person that leaves sweetener packets on the counter, talks non-stop, sometimes drinks too much or is stingy at the wrong times! In this stage we definitely have poor judgement of our beloved,Gary Chapman calls this the “Summer of Relationships” The birds are singing, everything is in full bloom, and everything is beautiful. Things are sizzling. Our partner can do no wrong and all we see is the good. In Zulu we say – luse pink uthando. STAGE 2 Disillusionment OR Knowledge with no Love But as life happens change can happen at any time caused by any of life’s many fluctuations, such as a new baby, a new job, fear of losing work, losing work, death of a child, death of a parent or inlaws take their grip. Life will intervene in this bubble. Reality will set in, we look at our partner we think now that we really know our partner, we don’t really like what we see. We conclude before they finish their sentences, we make assumptions on who they are what they meant when they said or did this or the other. It is sometimes called by Harville Hendrix the Power Struggle or the Winter of the relationship by Gary Chapman. The phenylethylamine begins to wear off and there is an intense feeling of disillusionment , almost as if we were fooled into being with the wrong partner. We think that if we had made the right , different choice we would still be experiencing romantic love. We notice what a slob they are, how they leave their socks lying around, how they chew with their mouths open, how we don’t really agree on anything.The truth is that the power struggle is inevitable and is a natural consequence of the brain’s withdrawal from these love chemicals. We begin to get defensive and focus on protecting ourselves instead of engaging in the relationship. We even begin to dislike many of the things that made us fall in love in the first place. When we fell in love we may have been intrigued by our partner’s fun loving personality, which we may now find that same trait loud and irresponsible.. You might find that you're starting to have some resentment creep in because you're not resolving conflicts well. You're still in love with them but the volume knob on feeling “in love” has been turned down. If couples don't take care to address the cracks that are starting to creep into the foundation, many will drift apart. And bolstered by our feelings of entitlement will go on to find a matched partner or confusion at having gotten it so wrong we may struggle to reconcile the benefits of staying versus the pain of starting over. If a love interest beckons with Stage 1 hormones, it may be difficult to resist the impulsive to leap out into something else – a relationship that will most likely end up in similar dissatisfaction. Why does it have to be this way? Did we make a mistake? The truth is that all couples experience these relationship stages to some degree. What I have found is that committed relationships are one of the greatest opportunities you will find to grow and heal. From a psychological perspective we are subconsciously looking for a partner that will help make us more whole and complete. In order for this to occur, we are attracted to someone who will best stimulate our growth. This person will push our buttons and trigger some of our deepest wounds, usually from childhood. Yet if we work through these issues we can achieve enormous personal growth for ourselves and the relationship. Receiving outside counsel from a professional or trusted friends can be very beneficial. You can get support to work through your conflicts, understand how to meet each other's needs effectively, how to communicate better, how to spend more quality time together.. Your relationship needs a lot of work during winter so you have to dig in , giving it the time and energy, it needs. If you do that, you can come out of winter and go into spring and back into a deeper more realistic summer not driven by hormones but by intentional relational behaviour. STAGE 3 - A Conscious Relationship OR Knowing Love Having successfully negotiated that particular conflict the opportunity exists to begin to feel more connected to our partners. The key is how we are able to repair well. Here we each take the self-responsibility to get to know each other, be less threatening to each other’s nervous system, be able to co-regulate each other. Knowing each other’s imperfection and loving them regardless. Couples that wake up and become conscious begin the journey to the third stage of relationships which is called Real Love or the Conscious relationship. One of the most important ingredients to a long-time successful relationship is when couples are able to answer the question – what do I need to do for you so that I can get what I need? Conscious couples in this stage will tolerate the “otherness” of their partner with much more grace and generosity. Together they will learn to explore their issues, finding the balance between feeling safe enough to meet their partner’s needs, holding onto their own separate self, all whilst feeling un-threatened by their partner’s uniqueness. Becoming conscious of the power struggle, no longer getting locked inside the issue, and seeing the big picture enables couples to become more balanced. Knowing these cyclic stages of relationships is incredibly helpful for couples who may become despondent once they start to face a rough patch in their relationship. Or may even believe that the relationship has prematurely come to its end.Understanding your contribution to the frustrations in your relationship, committing to being in it for the marathon rather than the sprint and understanding what your partner needs to heal and grow will bring you closer to your beloved. Deciding on a daily at times moment to moment basis, to mindfully choose the one you are with, will begin to lead one to experience love on a deeper, more mature level providing hope to weather the storm and confidence to commit to cultivating a deeply satisfying relationship. About the AuthorLinda Mthenjane is a registered clinical psychologist, a writer and mental health advocate, with over 24 years of experience . Her “ikigai” is to help people live more connected and relational lives. She is a qualified clinical psychologist, a certified relationship therapist and coach, passionate about developing and nurturing healthy relationships , contributing to the development and upholding of the fabric of society.
Grieving and growing in the hybrid workplace
Is there a way that we can soften the reality of grieving in the hybrid workplace? And more than that, can we still find a way to grow in the midst of it all? Our TSBU writers team up with TSBU counselling psychologist Ivy Mugambi to find our way through.Nothing can quite prepare us for grief. The loss of someone we love, the loss of a dream job, or the loss of a way of life often affects us in ways we could never imagine. But there is always hope, there is always growth, and we can still find our way through – even in a world that is shifting like never before. The way we grieve has changedThere’s no doubt: the lines have been blurred. Where once it was easier to draw distinct lines between our work and our private lives, the advent of remote work, the “new normal”, and even the newer trend of the hybrid workplace, have smudged the edges we once knew. And this is exactly why TSBU counselling psychologist Ivy Mugambi says we should “gift ourselves with self-compassion”.In practicing self-compassion in our personal lives, rituals are an important step towards accepting our new realities and all the emotions that come with it. In every culture, rituals have always been accepted as a mark of change, and honouring those we love, but today’s world asks that we bring some of those comforting rituals into the hybrid workplace too.Mugambi says that rituals and routines can anchor us as we move through the highs and lows of our emotions. “Think of any act that replenishes your body, mind, and soul. It could be anything from exercise and gardening to playing music, prayer, and meditation.” One ritual that leans into the home as well as the workplace is to create a dedicated space in a room or on your desk for quiet moments of reflection. In How to grieve in a socially-distanced world, we explore more ways to create new rituals.Navigating grief in the hybrid workplace When your bereavement leave ends and you find yourself back at your desk, facing the everyday demands of work and productivity, you can take comfort in the knowledge that there are ways that you can make the most of the hybrid workplace – and soften the difficulties during your grief.Boundaries have become a little more challenging to establish and maintain in the hybrid workplace. But as challenging as it may be to set your boundaries, remember that they create not only a sense of safety for yourself, but can also foster clarity for you and the team you’re working with. Take the time to think about what is acceptable for you during this time, and communicate it in a way that is comfortable for you – even if you have to put it in an email.Isolation is something that many of us experience in the midst of our grief. Even when we’re in the company of others who have faced their own grief at one time or another, we can still feel a disconnection. We all work through grief in our unique ways. When the hybrid workplace comes into play, it often adds to these feelings of isolation. So if you’re feeling the need for more social connections with your colleagues, consider putting yourself forward for a team collaboration, a brainstorm, networking opportunities, or ask a mentor to take you under their wing. Burnout is a concern not just in grief, but in the hybrid workplace too. While stress is already heightened by the trauma of loss, the hybrid workplace makes many of us feel as though we need to constantly push the extra mile to prove that we’re not taking advantage of the self-directed nature of the new normal. Check in with yourself often, be aware of the signs of burnout, and keep your channels of communication as open and as clear as you can with a team leader you trust. The Burnout and Boundaries for Young Professionals podcast with TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu is well worth a listen too!Better breaks are the new normal too in the hybrid work model. Place your focus on productivity rather than on the appearance of seeming busy. Even in the best of times our minds need a break, but it’s even more important when we’re grieving. ‘Grief brain’ can often make it harder to concentrate, so take the time to update your calendar with scheduled breaks for a walk, a little gardening, a journaling session, or even a quick nap if that’s what you need.Transforming grief into growth‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.’ – Mulan. You may have heard these words before, and although they may not ring true for you right now, scientists are actively studying what they call adversarial growth. Because it really is possible for us become stronger in our struggles.To keep growing as a person within the hybrid workplace, Mugambi encourages us to feel, to experience the emotions associated with what we have lost. Because our feelings affect our thoughts, which in turn affect our behaviour. “When we name our emotions, it allows us to release the trapped feelings, redirect that energy positively, to develop emotional flexibility through life’s ups and downs, and ultimately, to heal, and thrive.”Here are the questions Mugambi says we should ask ourselves as we grow through grief:What has changed? Acknowledge that losses come with change and that something in your life is now different. This mental acceptance allows you to embrace the facts of your reality.What am I feeling? Use feeling words to name the emotions connected to the changes in your life. Am I sad, angry, lonely, relieved, or frustrated? This is critical for your healing journey because it allows you to accept all the uncomfortable parts of yourself without judging. Journaling and mindfulness are just some ways to place your feelings in the present. What are my feelings telling me about my deepest longings? In asking this question, we start to recognise that there are values and lessons attached to our feelings. For example, the loneliness, sadness, and pain that is felt after the death of a loved one may be a reminder of how deeply we value family, friendships, and in general, healthy human connections. Mugambi also gently reminds us that grief is something we go through, not under, over, or around. So please remember to keep pulling your focus back to the things that feel nurturing and comforting to you. And remember that it’s more than okay to reach out for professional help when you start feeling overwhelmed.For clinical guidance in working through your grief, take a look at the TSBU Dealing with Loss and Grief online workshop to help you build skills and face these challenging times one day at a time. Or simply start by reading Ambiguous loss: Living with unresolved grief with TSBU clinical psychologist Bongiwe Sokhela as she breaks down the uncertainty of ambiguous loss.
Succeeding as an introvert in the workplace
Never mind what anyone tells you … introverted people can be a major asset in the workplace. So do yourself a favour, take a few moments with our TSBU writers and TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu as we show you how to succeed as an introvert in the workplace.The world is not just about extroverts. Introverts have the skills to be leaders and movers and shakers, too. Just look at what famous introverts like Rosa Parks, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Meryl Streep, and Mark Zuckerberg have achieved. Have we got your attention yet? Excellent. Read on!How do I know if I’m an introvert?We think the dictionary needs a little updating. Because being an introvert does not necessarily mean that you are shy. TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu says that introverted people can have high levels of confidence and voice their opinions easily, however they rather choose to form well thought out points before doing so. “We can actually learn from them but utilising the ‘stop, think, and act/speak’ methods that come very naturally to them.” she says.For a better understanding of personality types, we also look to psychologist Carl Jung, who popularised the introverted and extroverted personality types in the 1920s. And we love how he puts it in terms of energy.Quite simply, introverts and extroverts are two different personality types who give and gather their energy in different ways. Extroverted people turn outwards, towards other people to gain their energy. Introverted people turn inwards, into their own minds to gather their energy and to recharge. And while nobody is 100% introverted or extroverted, here are some signs that you may be leaning more towards introversion.You could be an introvert if you:Are very self-awareFeel quite comfortable being aloneHave few, but very close friends Prefer working on your own rather than in a groupAre drawn to jobs that give you more independenceLike to learn by watchingPrefer writing to talkingTake your time to make decisionsNeed some quiet space to concentrateFind yourself reflecting or daydreaming oftenFeel drained after spending time in a crowdWithdraw into your own mind to restDoes this sound like it could be you? For a more definitive answer, you can also take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test.How do introverts succeed in the workplace?One of the most important things to remember about your mental health as an introvert is to find ways to cope when the outside world becomes too much. The workplace can be very frenetic, so keep checking in with yourself and take a little quiet time to grab a coffee or take a quick walk when you need to recharge. The more you consciously develop a personal self-care plan, the more you can harness your strengths in the workplace. So let’s look at more tips for introverts to cope at work …Find a quiet space to work. Thankfully, this is a lot easier in the newer, more flexible hybrid workplace. But if you don’t yet have the freedom to choose where and when you work, try the headphone trick. Whether you prefer to play some music or create stillness with noise-cancelling headphones, you can keep the outside distractions at bay.Turn your listening skills into a superpower. Listening is a skill that tends to come quite naturally to introverts. It also just happens to be one of the most important skills for leaders. Those who pay attention are quicker to pinpoint problems and create solutions, are more empowered to create change, and can build a stronger network. So keep fine-tuning your listening skills!Make your natural introspection your team’s ultimate go-to. Because introverts spend a lot more time absorbing, contemplating, and processing, we can be the ones everyone else turns to when they need a fresh idea or a different perspective. It was the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking who once said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds” … be that loud mind!Be prepared to speak. You’re probably not very comfortable with public presentations, but it is still an excellent opportunity for career advancement. So when the invitations come, don’t just turn them down, or try to wing it. Accept, prepare, plan exactly what you’re going to say, give yourself a few practice runs, and when it finally comes down to it, stay focussed on your material rather than the audience. Be your own PR representative. The more extroverted among us tend to get more recognition. But it doesn’t have to be that way. One way to give your accomplishments more visibility without making yourself the centre of attention is to send out group emails from time to time that highlight the latest projects you’ve championed. You could also set up one-on-one meetings with your manager to underscore your recent accomplishments and initiatives.How do I accept myself as an introvert in a world culturally biased towards extroverts?Unfortunately, the extrovert bias is a real thing. In fact, former lawyer Susan Cain quit Wall Street to write a book about how society is geared around extroverts. And although society may currently be skewed towards favouring extroverts, Khasu says there is a big misconception about introverts and their ability to self-love and accept who they are. “Introverts are generally more self-aware than extroverts because they spend a lot of time listening to their own thoughts and understanding why certain things affect them.” However, Khasu points out that introverts like to “personalise the things that happen to them”. You may believe that you are the issue that needs to be solved, but this is just because of a tendency to overthink situations. So here’s a little guidance from Khasu…Learn to understand the things happening around you. If there are incidences at work, remind yourself that there may be more than one reason as to why they have occurred. Do not attribute mistakes or mishaps to yourself only.Learn to trust yourself. Extroverts may be more verbal than you, but that does not mean that their ideas are better. Honour and acknowledge the contributions that you give too. Understand your own quiet strengths. When you compare yourself to others, you undermine your strengths. So own your abilities!Give yourself an opportunity to make mistakes too. You can learn a lot from mistakes. So be less self-critical and give yourself the freedom to try new things without overthinking the outcomes. Create a close social circle. This circle can be an incredible support system without overwhelming you. Choose people who understand you so that you don’t have to overcompensate and drain your energy. If you’re still struggling with your introverted nature and find that anxiety impacts your everyday functioning, please reach out to your physician or a mental health professional. You can also find a wealth of skills and clinical support in the TSBU workshop Young Professional Programme (YPP): Building Self esteem Beyond Performance and Dispelling the Imposter Voice.Remember, you can succeed while still being authentically you!
An Open Letter on Mental Health on World Health Day
World Health Day was founded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to raise awareness about our overall health and well-being. As we celebrate this day again, we cannot ignore how we think of, prioritise and navigate the issue of mental health. Very often when we refer to health and well-being we focus on physical health – whether we look and feel healthy and whether we are free from illness. Meanwhile, mental health has been proven to be just as important as physical health.Perhaps the reason we find it easier to focus on our physical health is because our physical bodies are easily assessed when we are unwell and we have tangible symptoms to report to our doctor. We go to doctors and report a pain or injury, and they are able to conduct an examination which yields some answers. People around us can also understand and tend to be more sympathetic when they hear you are struggling with a dislocated disc in your back or a bad flu. On the other hand, mental health is not always “seen”, making it hard for people to express what is actually going on internally and for others to truly understand that there is “something wrong”. For many of us who struggle with our mental health, this difficulty to explain or describe what we may be thinking or feeling, makes it feel even more lonely and overwhelming.Sadly, there remains a great stigma around mental health which is also why many people who struggle are still reluctant to speak about it. In the past, mental health has been associated with negative connotations - being “weak”, “unstable”, “troubled”, even “crazy”. Even though strides have been made in mental health education and resources, people would still rather keep mental health issues under wraps, struggling through the process of healing in an isolated bubble rather than being exposed to the world. People around us still fear being judged and misunderstood simply because they are experiencing mental health difficulties and need extra support through it.Many people don’t realise that our physical health is inevitably connected to our mental health too. It has been found that poor mental health can be a risk factor for chronic physical conditions or harmful behaviours. This also works the other way, where individuals with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health or mental health challenges as a result of being unwell. So there is actually no way of thinking of our health without considering our mental and emotional health as a major part of that – it simply does not work.On this World Health Day, let us not keep ignoring or minimising the role of our mental health. Our mental health is vital to our well-being as it affects the way we think, the way we feel and the way we behave in our everyday lives and relationships. Our mental health is also responsible for how we deal with stress, how we relate to others and how we overcome difficult circumstances. Surely this impact means that it should be highly prioritised, all the time? Surely it means that we cannot afford to let mental health keep falling by the wayside when we have important conversations around healing? In fact, the WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.” As South Africans we can all play a role in mental health education and ending the stigma against mental health. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on mental health, forcing us to be more aware and enabling us to take better care of ourselves and those in need. Here are some ways in which we can play our part, no matter how small, in prioritising mental health and work towards eradicating the stigma:Educate ourselves on mental health, what it is, different mental health conditions, what to look for and where to go for supportEducate and support others, especially in our own circles and communitiesBecome an advocate for mental health in our own spacesLearn about mental health first aid - how we can assist those in crisisSpeak openly about mental health as telling our stories, could help others in need or those who are struggling at aloneFamiliarise ourselves with mental health resources which we can turn to in times of needEven though there are still many improvements to be made, there is no doubt that we can continue making consistent strides towards raising mental health awareness, ending the stigma around mental health and ensuring that mental health becomes and remains a national public health priority moving forward. It is the foundation for everything we do.
PODCAST: Burnout and Boundaries for Young Professionals
The questions you may be aching to ask a psychologist about dealing with burnout as a young professional have probably already been asked and answered … and this is your chance to listen in. In our first episode from The Podcast for Courageous Young Professionals, TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu guides twenty-something Asive through the maze of establishing boundaries in the workplace.Asive, who is a credit risk analyst at a financial institution, opened up to clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu about the weight of expectations and constantly worrying that she was “not doing enough” despite her long working hours.Lwanele acknowledged the need so many of us have to prove ourselves, but it is this question of “am I doing enough?” that is a key cause of burnout. “I generally find that burnout is fuelled and perpetuated by expectations you have of yourself, as well as those of your team or your manager. But nobody communicates those expectations and therefore it always feels like you’re missing the mark.” said Lwanele.On both a personal and an organisational level, Lwanele emphasised the importance of establishing boundaries. This involves asking your manager what deliverables would be required from you that week, assessing whether those deliverables are actually feasible, and then planning how you could work towards those goals. And once you’ve met those deliverables, it also helps you gain a sense of achievement.That said, however, Lwanele also reminds us that realistically, no one ever performs at ultimate capacity all the time. “We think we can be working well and functioning efficiently in all areas of our lives all at the same time. And that’s generally the biggest trap because that’s when we start feeling like we’re not doing enough.”Lwanele went on to speak of the importance of filling our own cups, of planning self-care power hours, of internalising validation, and developing a relationship with ourselves. “The relationship with yourself is so important in existing in an environment, especially in an environment that’s quite demanding.” she said.Don’t miss a moment of this fascinating podcast. Catch the full podcast here and make sure you hit subscribe so you get every episode!
5 tips for self-care on a budget
Self-care during Covid-19 doesn’t have to be expensive. It also doesn’t have to be a day at the salon, or the spa, or even about beautifying yourself. So what can we do for our self-care without a lavish budget? TSBU explores. When it comes to self-care, so often it’s the little things that count most, and we love how clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu describes the journey, saying it “begins with emotional self-care”. There are so many easy ways to nourish our inner selves, especially when we feel overwhelmed. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at five of our favourite self-care tips that you could start today.Detox from technologyThis is especially important since so many of us are working remotely. Technology can be fun and entertaining, but it can also make it almost impossible to close that digital office door. Reading that late night email from your boss can nudge your anxiety levels into overdrive. Browsing social media feeds could eat away at your self-esteem. And a flood of negative news stories can compound depression, anxiety, and feelings of doom – all of this is made harder by worries about entering stricter Covid-19 lockdown conditions.It’s almost always a better idea to start small, and one healthy way to do that is to pretend your devices are little kids with an earlier bedtime than you. Some people find that putting a rubber band around their phones helps prevent them from mindlessly picking them up all the time. That little rubber band (especially a brightly coloured one) is a great tool to help you snap out of autopilot. And why not take advantage of our load shedding schedules? Make them work for you instead of against you. It could be your perfect excuse to get into some journaling or take a step outside. Play some musicGive yourself the luxury of an entire hour with absolutely nothing but you and your favourite tunes. Music can boost your mood, release feel-good chemicals and hormones in your body, and help you express what you’re feeling. Whether you choose to sit quietly and let the music wash over you, or you’re in the mood to get up and dance like nobody’s watching, or sing like you’re on stage, choose music that uplifts you in some way.The golden rule here is that you shouldn’t be multi-tasking. This is not the time to squeeze in a few household chores or send an email while you’re listening to your music. This is the time to allow your body and your mind the freedom to play the way they want to play. Your mind might start daydreaming, your body might start moving, or you might find both your mind and your body settling into a calming stillness. Whatever happens, this is your time for doing purely whatever serves you best.DoodleMeditative or mindful doodling is gaining more and more attention as a tool for relaxation and mental health. Doodling is a free-flowing and spontaneous exercise that can create a quietly reflective space for you to be present, to soothe your mind, and still your body from everyday busyness. And all you need is a pen and paper!There is no right or wrong way to doodle. You don’t even need to be able to draw. But if you’re lost at first, it can help to hold an image or an affirmation in your heart while you doodle. Repetitive images like clouds or hearts are lovely and gentle images to play around with. Affirmations that resonate with you in an uplifting way can be ‘I am worthy’, ‘everything is okay in this moment’, or ‘I am calm and confident’.Make your own gratitude jarGratitude jars can be like joyful eye candy in our homes, adding a creative visibility to all the things we are grateful for, no matter how small. It’s like a jar full of thankfulness that quietly shows us we still have good things in our lives. And if even Harvard writes about the association between gratitude and greater happiness, it’s definitely worth a try, right?The act of making your own gratitude jar is not just about letting your creative side out to play; it’s also about creating the jar that just feels right. Whether it’s a box, a jar, or a tin, it’s something that inspires you and lifts your heart just by looking at it. Play with colours, designs, shapes and textures, stickers, ribbons, wrapping paper, magazine cut-outs, old photographs, buttons … literally anything! And then, written on a piece of paper, add to it one thing you’re grateful for every day. Even if it’s just your morning cup of coffee. Everything counts.Take a trip down memory laneKhasu reminds us that we can also find joy in taking trips down memory lane, and encourages us to find the things that can trigger-happy and nostalgic moments. “This is possible,” she says, “when the past has happy memory associations. Focus on transporting yourself to a time you felt hopeful, loved, cared for, powerful, calm, resilient, or any moment that elicits feelings of being protected right now.”Some of Khasu’s best advice is to include listening to songs we enjoyed as a family when growing up, looking through old photographs, and connecting with loved ones. She also suggests cooking your favourite childhood meal or a meal you ate in happy moments. You could watch a movie that evokes happy sentiments within you or re-read a book that helped you understand your sense of self at a time when you felt confused.But perhaps the most important thing we can all do, no matter which self-care ideas we embrace as part of our personal mental health programmes, is to be self-compassionate. Especially now. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a lot of turmoil and unknowns in our lives, so alongside this new normal we’re all learning about, let’s also learn a new self-kindness. Let’s do this. Let’s practice self-kindness like never before.Sign up for our Cultivating Self Care Workshop for a treasure trove of more tips, skills, and tools to help you create a more resilient you.
How to grieve in a socially-distanced world
The rituals of grieving are shifting before our eyes during the Covid-19 pandemic. But how do we cope with loss and grief in a socially-distanced world?Grief has always been what so many describe as an almost unbearable agony. Losing someone you love, or even losing a way of life as you know it is a lot for one person to take on. But dealing with death during a pandemic, losing someone during lockdown, and grieving alone during Covid-19 has added whole new dimensions to the grieving process. And if you’re hurting and feeling lost or hollow or overwhelmed right now, we’re here to help. So take a few quiet moments for yourself as we gently guide you through new ways of finding a little healing.There is no ‘right’ way to grieveLet’s start with something that hasn’t changed. And that is, clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane assures us that the grieving process is not linear. There is no set of boxes that you need to tick, there are no rules you should be following, and there is no one way you ‘should’ be feeling. This is a deeply personal journey, unique to each individual, and so there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Many people find the five stages of grief (the Kübler-Ross model outlining denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as a helpful guide to what they might expect, but grief can often be untidy and unpredictable. Whatever you’re going through, acknowledge your experiences and your emotions. You’re feeling whatever you’re feeling for a reason. Allow those feelings and experiences to unfold in a way that you are comfortable with.Remember that we are honouring our living, tooAs far back as history remembers we have always honoured our dead. And while traditional leaders and religious figures still honour the transition from this life to the other, they are also now trying to protect the living in the pandemic. In that way, the funeral ceremony, perhaps, honours both the living and the dead in equal measures more than ever before. And so, in the midst of our grief, let’s carry that sentiment in our hearts, too … that while we’re saying goodbye to a loved one who has passed, we’re also protecting the loved ones still with us. It’s a more empowering way to frame our perspectives and help us find new ways to say goodbye.There are other ways to say goodbyeFuneral and burial traditions are a bridge between the death of the ones we love and the new meaning we must find in a life carved out of that loss, and Mthenjane encourages us all to find ways to create meaning in death that honours our loved ones. “It’s your last act of loving that person,” she says, “and your way to transform their suffering to eternal love.” Thankfully, technology is almost endless in the way it can evoke a sense of unity and community. You may not be able to have an open house anymore but you can have a virtual open house with an active link so that family and friends can still ‘drop in’ and pay their respects. You could host an online memorial event, a prayer group, or take turns in singing or sharing hymns. This is not the first time in history that we’ve had to reshape traditions during a crisis; we can find courage in the fact that we are incredibly creative and adaptable beings, even in our anguish.Create new ritualsRituals have always brought us a sense of safety, stability, and comfort. Dealing with death during a pandemic may mean that so many of our time-honoured rituals have been washed away but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find solace in new rituals. Because the true power of a ritual lies in what the ritual offers us on an emotional and psychological level. A ritual can help us recognise change. It’s a way of being still, of opening ourselves to the moment, of reflecting on what we hold dear, and gently accepting our new reality and all the emotions that come with it. Rituals don’t have to be extravagant or elaborate. Planting a tree can be an empowering and life-affirming ritual that can bring years of comfort and beauty as we continue to nourish new life. Lighting candles at a certain time of day or night is another invaluable practice in ritualising grief in the way that it helps us acknowledge our loss. Mthenjane also suggests journaling as a ritual, or creating a dedicated space in a room for quiet moments of reflection. Remember, it is the intention with which you perform the ritual that matters most.Make it sacredLosing someone during Covid-19 means we’re dealing with loss in a world where everyone feels separated. Mourning can be a confusing and alienating experience, and so it is more important than ever that we make a conscious effort to keep connected with others. We are social beings, and the very act of sharing our experiences with others, spreading the burden across many shoulders, can give us a little space to breathe. And when we’re truly present, our moments of connectivity are made all the more sacred. Storytelling and sharing memories is an age-old way to help us reconcile our grief and shift through the swirl of our own complex emotions. Mthenjane says, “Because grieving is such an individual process, there’s no way of knowing which memories will hurt less to think about, or when. So allow the space to retell the story until a new frame emerges.” Expression is healthy and helps us normalise our feelings. It also helps, Mthenjane says, to know that we’re not strange or “odd” – that our feelings are valid and that this is a real wound we have experienced.No matter what new rituals you create, or how you choose to express your grief in this socially distanced world, remember that even though you might be feeling like you’re grieving alone during Covid-19, there is always help and guidance available. The Dealing with Loss webinar is invaluable to help you navigate your loss, while therapy can help you restore a new sense of mental health, resilience, and wellbeing. You are not alone.
Why we need mental health to succeed
An often misunderstood issue, mental health touches every corner of our lives, so how do we build a strong foundation for wellness? Dr Linda Mthenjane has the answers. What is mental health and how does it affect the way we show up in the world both at work and at home?Often when you ask what physical health is, words like diet, gym, good sleep etc., come to mind. But when you ask anyone what their mental health is like, people immediately respond with words like anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. Mental health seems to mainly be defined in the negative, something that “happens” to you almost in a mysterious way while, conversely, physical health is thought of as a state that can be attained and maintained if you do certain things. So, what is mental health? It’s the ability to use your mind/brain as a tool to help you have amazingly supportive relationships, work through life’s storms, bounce back, work productively, and basically live your best life. Mental health speaks to how our brain is wired which then impacts how we think, feel, see the world and behave. Mental illness, on the other hand, refers to alterations in our thinking, our emotions and/or behaviours that create distress and impaired functioning, in social, work and relationships. Mental illness is often a result of chemical changes in the brain and more often than not has a family history.We should think about mental health as a continuum. On the one hand the ability to thrive and manage our stressors and on the far end of the spectrum is feeling totally out of control and out of touch with the majority reality when we have a mental illness. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 1 in 3 South Africans have a mental illness. This translates to roughly 20 million people (a third of people in our country) experiencing some form of mental illness. It occurs across class, culture and race. We know that 9% of all teenage deaths are attributed to suicide and a massive 90% of that 9% have an underlying mental illness such as depression, substance abuse disorder and anxiety. So, why don’t we know more about mental illness when it has such a devastating effect? Physical illnesses like cancer, or diabetes, often draw major public support while mental illness tends to attract negative descriptions and stigmatisation. This type of shaming and value judgment has been key in forcing discussions on mental illness underground and its sufferers feeling isolated and blamed rather than supported. But what we do know and have come to learn is that the ability to understand and manage brain disorders - and the journey to being healthy emotionally - can promote productivity and effectiveness at work. It also improves our ability to harness healthy relationships and connections which we need to survive, and it allows us to adapt to changes in our life and cope with adversity.What tools can we use to make ourselves mentally strong and resilient? Connect with people through empathy and understanding. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate people who validate your feelings. Also try to balance rest with exercise. If you are tossing and turning in bed then get up and do something soothing or boring but avoid any electronics. Consider what gives your life meaning to improve your mood and mental well-being. Ask yourself how you find your purpose and sense of meaning. You should try to experience your emotions by listening to your body. While not all emotions are pleasant it’s important to allow emotions to run their course. If you allow them to flow through you they don’t last longer than a minute and a half. So, the next time you feel stressed ask yourself what information is this feeling giving me. It is a gift. Be non-judgmentally present and try to understand what it is telling you to do. What are the telling signs that could mean your mental health needs to be addressed? Mental health is about being able to cope with the normal stresses of life, to work productively and fruitfully, and to be able to contribute to our community. It includes our emotional (how I feel from anger, fear, joy, passion, love, shame and guilt), psychological (I am in touch with reality, how my mind is wired to respond) and social (can I connect to people and can they connect to me) well-being. When we are unable to do this, and when we have ruled out physical causes of not being able to connect to others, cope with life, contribute and be productive at work we may be moving on the continuum towards illness. How can we set ourselves up for success in a world of constant change? An important quality to survive is resilience. When life throws us challenges that we can’t face, we may feel helpless and/or hopeless. We may even experience what is commonly known as trauma, which is better understood as an injury to the brain than an illness. In fact, some groups prefer the term post-traumatic stress injury to post-traumatic stress disorder. Left unaddressed, injury can cause both physical and mental problems, including fatigue, irritability, nightmares, excessive worry, guilt, anger, sleep problems, lack of concentration, emotional numbness, unhappiness, and sheer emotional exhaustion. It can even lead to more serious illnesses such as depression and anxiety.Even though we all respond differently to trauma, we can all build resilience to it. How?● Understanding this allows you to move from a mindset of “what’s wrong with me?” to a more empowering “this is what’s going on with me”.● Keep things in perspective and try to identify areas of irrational thinking, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. For instance, you may not be able to change a highly stressful event but you can change how you interpret and respond to it. And chances are high that in previous times of distress, you did learn how to respond effectively to new difficult situations. How can the young professionals series of workshops help me to be mentally strong and successful? The family we come from creates the template for how we relate to others, who we become and how our sense of self is formed, how we handle life’s challenges and even how we are able to contribute to society. When we grow up in less nurturing or downright neglectful environments we tend not to be able to develop the psychological core we need to succeed. Our workshop will enable young professional to thrive in their careers by: ● Understanding and developing their sense of self, their self-esteem and boundaries.● Developing insights, skills and appropriate empathy. ● Understanding how identity develops in marginalised and valued groups in society.● Developing mechanisms for protection against overwhelming experiences. ● Being able to appropriately handle conflict situation techniques.● Understanding how to integrate the various aspects of your life.Uncover more about this fascinating workshop here. Dr Linda Mthenjane is a registered clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Space Between Us. Her ikigai is to help people live more connected lives.
How parents can relate better with their teens
Understanding what your teen is going through can help you transition this development stage smoothly. At the end you both thrive. Let’s zoom in!“The children now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercises. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize over their teachers.” - SocratesThis quote was penned over 2000 years ago. It’s reassuring to know the more things change, the more they stay the same. The complaints about the changes in teenagers by generation remain constant. How many times have you heard parents and other adults venting their frustration about how “teenagers are not like the old days” or reminiscing about how “in the good all days you would tell them what to do and they would get it done, no questions asked!”? Understanding what happens at a developmental level, current culture, and how you can better support your teens can make this development stage a smooth transition. At the end you win, and your teenager thrives. So, get comfortable and let’s zoom in!The brainThe teen brain is still developing, so don’t be fooled by their adult-looking appearance and grown-up talk. A process called synaptic pruning is taking place, think of it as having many pathways on a map that lead to desired destinations. In this stage of development, the teen brain no longer needs certain destinations, leading to those pathways being washed away. Which contributes to a more sophisticated and efficient brain system. The frontal cortex responsible for logic, personality and decision-making is still developing and is the last part of the brain to fully mature. Another important part of the brain in teens that plays a huge role in emotional regulation is the amygdala, responsible for emotions, that is not fully developed yet. Caregivers need to be mindful of these growth points and practice patience on their teens.Developmental stage and current cultureTeens struggle with identity, perspective, self-regulation and are consumed with the “self”. Our current culture is driven by technology, promoting, and maintaining isolation and confusion in teen years. This culture is problematic because as humans we need connections and we have seen a shift from “we” culture to a “me” culture that’s driven by how many likes one gets on social media platforms. It is also important to note that the economic environment for parents has become more demanding, this means less time spent at home and parents connecting more with their work. This shift has left the teen feeling isolated, meaning more screen time, and seeking validation from peers. These factors make matters worse for teens who are already faced with significant biological changes that would benefit from meaningful adult interactions. This has contributed to a decrease in teenagers’ developing socially appropriate social cues like self-regulation and empathy. The challenges play out differently in African homes, with some being faced with zombie-like teens, more banging doors and flaring tempers, leaving parents feeling helpless and not knowing how to interact with their children. The “me” culture goes against our four basic needs as humans:AcceptanceBelongingControlMeaningful existence To feel accepted and have a sense of belonging is now determined by one’s social media presence and how liked one is by their peers. Teens can find themselves overwhelmed with no control over their lives. This contributes to feelings of isolation and being unwanted. In the Covid-19 pandemic an increase has been seen in teens presenting in mental healthcare facilities. Isolation and feelings of aloneness have taken centre stage during the pandemic and with it an increase in depressed and anxious teens. Creating a new cultureA great responsibility lies with parents or teen caregivers who themselves may have become participants in the “me” culture. Pause to reflect on your own positioning in our culture of overworked parents or social media parents because this will have a huge impact on how you interact with your teen. In moving forward what is important to note is that more meaningful physical connections are needed with teens, and this can be done through more communication. What we know about teens is that they want more connections, but biological factors may make it difficult for them to fully express their needs. Remember this is a confusing time for them and as a parent you have the role of modelling appropriate social behaviours in your interactions with them. This can be done by communicating four variables that are key to promoting of striving teens and maintaining of healthy relationships:EmpathyIt is important to learn to empathise with children to develop trust and secure attachments. It is important to also practice care for others to help children develop an awareness of other people’s perspectives and needs. ForgivenessForgiveness requires acknowledging the act, understanding the act committed and its impact. GratitudeAcknowledge their efforts and allow them to celebrate their own accomplishments and those of others.HumilityWhen you model humility it helps your child see value in others, build deep connections and promote acceptance.Tips for mending the relationship with your teenOn your parenting journey remember Peggy O’ Mara’s words: The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. If the relationship with your teenager is breaking down, these are some ways to fix things:Identify and frame the issue. Is it a …lack of communication? teen isolating themselves?teen always challenging you?feeling like you don’t know your teen?Self-awareness … How do you parent your child? Have you hurt your teen through comments or rejection?What triggers you to respond in a hurtful manner?Guilt and forgiveness … Remember you are not perfect.Forgive yourself for mistakes.Sincerely ask your child for forgiveness. Make teens feel valued … Listen to and respect their opinions. Tell them you are proud of them. Tell them you love them. Give your teens space Isolation and space are not the same.Speak to kids about how to ask for space. Allow teens to make their own decisions … Allow for them to learn and grow.Practice less shaming when they make mistakes. Guide them through their mistakes. Ask for help …Speak to teacher, doctor or psychologist based on the teen’s needs.Show teens that it’s okay to ask for help.These are just some of the skills explored by The Space Between Us workshop “Integrating Home, Work, and Play Series”. In it we learn to develop skills to deepen connections and quality time with children of all ages, while building a network of support with like-minded parents. The workshop focuses on helping parents live an authentic and connected life, which can assist them in avoiding mental health challenges further on in life. You can book your spot now by clicking here.Hope Magubane is a clinical psychologist.
Finding mental health resilience for township youths
We need to normalise mental health and wellness in townships. Through this we can shine a light on the power of hope and community. You can always count on Archbishop Desmond Tutu to find the words to inspire a nation. Perhaps his words can inspire us now to normalise mental health and wellness among the youth that so desperately need it:“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”Our youth are staring down a tide of mental health problems through unemployment, drug abuse and gender-based violence in townships. Clinical psychologist Thobile Dlamini works to turn this tide on suicide, depression, and other mental health illnesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Shining a light on the power of hope and community, The Space Between Us sat down with Dlamini to find out what she has seen in her work in Soweto and what she sees as the solution.What do the numbers tell us?Unemployment batters the 15-34 age group with an unemployment rate of 46.3%, astounding figures when you consider that well over 20 million people fall into this bracket. Consider it, nearly 9 million young people trapped in a situation not of their making and yet shouldering the consequences. In the absence of work, millions must rely on social grants that are often the only means of support for multiple members of a single family.It’s little wonder then that mental health concerns have become a grave concern for Dlamini who works at the Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Soweto. She points out that over the last two years she has seen a spike in mental illness.But why? Is it just unemployment or are there underlying symptoms robbing our youth of hope? Dlamini posits four main threats heaping pressure on already overloaded shoulders:Land of (non)opportunityOn Youth Day, the presidency launched the SAYouth.mobi to create learnership and other work opportunities. But, Dlamini says, these portals aren’t effective. “A lot of young people are in the system and go to school and tertiary institutions and then find themselves sitting at home with their qualifications without even the opportunity of employment.”Born free?“The one thing that most parents don’t understand is that jobs are not out there like it used to be. The minute they see you at home, it is perceived that you are lazy. Then the family begins shouting at you,” Dlamini says. This is because many young people from disadvantaged communities are considered the breadwinners of their family.Of course, the problem is more nuanced than that. We have long boasted about the “born free” generation and raised our children to be confident, proud and to challenge the status quo. Dlamini nurses a blazing hope for these youths. “The current generation speak their minds. They ask questions. If they see something is wrong, they won’t just agree. This generation is being interpreted in communities as a person that doesn’t want to follow cultural or religious ways. They’re just a ‘loose cannon’. This generation is misunderstood. We have a new breed of generation – they are free.”Plunged into darknessLockdown has revolutionised education – desks are swapped for screens and bandwidth is the currency of connection. What about accessibility shortfalls in areas like Soweto?This revolution left desperate teenagers scrambling for resources that were never there to begin with. Plunged into vacuous periods of loadshedding with no end in sight, the toll presented itself starkly in November when many students learned that they had failed the school year, plunging them into depression.AddictedThen there is the lure of illicit drugs. While alcohol has always had a big influence on mental health the rise of hard drugs, especially crystal meth has been devastating for Dlamini to watch. “It’s heart-breaking when you talk to a young person who proudly says, ‘I’ve graduated from dagga to crystal meth.’ This has become their lifestyle.”Coupled with this is the rise in online gambling. Desperate people make desperate choices.Mapping the way for hopeThese setbacks aren’t the end of hope. In fact, this is where hope begins.Unburdening ourselves by speaking openly and listening without judgment we can make mental health part of our conversations and lifestyles for the benefit of all. To build a future founded on unity, compassion, and respect, Dlamini shares this advice:To parents and caregivers:You are raising a new generation and their challenges are not the same as the past. Give them space and trust.Don’t allow a young person to close themselves off in their room after school. These children need emotional attachment and without it they’re going to have a lot of psychological problems.Give your children time to find work. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your kids are lazy because they are doing the best they can.To teenagers and young adults:Take one day at a time and never give up on doing what you believe in. If you see others suffering, approach them and offer your support.If we stand up and talk openly about illnesses like HIV then speaking about mental health will help others, too.If you start feeling suicidal, there are toll free numbers (listed below).Talk to your families. What closes you in a corner, is feeling alone and that loneliness is what is heavy.Depression, self-harm and suicideSuicide hotline 0800 567 56724hr Helpline 0800 12 13 14SADAG toll-free line 0800 456 789Drug, alcohol and gambling addictionAlcoholics Anonymous 0861 435 722Narcotics Anonymous 086 100 6962 SANCA 011 892 3829 Gender-based violence and child abuseGender-Based Violence Command Centre 0800 428 428Childline 0800 055 555 Lifeline 0861 322 322 People Opposing Women Abuse 076 694 5911 Solutions for young professionalsThis situation isn’t limited to the unemployed. Those that do have work face similar anxieties in building careers in the face of massive expectation and constant pressure. But there are better ways to close the book on insecurities, to build a more confident you, to effect positive change in yourself and others.The Space Between Us Young Professional Programme builds skills that will enable young professionals to thrive in their life and career. It develops a sense of self, self-esteem and boundaries as key psychological tools used to build healthy relationships with themselves and others.There is help but we need to break the stigma around mental health. If so many people are struggling with similar challenges, then why aren’t we reaching out or sharing our stories to show others that they aren’t alone? If your story helps just one person, isn’t it worth the leap of faith?Do you have a story to share to help others? Send us your stories and connect with TSBU on LinkedIn and Instagram for more advice and tips on mental health and wellness.
Ambiguous loss: Living with unresolved grief
When you are locked in ambiguity, your grief is frozen in time; you cannot move on and you may not know whether you should be grieving or in mourning. Clinical psychologist Bongiwe Sokhela breaks down the uncertainty of ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss occurs without any closure and often without answers. No death is easy, nor bears all answers but most types of loss have some form of conclusion or closure. There is a body and a grave that marks the end, there is often a clear target of anger during the grief process.This kind of loss often leaves a person searching for more answers, complicates the process of grieving, and may result in unresolved grief.The term was first coined by psychologist and author Paulina Ross in 1970. She described this type of loss within two main categories, these being “physically absent but psychologically present” (like a loved one who is missing or who disappeared without trace) and “psychologically absent but physical present” (like a loved one who has memory loss).Those confronted by ambiguous loss have been known to fluctuate between hope and despair. Hope because new information sparks a promise of fresh possibility and despair because new revelations can also bring finality with no new answers. The loss one feels is mixed with uncertainty and achieving closure can be difficult. To overcome one needs to learn to embrace the unknown.How would I know I am going through ambiguous loss?Have you lost a child through miscarriage?Have you been separated from a child through adoption?Do you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?Do you have a relative with a mental illness?Do you have a loved one who disappeared without a trace?Do you have a loved one who died with no answers as to how they died?Do you have a family member who died and the body was never found?Do you have a relative in a coma or that is terminally ill?Do you have a family member who was exiled or relocated to another country and have lost touch with? If you answered yes to any of these questions or similar, and you have been struggling with closure or certainty you may be struggling with unresolved grief and ambiguous loss.What is common among these examples is an obvious lack of finality or limited answers that help you gain closure. You may be left in limbo because you don’t know whether you should mourn their departure or be hopeful that some good news will come one day. The vacillation between the two extreme opposite emotions can keep you trapped in a vicious loop. Without falling into a trap of naming specific characteristics of someone dealing with ambiguous loss, it is safe to note that whatever you are going through is normal.How do I cope?Face your fears: Start by trying not to avoid the pain. Memories can bring tears and leave you in a state of sorrow and depression. Avoiding these emotions can keep you trapped in a false reality. Unless you find ways to work through the emotions in a safe space, with a professional or a trusted loved one, you may not control the inevitable surfacing of these emotions.Cherish good memories: Try to find meaning to your experience by celebrating the life of the loved one. You may do this by creating a memorial that helps you to focus on positive thoughts and memories.Challenge negative thoughts: Thought stopping is a cognitive behavioural therapy technique that can help you take charge of your emotions, your response to those emotions and take control of the emotional triggers.Do not cut yourself off: It may feel like you are alone in this; a lot of people around you experience their own pain, it may not be the same as yours but that is why you should be sharing your thoughts and fears and find common ground in the type of emotions you all feel and the memories you share.Fluctuating emotion: It is normal, embrace it; normal grief feels the same. Once you think you have healed, a memory or a smell or a thought may surface emotions and pain that you thought you had already overcome. The memory will fade but the reality of the person in your heart lives on.Overcome guilt: Move forward without guilt. Remember guilt will surface but try not to own it, it is part of the healing process and it will pass.Hope: If hope helps, hold on to it, without any denial.Take your power back: Don’t run away from the truth; it will give you the power to make the right choices for those you still need to care for, around you.How do I comfort or help someone going through ambiguous loss?Be a friend or a loved one and be consistent in how you show up. Don’t confuse yourself as their therapist. The person is going through enough ambiguity, don’t add to it.Help remove the angst. Often there are tasks that need to be taken care of with the hospital, the police, filling in reports or the courts and these may bring distress. Be there to offer your assistance.Be kind to yourself and remember you may also be going through the same loss and grief. If you take care of yourself you will have the energy to be there for the one going through the ambiguity of the loss.If you need more answers, talk to your doctor or therapist TODAY and take a positive step towards healing.
What is post-trauma growth?
After a period of prolonged trauma, like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are scrambling to put the pieces back together. So, where do you start? Clinical psychologist Hope Magubane takes us through it.Staying present and navigating life in the Covid “new normal” has come with unfamiliar circumstances for many. It has seen the introverted individual being pulled deeper into isolation and the extroverted moving into unknown territory of less movement and social interaction. These two individuals, although identified differently, have found common ground in uncertainty and feelings of loneliness. This common ground is rooted in the natural human need for connection with other humans. This speaks to the phrase “no man is an island” and if isolation was our fate, we would have been born in aloneness. The isolation has further birthed an existential anxiety among many, seen as an increase in the search for the meaning of existence and life. As we journey through the road of existential anxiety some have been further knocked by multiple losses through death, income and employment. The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced us to an unfamiliar thief that has come to “steal, kill and destroy”. Many have found themselves living in fear of the unknown, wondering when this thief will pay them a visit as it does not discriminate.As the pandemic continues, we find ourselves forced into acknowledging the trauma of its impact. We are constantly in shock and confusion as death continues to plough through our families. Some have not had breathing room to make sense of and accept their losses. This leaves a bitter taste of hopelessness and feeling victimised by the life circumstances we find ourselves in. Shame and guilt have also gained more room during this time. For some guilt stems from not experiencing any of the impactful losses as those around them continue to be shattered by it. Shame also takes centre stage for these individuals as they struggle to relate with those who appear to be experiencing traumatic events and finding themselves self-isolating from them. Friendships are tested based on support and availability during the “new normal” and unfair expectations. Trust is questioned and unanswered because in truth we are all dealing with things at different levels.A shift towards post-trauma growth has become essential. We must acknowledge that for some, the traumas spoken about earlier are ongoing and must be taken into consideration in addressing post-traumatic growth. Researchers identify post-traumatic growth as the ability to be more than resilient in the face of adversities. It speaks to the individual reclaiming control of the different areas that may have been impacted by trauma. This sees the individual effectively utilising resources to help them navigate ongoing and past traumas. The approach I have established in facilitating this process focuses on the following areas; identifying the trauma impacted area, building connections, self-care and carer and care.Moving past traumaOne of the steps towards post-trauma growth is identifying the areas impacted by the trauma and severity. Trauma impacts us on a cognitive level, this is seen in a change in one’s thought processes that sees individuals taking on a more pessimistic outlook on life. Life takes on the role of an abuser that cannot be escaped, so staying in the pain is better than trying to fight for a way out because the abuse cycle cannot be broken. This moves into an emotional level of impact when the individual experiences a range of emotions, such as hopelessness, fear, blame, shame, anger and sadness. Individuals at this level struggle to shake off these unwanted emotions, which may also give birth to increased anxiety. The emotions and pessimistic attitudes consume the individual on a spiritual level, which can be seen in anger and a shift in a high belief in God or ancestors that the individual may have held as sacred. A drop in their performance or absconding with no explanation will become evident in academics and work level. The last area that needs to be explored is the social level as the individual would have no desire to interact with others and move more into self-isolation.If the individual has been severely impacted in these levels it is important to start to speak about the second step of post-traumatic growth, which can be identified as building connections. The rebuilding or building of connections is very important in the African context in echoing the IsiZulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which loosely translates “a person is a person because of other people”. This also refers to the interconnectedness of people and refers to the actual embodiment of the epistemological stance of Ubuntu. An isolated individual is at greater risk of the impacts of trauma because no one can see their struggles and the individual also has no one to call on for support.This speaks to getting help professionally, spiritually and communally. When it comes to the professional connection, the individual may seek the help of a psychologist who would facilitate the process of the individual overcoming and reclaiming control of different areas that have been impacted by the trauma. The psychologist may refer to other professionals based on their observation, this may include a psychiatrist or other general practitioners. The rebuilding of spiritual connection may speak to individuals seeking the guidance of pastors or traditional healers in helping them mend the relationship that may have been disconnected. The communal connection taps into social or friends the individual may have withdrawn from. The Nigerian phrase “Jejely” which means “little by little” becomes very important in this process to ensure that the individual does not find themselves overwhelmed. Self-care addresses practical steps one can do on their own or together with the above-mentioned connections: Get an accountability partner/friend who can check that you are able to stick to your daily routine.Develop a daily routine.Sleep seven or more hours.Take multivitamins.Meditate, exercise or take a walk.Eat three healthy meals a day.Clean your house.Find a new hobby.Start journaling your thoughts and what you are grateful for.Remember to bathe.The final part of post-trauma work is the carer and care process, which addresses the individuals that are offering support to the impacted person. This can be those who identify as friends, partners, mother, child, siblings or other. It’s important to remain patient during this period because it may be easy to become bored and frustrated with the individual's process of growth or recovery. It’s important to be able to identify when you have taken on too much and remember that your responsibility is to care. This involves listening and respecting the individual’s needs - be careful not to take on the role of a professional. Doing this will leave you frustrated and feeling drained by the individual. It’s important to exercise self-awareness and self-care at all times.A poem that I find fitting and comforting in putting the pieces together as part of post-trauma growth is Be Gentle with Yourself by Ijeoma Umebinyuo that goes “healing comes in waves and maybe today the wave hits the rocks and that’s ok, that’s okay, darling. You are still healing, you are still healing”.