Mental Health resources, news and information

Psychological Safety - Our Birth Right To Connection

  “Psychological safety does not mean that you feel comfortable all the time. Psychological safety means you feel comfortable talking about what makes you uncomfortable.” – Esther Derby As a young professional the workplace is a space of great anticipation and excitement, but can also be a space of great uncertainty. Working relationships play a significant role in our adaptation, our integration and functioning within the working environment. We are inevitably faced with the responsibility of cultivating connections with our colleagues and leaders to ensure we succeed.  Understanding psychological safetyOne of the key elements in helping us build these connections is having an environment that is psychologically safe. Sanchez, defines psychological safety as “the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes”. When we are in a psychologically safe working environment, we are able to address issues without fear or punishment, and feel confident to make suggestions or clarify any confusion. We are reassured that there will be no reprisal or negative consequences to our openness and curiosity. When people do not feel psychologically safe in the working environment, it can lead to: more instances of interpersonal conflict; lowered productivity and efficiency; difficulty making decisions and solving problems; as well as stress-related mental and physical health issues. Research on psychological safety at work has consistently shown that it leads to stronger teams, improved employee engagement and leads to successful outcomes. Creating a culture of trust, respect and openness encourages opportunities to learn and grow, which improves employees’ motivation, innovation and creativity.It is also important to emphasise that psychological safety does not mean that people always have to agree, avoid conflict by any means or offer unconditional praise to others for the sake of being nice. But it does begin with the capacity of leaders for modelling behaviours that enhance safety and connection.  A case in pointLet’s think of Sipho for example - a young man from a small village in the north of Pretoria who has recently started in a graduate programme at a prestigious firm in Sandton. Being the first in his family to graduate from university means he sits with the responsibility of “making it work” and meeting the expectations of those around him. As a hardworking young professional, Sipho did not assume the working world would be easy, but he has been feeling uneasy and uncertain about his ability to learn and grow in this new space. Everyone else seems to get on with things, but Sipho has been too self-conscious to ask questions or openly communicate his ideas in meetings. He finds that he asks himself a lot of questions – what if I sound incompetent? What if my ideas aren’t good enough? Am I really an important member of my team? How leaders can foster connectedness through greeting Greeting is one of the first ways in which we connect with others. While greeting is one of the basic functions of communication, it has also been shown to foster acknowledgement and belonging, elicit positive emotions (for both the greeter and the greeted), lead to positive conversations as well as provide an opportunity for connections to form and for relationships to grow. In fact, neurobiological research has found that when humans feel safe, we allow ourselves to become accessible to others without feeling or expressing threat and vulnerability. This sense of safety enhances social connections and allows relationships to evolve and for functioning to occur in a healthy manner.Leadership behaviour has been shown to have a significant impact on teams and in the working environment. Therefore, Sipho’s leader has the perfect opportunity to foster a safe and healthy working relationship with him, which can create psychological safety for him. Prioritising actions and behaviours which will make Sipho feel included and understood, will also allow him to feel free to approach his leader with queries, questions and ideas, which will inevitably support his learning journey. How can a leader start this process? By initiating connection through an intentional greeting every morning. A leader who shows genuine interest and initiates conversations based on getting to know their team members will form the basis of a psychologically safe working space. This will inevitably contribute towards the development of a learning culture which has positive long-term benefits for teams and organisations. References:        

Understanding Suicide

Suicide is death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die. A suicide attempt is when someone harms themselves with any intent to end their life, but they do not die as a result of their actions, as defined by the American Centers for Disease Control1. However, suicide is more complex and a serious concern. The World Health Organization published its 2019 Global Health Estimates Suicide report, and a breakdown of suicide rates per country was provided. It is stated that 13 774 suicides were reported in South Africa in 2019. Of these deaths, 10 861 were men while 2 913 were women. This translates to rates of 37.6 per 100 000 for men and 9.8 per 100 000 for women. South Africa recorded the third-highest suicide rate out of all African countries in the report, at 23.5 per 100 000 population.2 On average, almost 3 000 people die by suicide daily. For every person who dies by suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives.3 In recent months prominent figures have died by suicide in South Africa, and their deaths are shining a light on suicide and the state of mental health. Understanding suicide can be difficult for someone who has not experienced overwhelming feelings such as hopelessness or worthlessness or being overwhelmed by thoughts of not wanting to live. For people in this state of mind, suicide becomes an alternative to ending their pain and despair. The intention is not necessarily to die, but simply, to end the intense and overwhelming weight of their circumstances.  The complexity of suicide requires that it be understood in a broader context of mental health and social circumstances which may contribute to suicidal behaviour. Not all people who die by or attempt suicide will display these risk factors, however, this is a guide to some of the signs that may be present. The various factors that contribute to suicide include, however not limited to substance use or abuse, depression, bipolar mood disorder, anxiety, trauma, losing a loved one, either through a breakup or death, losing one’s employment, poor academic performance or being bullied, socio-economic situation, recurrent ideation about harming oneself, resolved plans and preparations to carry out the suicide, and previous suicide attempts, to name a few. Furthermore, risk can be at its greatest when an individual has the means, opportunity, a specific plan to carry out the suicide and the lack of a deterrent.  Suicide is not a singular event as it has a far-reaching impact both on the person who has lost their life or attempted suicide and on the people in the person’s life. This causes significant physical, emotional and economic disruption. The health and well-being of loved ones, friends, colleagues and the community are affected by suicide and suicide attempts; as seen with the recent and publicised deaths of actor Patrick Shai and musician Ricky Rick which had devastating effects on their family and fans. The surviving family and friends are likely to experience shock, anger, guilt, trauma, blame, and symptoms of depression or anxiety. The suicide survivor may suffer from long-term health challenges, which may exacerbate depression and other mental health problems.   Suicide can happen at any stage of an individual’s life, the differences are in the unique social, cultural, mental, emotional and economic experiences and circumstances that influence an individual to consider suicide. Suicidal behaviours among children and adolescents revealed risk factors such as difficulties in problem-solving, managing stress, social and family problems, influences of negative peer pressure or self-destructive behaviour and having suffered abuse. Further risk factors include difficulty in expressing emotions, low self-esteem and struggles with sexual identity, internally and externally, as seen in the recent News24 report of a 15-year-old Grade 9 learner from Soweto, who died by suicide after a teacher mocked him about his sexuality.  With adults, difficulties in their relationships, financial challenges, career and employment, and other social determinants and mental health issues are contributors and the current economic climate in South Africa may further exacerbate suicidal behaviours. Among the elderly, it is commonly recognised that the overwhelming feelings of loneliness, regret and stagnation and depression are the major factor attributed to suicidal behaviour. Untreated depression may lead to suicide. It is important to note that the risk factors for suicidal behaviour differ according to age and life stages as people experience different life demands based on age, thus making it important to understand the many vulnerabilities, risk factors and triggers in a person’s life. Some people who perceive suicide as an option believe that they have become a burden on others and by no longer being around they are being selfless and that people will be better off without them, freeing them of the burden.  Most people generally struggle to speak about their mental health struggles as these in some cultures or societies are heavily stigmatised and taboo, so there is more difficulty when speaking about suicide. Thus, when a person mentions suicide, it may be their way of warning us about what they are going through or thinking. To brush it off as something frivolous can be the difference between someone staying alive or dying. It is often misconstrued that people who mention that they want to die are perceived as attention seekers or weak or cowards, while in fact, they are deeply suffering and this is their cry for help.  Talking about suicide does not necessarily lead to suicide, however, it offers people an opportunity to express what they are struggling with. At an individual level, taking time to listen and understand what others are experiencing may help save a person’s life. Most people who have suicidal behaviour and thoughts may not know where to seek help or fear talking about what they are experiencing openly out of fear of being judged as suicide carries a stigma. Educating and raising awareness and breaking the stigma and taboo around suicide is an important step in preventing suicide. Seeking professional help is critical in assessing and treating suicidal behaviour and a multi-disciplinary approach will yield better results and involve the relevant support structure in the process.  References: Crosby A, Ortega L, Melanson C. Self-directed violence surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended data elements, version 1.0 [PDF – 1 MB]. (2011) Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Suicide worldwide in 2019: global health estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. 

Quality Relationships - the Key Ingredient to Mental Wellbeing in Young Professionals

  "A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all men, women and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong” Brene Brown Relationships are an important tool for survival. They promote feelings of wellbeing, confidence and contribute to mental wellness. They can be the greatest source of pleasure or a great source of pain. There is a correlation between people who have healthy self-esteem and are in healthy relationships. You can see this in how they speak, act or feel about themselves.  Significant Relationships for Young Professionals  Young professionals are at a stage where they are finding themselves, becoming independent and practicing autonomy within all their relationships. At this stage in their lives, they need both horizontal and vertical relationships.  Vertical relationships are with someone older who has more life experience and can offer advice when needed – it could be a parent, a caregiver or a manager. Career development benefits from having a mentor or a manager that is supportive but also challenges one to grow. A healthy relationship with superiors mitigates against psychosocial risks in the workplace such as burnout. It is most beneficial compared to having a manager who bullies or belittles work efforts resulting in professional unhappiness and stress. Horizontal relationships are with peers, people who are going through the same life stages and experiences so that they can do life together. These could be friends or work colleagues that you hang out with after work. They too are navigating roles, responsibilities, loyalties and even pressures from families. Owing to the amount of time spent together, peer relationships revolve around encouraging and supporting each other. In a workplace setting, horizontal relationships involve collaboration and communication to accomplish goals. Horizontal relationships could also be of a romantic nature between husband or wife or partner. Intimacy versus isolation is a big thing among young adults between 19 and 35 years old. As they are on a journey to finding themselves, they also take the opportunity to find their romantic partners, and even get married. Navigating a romantic relationship can be a big deal. There is a lot of trial and error. When the relationship is healthy and loving, this leads to a close and intimate relationship. However, if there is failure in forming a loving and strong relationship, what may follow is isolation and loneliness. Building blocks to relationships  There are a number of essential building blocks that help create and sustain healthy, fulfilling relationships. Below are the top 3.  The first building block is self-awareness. To have successful interpersonal relationships, start with being in tune with yourself. When you don’t know who you are and what you want, it is difficult to foster healthy relationships with others. People who don’t have healthy relationships with themselves tend to become controlling or people pleasers. In addition, they may have rigid or invisible boundaries that affect their self-esteem, how they see themselves and the world. When you are self-aware and know your strengths, weaknesses, values, needs and wants, you become mindful of the people you surround yourself with. You attract people who pour into you, and, in return, you reciprocate that. In such instances, it is not wrong to want to please another in a loving and healthy relationship. It means you are mindful of the other person’s needs and make them feel seen or heard. There are also benefits to a firm and structured way of thinking. It means you are not swayed easily and have something different to contribute. Ultimately, self-awareness also leads to resolving conflict in a timeous and effective manner. The second building block is communication. It plays a huge role in all healthy relationships. For communication to be effective, it must be honest and clear – both verbal and non-verbal. It is important to know your own communication style. For example, are you a passive communicator – someone who doesn’t say much and is always agreeable? Or are you a passive aggressive communicator who resorts to silent treatment, ghosts, and blue ticks’ people instead of opening about your feelings? Or are you a clear and assertive communicator who can articulate your experiences and your feelings? Communication and listening go hand in hand, you might be a great communicator but your efforts – verbal or non-verbal – are futile when there is there is no one hearing you.  At the core of relationships is reciprocity or a mutual understanding. Listening is the skill that communicates empathy and validates relational concerns and issues.  In the workplace, withholding information or unclear instructions can result in a stressful work environment. It feels good when communication between you and your colleagues and manager is open and effective in a way that allows you to flourish in your professional life. It also feels good when you communicate with your partner, family, or friend, about the difficult day you had at work, and they hear you – and even show empathy. However, it is discouraging when the other person speaks past you and ignores you instead of acknowledging your feelings. Not being heard and seen affects mental and emotional wellbeing negatively and usually becomes a presenting problem when people seek therapy. The final building block involves the setting of boundaries. Terry Cole, a Psychotherapist who has written on Boundaries, describes the importance of boundaries as “breaking free from Over-Functioning, Over-Delivering, People-Pleasing, and ignoring your own needs so you can finally live the life you deserve” and create strong, healthy relationships.Boundaries in relationships are very important because you get to determine what is yours to take accountability and responsibility for and what is not yours and out of your control.When you have worked on your communication skills, but the other person is not willing to change their unhealthy behavior, you need to set boundaries. These need to be clear and communicated with lucidity. For example, you handed in a project report on time and your manager sends you an email late at night with questions on the project. Acknowledge the mail and inform them that you will address their questions during working hours.  Before you jump into relationships with others, it is very important to introspect on how you would like to be treated and how you would like to navigate different relationships.Relationships serve an inherent need for human beings who have a basic need to connect and to belong. Remember, 3 keys to establishing healthy relationships require intentionality in cultivating healthy self-esteem, working on your communication skills (mean what you say and say what you mean) and lastly establish healthy boundaries.Quality strong relationships over a lifetime are correlated with happiness, success, good mental and emotional wellbeing and increased longevity.  Make time to cultivate the right relationships for you and your mental wellbeing.   

Living with Bipolar disorder

Experiencing changes in mood is part of daily life and these changes in mood can last a few hours at most for most individuals. The problem is when the fluctuation in moods last for days and affects or impairs daily functioning. This is the case with bipolar disorder.When the intensity of mood fluctuations, this can be disruptive to a person’s relationships and impact negatively on occupational functioning. The mood changes in bipolar disorder go together with immense behaviour change. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience alternating depressive episodes with periods of manic symptoms.Bipolar mood disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions and according to the World Health Organization, affects more than 45 million people around the globe. It is estimated that 3-4 % of South Africans have bipolar disorder, this is according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Research suggests that a combination of factors could increase one’s chance of developing bipolar, as the exact cause is unknown. This includes physical, environmental, social conditions, biochemical, genetic and psychological factors. A diagnosis of bipolar can be scary and difficult to accept as it can leave one with uncertainty about the disorder and how to cope.What is Bipolar?Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder and it is a category that includes three different types for this article: bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar I disorder is characterised by a manic episode or symptoms for at least seven days and due to its severity usually requires hospitalisation, while bipolar-II disorder is associated with depressive and hypomanic episodes. During the manic episode, the individual may engage in multiple overlapping new projects. The projects are often initiated with little knowledge of the topic and nothing seems out of the individual’s reach. Individuals often do not perceive that they are ill or in need of treatment and vigorously resist efforts to be treated, during a manic episode. While during a depressive episode, the individual experiences depressed mood (feeling sad, irritable, empty) or a loss of pleasure or interest in activities, for most of the day, nearly every day. Individuals with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of suicide. Cyclothymic disorder is for individuals (2 years in adults or 1 year in children or adolescents) who experience both hypomanic and depressive periods without ever fulfilling the criteria for an episode of mania, hypomania, or major depression. Mania and hypomania are two varied types of episodes with symptoms that are alike, however mania is more severe than hypomania and may cause more noticeable problems at work, school, social activities or in relationships. Psychosis can be triggered during a manic episode, immediate medical attention in required in such an instance.Bipolar disorder causes intense alterations in mood and energy levels. This can be overwhelming for the person diagnosed with bipolar disorder as they may feel out of control with the intense change moods and not certain how to cope. Managing these symptoms can be challenging for someone living with bipolar disorder and those around them can be affected as a result. It starts with the individual accepting the condition, learning and understanding the symptoms of the disorder to assist in better management of the disorder. Managing BipolarSince there is no cure for bipolar disorder a combined approach of medication, therapy and lifestyle change are beneficial in management of the disorder. Partnering with the treating team goes a long way in assisting in managing the condition. Keeping a record of change in mood and how they affect treatment, feelings and sleep, can be helpful in identifying triggers or when an adjustment in treatment is required. As result of the stigma at times associated with bipolar disorder, symptoms such a suicidal ideations, low self-esteem and strained relationships can be exacerbated. Learning to manage bipolar is ongoing process and developing effective coping strategies can go a long way in managing symptoms and prevent conflict with loved ones. Having a support network provides for opportunity to ask for help when the individual is not coping. The people the individual surrounds themselves with can offer valuable insights about their behaviour when it is most needed, such as observations during a manic episode.Some people with bipolar prefer to keep their condition confidential at work, out of fear of being discriminated further in the workplace. This may limit that level of support they could receive from their leaders, if they are not aware of their condition. Mental health has been more recognised in the last few years, with workplace programmes to support employees. By cultivating trust through talking, training and connecting with each member of the team, employee engagement and performance is likely to improve. With the correct treatment and support a person with bipolar can lead a functional life.Avoiding triggersThere are some aspects to consider in preventing episodes and triggers, such as:1. Avoid drugs and alcohol2. Watch for early warning signs3. Take medication exactly as directed4. Manage stress and recharge5. Keep a sleep schedule and involve friends and family

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.

In a different light: autism in the workplace

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a diverse group of conditions which impact the brain and nervous system. Characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and nonverbal communication, autism is a notably spectrum disorder. This means that each person with an ASD diagnosis will have their own unique set of strengths and challenges. This can range from the highly skilled to the severely challenged.There are no blood tests for Autism, and it remains quite a specialised and niche diagnostic space to be in, so making a diagnosis can be very challenging – especially when the obvious external signs of autism are not present. In some cases, the symptoms of high-functioning autism (HFA), can be overlooked until late childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood. Neurodiverse individuals can also develop something called masking, an unconscious act of hiding or coping with certain symptoms. However, you may notice inflexible thought patterns and behaviours, or repetitive actions. There can also be similarities between ASD and disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In these cases, online tests can be a good starting point – but please take care to only use clinically-developed assessments provided by accredited and established healthcare facilities.And as a newly diagnosed young professional, you may feel relief to find an explanation for why you’ve often felt different from others. But it is still incredibly important to take a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to managing your autistic symptoms. There are many treatment options available to you, including speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training, sensory integration therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).While no study has yet been done to determine the total number of cases in South Africa, it is currently estimated that Autism affects approximately 2% of the South African population.Why I see ASD as an unlabelled superpowerAutism is an incredibly diverse spectrum, and no two people are the same. Their struggles will be different, their strengths will be different, and the way they balance those will also be different. But the reason why I so often say that autism is an unlabelled superpower is because every autistic individual I meet looks at the world through such a unique lens. They see things that we don't, they create patterns we can’t, they inspire me so often to take a step back and shift my own perspective. It’s so wonderful to see their perception of the world, and when they’re given the opportunity to thrive, we see just how much people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have to offer. Every day I see living proof of neurodiverse individuals chasing their dreams and achieving their goals just as much as anyone else.Working in a neurotypical worldWhile many companies are working to create a more inclusive culture, the truth is that not many industries have the flexibility to allow autistic individuals much control over their own environment. Very often loud, bright, and overwhelming, the working environment may have such an adverse impact on you that you might not enjoy going to work at all; you may even find yourself getting to the point of complete withdrawal, sensory overload, and meltdowns.As an undiagnosed adult, you may find it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling, or make sense of social rules. You may feel anxious about social situations or find it difficult to express yourself. You may even find that others often think you’re being blunt, or rude.That said, the perception that autistic people, whether diagnosed or not, can’t fit into a certain workplace culture is a myth. I encourage you to remind yourself that you bring your own set of skills, talents, and perspectives to the table. The way you progress might look different to others, and there will be challenges to face, but they’re not impossible to navigate.In my experience, these are some of the most important strategies to help you transition into the workplace.Strategy #1: Lean into your support networkWhether your support structure is your family, your partners, or your friends and peers, it is important to keep that solid foundation as you transition into the workplace. I’ve found that the sense of comfort your support structure can provide is integral to the process of stepping into a new phase of life.It is also a very effective strategy to work with an occupational therapist during this time, someone who can help you navigate the change, fine-tune sensory integration practices, self-regulation processes, and build any new executive functioning skills that your industry may require.Strategy #2: Create a low stimulus arousal environmentYou might not want too much light, or too many colours, patterns, textures, sounds, and smells, and so it’s a good idea to take a minimalist approach to your work space. If you’re hyposensitive (under responsive) rather than hypersensitive (over responsive), you can always introduce additional stimuli if, or when, you need them. This is much easier to do when you have the option of working from home – if you happen to prefer solitude to social interaction.Strategy #3: Practice emotional regulationThis is one of the most important tools to keep using throughout your life. When you don’t know what you’re feeling, you don’t know how to regulate that emotion, so the starting point for alexithymia (the inability to identify and express emotion) is developing an understanding of what you’re feeling. Literally keep identifying and labelling the emotion as much as you need to. I find the emotional wheel chart particularly helpful with my clients. You can even print out a whole lot of emoticons if that works better for you. So name the emotion, identify where you feel it in your body, and use your particular set of tools and techniques to maintain the positive, or to restore a balance, or to self-soothe when you‘re feeling angry, anxious, or overwhelmed.Strategy #4: Keep cultivating self-awarenessIt’s incredibly important to be self-aware when you’re on the autistic spectrum. When you know how you feel, you know what you need. When you’re feeling drained you can take time out to recharge, when the noise is overwhelming you can find quiet, when something doesn’t make sense you can take a step back and ask for more clarity.This is where psychoeducation helps to understand how autism presents to you personally, because every presentation of ASD is different for every person. Self-awareness is also important in helping you identify your triggers, in coping with your disadvantages, and in developing your strengths.Strategy #5: Develop your strengthsTake the time to explore your passions and interests. What are you good at? What are you great at? What works for you? Which of your skills match your interests? Can you match that pattern to a career? One of my clients, a woman who was diagnosed with ASD in her mid-thirties, matched her passion for sports with her love for collating information about the human body and now runs one of the most successful schools in her field. She has changed her life in such an incredible way, and in turn, is changing many others.A final word on autismReceiving an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis is often met with fear, confusion, and anger and may feel like a sentence of life without fulfilment, but there is much we can do, no matter what your age of diagnosis. Autism is a neurological disorder that comes with many challenges, especially in communication and social skills. And while these challenges vary for every individual, most often people come to me for therapy and psychoeducation when the symptoms become too much. When it impacts daily life and their ability to function in school, work, and other areas of life. We always start by walking you through the acceptance phase, we identify your disadvantages, unpack your advantages, and look at ways that work for you as an individual.Over the years we have developed many behavioural, developmental, cognitive and psychological strategies and therapies to help you deal with everything from communication difficulties to social interactions and sensory processing. Through a multidisciplinary and holistic approach, there are countless ways we can improve the quality of your life, both at home and at work – especially when you’re given the space to bring in your own creative solutions.I can only try and imagine how scary it must be for you to not always understand what you’re feeling, or what the world around you is doing, but I want you to know that I see superpowers in action every day, and it’s honestly a privilege for me just to share the journey and walk alongside my clients with autistic spectrum disorder.And I think we could all do with seeing the world in a different light.Support for autism in South AfricaI would love for more South Africans to know about where to start with an ASD diagnosis. The earlier we can start intervention, the better. And while the average age of diagnosis in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom is around 3 years old, in my practice the average age of new referrals is 10.Many mental health professionals are working on increasing the access to the resources that can make an earlier diagnosis possible, and one of those resources is the DISCO assessment with The Neurodiversity Centre. DISCO is a good place to start for an autism diagnosis in South Africa. It’s an in-depth diagnostic interview for conditions on the autistic spectrum. There is no one specific diagnostic test for autism spectrum disorder, but DISCO is an important instrument in the complex process of making a clinical diagnosis.Other factors include additional assessments as well as collateral from other clinicians, families, and schools or creches.The Neurodiversity Centre has branches nationwide, but the DISCO can also be conducted online.For more on autism listen to TSBU clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane in her podcast chat with a woman who raised a young autistic man who went from speaking nonwords as a child to a matriculant entering his first year of computer science studies.

Self-esteem is our soft landing

TSBU clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane thinks we could do with a little re-framing of self-esteem. Rather than a brittle exterior shield to fortify ourselves against the knocks of life, it’s the soft centre that holds us until we’re strong enough to get back up again.When we think of self-esteem, we tend to think of it as something that we either have or we don’t, but it’s often more fluid than that. We can have positive self-esteem days (or moments), and we can have times when our self-esteem takes a dip. It’s in the quest to create a more genuine sense of self-esteem, however, that we find our roots in self-worth. All of us, are born with an innate sense of self worthiness; it’s a gift we have. Pia Mellody says it so beautifully when she defines self-esteem as the “internal experience of one's own preciousness in the face of one's human frailty”.Our sense of preciousness and the way we grow upWhile we’re born with the gift of self-worth, self-esteem is something that must be nurtured by those around us when we are young. It’s the way we are seen. When our mothers, aunts and grandmothers hold us and our fathers take the family snapshots, the way they respond when we cry, or tell us we’re loved and beautiful and safe. Literally from “hour zero” our caregivers are in the position to esteem us … we cannot, as babies, esteem ourselves.If you did not feel valued growing up, if you felt yourself shrinking while others around you may have bloomed, or you feel that your sense of being seen is a little shaky, remember that as adults, the capacity for esteeming ourselves now is now an inside job. And we are the ones who have to do the work.Building genuine self-esteemGenuine self-esteem is the enduring and unconditional state that flows from the well of our self-worth, that gift we are all born with. And while that self-worth cannot be lost, it can become so shrouded that we don’t see it or feel it anymore. But if we lift the veils, we can find our way back to ourselves and our inner sense of preciousness.One very powerful way to find our way back to our inherent self-worth is to practice compassionate self-awareness; a gentle, moment to moment introspection that nurtures a non-judgemental knowing and comforting the inner self. Compassionate self-awareness in playSo what does this moment to moment introspection look like? It’s about consciously checking in with yourself often throughout the day (you might want to set little reminders on your phone at first). You might wake up feeling great until you pull into your parking lot at work and see one of your colleagues. Suddenly you’re thinking, “They’re driving a much nicer car than me … and look, they’ve lost all the COVID weight and I haven’t even started my healthy eating plan yet.” There. That moment. That’s when you catch yourself and practice compassionate self-awareness by understanding fully what's going on within you. And as you feel your self-esteem take a dip, close your eyes and name where in your body you’re feeling this emotion. Get a sense of what it looks like, feel what your body is doing in that moment.In giving yourself the space and time to feel the emotions in your body, you can, for example, get a sense of what you might be “pushing against” with your back. When we feel our emotions in our bodies, they become easier to work with, easier to release, and easier to heal.The internal inventorySome people may not be ready (or quite comfortable) with the idea of opening themselves up to the physical representations of emotions in their bodies without the guidance of a qualified therapist, and that’s okay. Another way to approach the same situation above would be to take a quick internal inventory.Start by forgiving yourself for any thoughts that you’re not “good enough”. And then back it up with evidence that you actually are good enough. So while your colleague may be driving a nicer car and has lost the weight you haven’t yet shed, you’ll unearth your own accomplishments. Have you just given yourself the most amazing self-care day? Or signed up for a new course? Maybe you’ve implemented a new process at work, or have steadfastly stood by a friend during a particularly difficult time.So even though you may not be a size 34, you can still lift your chin and say, “I still think I’m pretty good, I'm still worthwhile, I have value, I have self-worth.” And that's what it's about. When you take stock, you will probably find more evidence to support your self-esteem rather than diminish it. I often suggest making a practice of it, like kicking back at the end of a week and tracking all the moments (big and small) where you did well.For those of us who need deeper levels of healing, or are living with a mental illness or unresolved trauma, we always recommend seeking help from a professional. But no matter who we are, or what we’re facing, when our self-esteem is low, we become out of touch with our inner selves. The soft and warm centre that knows you are precious and worth loving. That place that you can always come home to. The place that can always be your soft landing.For more on developing self-care, our Cultivating Self Care workshop is an invaluable tool in helping you develop a personal self-care plan in all spheres of life, from our physical and mental health to spiritual and relational health.

Why mental health is critical for young professionals’ success

“When you become the master of your mind, you are master of everything.”Swami SatchidanandaResilience, the ability to handle and bounce back from challenges, is becoming an increasingly important skill in today’s working world.  At The Space Between Us, we strongly believe that mental health is the foundation for the wellbeing and optimal functioning of every individual in their work and personal life.Let us tackle some key questions you might have:What is mental health?It’s the ability to harness your mind as a tool to help you be grounded in who you are, have amazingly supportive relationships, work through life’s storms, bounce back, work productively, and live your best life. It is the also about our ability to contribute to our community and or things larger than us. Mental health speaks to how our brain is wired which then impacts how we think, feel, see the world and behave. Whereas mental illness refers to shifts  in our thinking, our emotions and/or behaviours that create distress and impaired functioning, in family, work and social 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 on a continuum. On the one hand of the continuum is the ability to thrive and manage our stressors effectively and on the far end of the spectrum is feeling totally out of control and out of touch with the reality as we move closer to  mental illness.  In reality, all of us move between these extremes in different seasons of our lives, depending on what stressors we have, what skills we have to manage them and how our relationships are holding us.  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).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 fear of the unknown, shaming and value judgment has been key in forcing discussions on mental illness underground and its sufferers feeling isolated and blamed rather than supported. What tools can we use to make ourselves mentally strong and resilient?Feel your emotions, they contain vital information. While not all emotions are pleasant it’s important to allow emotions to run their course.  Name them so they move from the shadows into a space you can start tackling them.Learn to recognise and be prepared for situations, challenges or stresses that impact you more negatively and experiment with ways to manage them.Connect with other people with empathy and understanding. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate people who know your story and validate your feelings. This will create a community and help you feel less isolated. Consider what gives your life meaning to improve your mood and mental well-being. Take time to look back and celebrate new skills you have learned. Seek professional help and tools to support you in your journey.What are the telling signs that could mean your mental health needs attention?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 well-being at an emotional (how I feel anger, fear, joy, passion, love, shame and guilt), psychological (being in touch with reality, how my mind is wired to respond) and social (how I connect to people and they to me) level.  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 towards injury  on the continuum. How can the Young Professionals Programme help me to be mentally strong and successful?Prevention is better than cure.  We believe in a pre-emptive approach, by providing you with the skills to help you proactively manage your mental health, develop the mental resilience to deal with the ebbs and flow of work and home life, and prevent mental illness.Our workshops and interventions will enable you to grow in your career by: ●  Understanding and developing your sense of self and your belief in your own worth and ability to take control.●  Developing insights, skills, appropriate empathy and boundaries in interactions with those around you.  ●  Understanding how identity (including race and gender identity) develops and impacts the way you relate both in the workplace and outside. ●  Developing mechanisms for protection when overwhelming experiences happen to you and being able to appropriately handle conflict situations.●  Understanding how to integrate the various aspects of your life and prevent burnout.Click here to read more about how our programmes support you to thrive. 

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.  

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.  

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!