Mental Health resources, news and information

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 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”.

Confidently moving into a new leadership norm

There is no better time observe the quality of leaders than when a seismic challenge is rocking their world.Since lockdown started in 2020, just about everyone in South Africa’s corporate world has had to adapt to a transformed environment. New rules, norms, challenges and situations and circumstances are all part of this change. For a variety of reasons, some people have flourished while others have battled. The ongoing Covid threat has separated teams from the physical and emotional security of a company office to remote connections where employees no longer work at home, but rather, live at work.In this “new normal”, the leadership world is being drastically challenged. This has severely impacted the many people who willingly took on the responsibility of motivating, inspiring and driving others, while being abandoned by many organisations who provided no insight or support for the role. The “because I say so” mentality had already been losing its power but in a world where people are tucked up at home with little physical presence, this approach is not working.The lack of appreciation and insight as to what it takes to be a real leader has always been worrisome but over the last year, the role of leaders has transformed, and the stresses of the position have become more pronounced.Whatever the circumstances, coordinated productivity needs to continue, away from the previous face-to-face office environment into a far more remote, and sometimes faceless world of internet connectivity. This article cannot deal with all requirements of what it takes to be a good leader. What it can do is emphasise the leadership mindset that is required to thrive during change. Hopefully, future leaders who want to thrive in their role will continue to reach out to learn some of the many other skills that are needed as part of their trade.The ‘new normal’For generations, economic downturns and general business challenges have been a way of life but the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic has catapulted most corporate workers into a “new normal”.Health, wealth and the blending of the home and work life have become key focuses for many. For the leaders and managers having to raise their game to meet these new challenges, the burden of responsibility and instilling confidence has become more pronounced but the attitude, skills, and tactics of being a great leader remain the same.As we look more closely at the leadership mindset and raising our game, we examine four of the basic priorities aspiring leaders can focus on.1. Self-appreciation and self-careIt may seem paradoxical, but the primary role of any great leader is to ensure that they operate at their own peak performance. The leadership mindset required in looking after oneself throughout the leadership journey is by asking questions such as:Am I getting enough sleep?Do I exercise regularly enough?Do I pencil out blocks of time where I commit quality time to interacting with family and friends?Am I allocating time and a quality of interaction to understand and take charge of my sphere of influence?2. Appreciation of othersMost people are far more resilient, responsible, and cooperative than we give them credit for. A “new normal” leader knows that a positive and appreciative mindset is key to unlocking potential in others.Good leadership happens “one conversation at a time”. Quality conversations underpin a leadership mindset that every person and opinion matters. Asking questions and then using the head, heart, ears, and senses to listen to new thoughts, insights and gain an appreciation of what other people can (or cannot) do is one of the simplest steps in excellent online communication.  The opposite approach is one where the issuing of instructions, negative put-downs and general disrespect create hostile and often emotion-filled interactions where positive interpersonal relationship are non-existent and management threats lose their legitimacy in remote, impersonal environments.3. Planning and preparationAnother leadership mindset underpinning this new context is an appreciation and clearly focused end goal that acts as a guiding rudder.When faced with an array of complex tasks or projects, or mastering the art of skilled communication, strong and focused “new normal” leaders can navigate and overrule their own negative thoughts and emotions that pull them towards the minutiae of the situation, the job, the project, or the team, and instead focus on the inherent “why is this necessary” and “what is my main achievable goal?” Without these two goal posts at the end of the field, there is no specific direction in which to apply a seemingly winning formula.4. Systems and managementOnce you appreciate yourself and others, and have a compelling ideal in each interaction, the next issue is managing the process through to completion. The leadership mindset required in this role is one of organisation and control.Creating effective systems and quality management processes necessitates breaking down complex outputs into clear, unambiguous tasks that can be successfully and accurately managed.The “new normal” leader understands that effective time management is a key ingredient, especially in a remote world. Quality output, confidence and ownership are the outputs of an environment where psychological safety is a key value. When the basics are established monitoring progress, providing clear feedback whenever and wherever the opportunity arises become part of the system that pulls people together. There is nothing really new in the fundamentals of this canvas, but the rules have certainly changed as leadership can no longer rely on interpersonal engagement as the office presence is replaced by distanced people and distanced attitudes who are crying out for leadership excellence.Leadership is not a title, nor a status symbol. Leading others is a privilege and doing this job well requires a mindset that understands that insight, training, and raising the level of thinking are important criteria to make a success of this position. Without these attributes, leading others is demanding and incredibly stressful, particularly when the team is not physically present.Jill Hamlyn is a master executive business leadership and personal coach who partners with The Space Between Us.

How to help children deal with grief

If children are distracted from talking about fear and anxiety, they often become preoccupied and feel alone with their worries. Educational psychologist, Junior June Manala explains how caregivers can help children navigate distress.What are the signs of distress to look out for in a child?Parents and primary caregivers are the most important people in children’s lives in the early dependent years. It follows that stressful relationship environments are deeply felt by all children. Unfortunately, emotional distress is not often talked about. Yet, babies and toddlers, like other children, are highly attuned to shifts in their caregivers’ emotional states, verbal tone, facial expression, and movement. Infants and young children are immensely affected by stressful situations, and if the stress is chronic, it can impact their developing brain neural connections. Toxic stress can change a baby’s brain chemistry and their overall development trajectory. (Graham Music, Sue Gerhardt,)Manifestation of distress in infants and young children may include but is not limited to (especially when these occur out of the ordinary or suddenly):CryingRefusal to feedLack of eye contactHiccuppingPositingScreeching soundsClinginessPale or reddish skin pallorEczemaRespiratory problemsSleeping problemsAngerAt times too much activity in the arms and legs of a newborn is an indication of distress. In this case, gathering the infant together and wrapping them up nicely and speaking softly to them can have a calming effect.Adolescents grieve loss just like adults and may hide their vulnerability by isolating themselves or turning outward for peer group support more than usual. However, teenagers may engage in risky behaviour to mask or numb emotions. Amazingly too, neuroscientists e.g., Dan Siegel, 2013 writes that adolescence is a period of major brain growth that can enhance creative thinking if adults can engage and listen.If we consider behaviours as the language of children that need to be translated into words, then we are well on the way to teaching our children to connect their feelings-in-the-body with their behaviour. This helps soothe, calm, or relax the central nervous system that is operating in a fight or flight or freeze mode.What are some of the causes of distress?Many responsible parents take particularly good care of their children’s practical needs such as feeding, grooming, etc., but what often gets neglected is attention to emotional needs. As a result of the emotional neglect and unmet attachment needs, distress will arise.Examples of some of the causes are:Unrealistic demands of children beyond their age and capability. Infants do not understand death but respond to loss and separation of a loved one by protesting it. Some young children might search for the person in their usual places.Children aged 7-8 years old may not understand the permanence of death and regard the deceased as sleeping. Seeing the loved one in a coffin and attending a burial leaves the child with worries as to how the loved one will “get out” of the box when there is so much heavy soil over them.In many African cultures’ children are protected from seeing corpses. They may come to understand death as an emotionally charged situation, where main caregivers are preoccupied in their grief, which can be overwhelming for children. This leaves memories and experiences that are not processed since adults often find it hard to speak to children about death.The vast body of knowledge by neuroscientists Antonio Damasio, Jaak Panksepp, Allan Shore among others, indicates we can intentionally build our children’s brains and resilience to toxic stress from pregnancy through the first two and half years by attending to feelings, naming them, and allowing for their expression. The way we hold our children, look at them, speak to them and respond to their inborn natural attachment needs is learned and stored in our children’s brains.What can I do to reduce the risk of distress in our home?Parents need to remind themselves that they want the best for their children and that parenting is hard especially when faced with a pandemic which brings sudden change and the loss of loved ones.The idea of “good enough” parenting is quite freeing. Parents might need to be reminded of self-care, which is what they need to recharge their emotional cups. Another reminder is that there is no such thing as perfect parenting. This helps to reduce some of the pressure parents face.Thoughtfulness and intention to be a good parent is a given for many parents and includes paying attention to the following:Noticing your response is the first step towards being emotionally available to yourself and creating moments for self-care to refill your emotional energy.Having a support system helps in generating a blanket of warmth and care in difficult times.Being calm helps you transmit the same calmness to your children.Maintaining consistency in caregiving routines such as feeding and bedtimes.Asking for help and cooperation from your children such as tidying and putting away things in the home.Avoiding activities that are likely to heighten stress and anxiety i.e., long hours of watching and listening to violent movies or long periods on social media. Create spaces for play or talking or storytelling that soothes rather than arouses anxiety.What are the key things I should do to help?Remembering that you are bigger, stronger, and wiser than your child will help you to find your calm. This is contrary to complaints that young children or infants are controlling and manipulating their parents. Remember that infants and young children’s brains are not yet sufficiently developed to “control”.Love your children for who they are not for how they behave and encourage them to come to you when they are distressed.This is our step-by-step way to comfort a child.Take in your child’s emotions as if you are in their shoes (empathy) rather than being dismissive of their emotional pain.Find your calm and lend your calm to the child (co-regulate through your face and eye contact), use a soft voice and smooth movements to soothe a fearful or upset child. Holding or gentle touching helps to soothe. Children prefer bodily contact.When you are sure that you have the child’s attention, find the words to help them find their own words to speak about how they are feeling.As an example, let’s say Mpho is moving from one activity to another without really thinking about what he is doing and why. This is an example of nervous emotional energy expressed as restlessness or hyperactivity. Supposing mum were to gently say, “Mpho, come here,” and held him kindly, lowering her voice and directing kind eyes to him saying, “I can see that you are telling me that you are unhappy inside.” If mum pauses and allows him to really take this in, over time, he learns to connect how nervousness or fear shows in his body.  It is likely that mum will notice relaxation in Mpho and he might be able to respond positively in words. Mum will have succeeded in noticing the distress, understanding the language of his behaviour and translating the behaviour into words. This process is co-regulation and soothing for Mpho.When should I, as a parent, seek help for my child?When distress disrupts the normal functioning of the child and the family it is a call for help, particularly when the caregivers have tried everything without success. It will then be time to seek professional assistance.For babies and young children under five, help can be sought from parent-infant psychotherapists such on Gauteng Association for Infant Mental Health South Africa (GAIMHSA); Ububele African Psychotherapy and Training Centre; Grow Great runs Flourish prenatal and postnatal programmesFor children and adolescents, telephonic help is available from Lifeline or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. Public schools have school-based support teams that can assist children. Some universities offer counselling services to communities at minimum costs or for free.Private practitioners such as clinical social workers, counsellors and psychologists are available at a cost. Junior Manala offers play therapy, parent infant and under Fives psychotherapy, Strubenvalley Assessment and Therapy Centre.

How to navigate conflict while living with your partner

While none of us are strangers to conflict in relationships, the added pressure of Covid-19’s lockdown has cast a spotlight on increased tensions. But how do we address this? Clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu reveals all.What are the most common causes of conflict in couples?There are many but some include:Lack of communicationCommunication is a two-way channel that involves both expressing your views and listening to your partner’s views. This sounds like an easy task until you involve two or more people and their emotions. Some couples believe they are communicating when they are commanding, directing, not listening, or listening selectively. This can invalidate their partner and cause conflict.Unmet expectationsEveryone enters a relationship with expectations - whether they articulate them or not. When those expectations are not met, it causes conflict because one feels they are not being heard, their needs are not met, or their partner does not care enough for them. Most couples do not articulate expectations because they believe their partners “should know” either from having alluded to it previously or because they have known them for a long time. This is the biggest trap because people forget and are sometimes blind to what is in front of them. Explicit communication is key!Lack of validationBeing validated in a relationship involves being seen, heard, helped, and supported. When this is lacking, the other party may feel they are not loved, and this can erupt into conflict. The partner that validation is being sought from may believe it is too much responsibility to carry someone else’s validation and this, too, may cause conflict.Unresolved insecuritiesUnresolved insecurities can manifest in various forms, whether it is the comparison to a former relationship, bringing past hurts and mistrust into current relationships or even seeing oneself as “not good enough” for your partner. These insecurities cause conflict because they cannot be resolved by the people they are directed at. One must be aware of their own insecurities and manage them through therapy or a workshop to help them think of the insecurities they may have.External circumstances: Financial problems, extended family issues, children/parenting issuesThese are the most noted causes of conflict because they are tangential and can be visible in the relationship. These issues usually break the unity of the couple. The couple needs foundation philosophies of how they manage them, otherwise they can take over the relationship.Why does living together over an extended period, especially during Covid-19, often lead to more conflict?Existing problems that were not addressed usually surface and are harder to hide on a day-to-day basis.We fail to see an integrated picture when something is frustrating us. We look at our partners with the lens of what they had failed and forget to integrate the good things they have done and the ways they have made us happy. This is what causes the “always” and “never” phenomenon, where we believe our partners “always” do something or “never” do something, even though they may have done it previously.Staying with someone full-time places them under a lot of scrutiny. We observe more behaviours than we usually would, and this may bring to light the things we may have ignored or missed otherwise.The old saying of “absence make the heart fonder” still applies. When you get to miss someone, you are more likely to relate better and forget the small transgressions you may make.Over lockdown, people’s circles of intimacy and love were condensed. Where before, one would confide in friends and colleagues, usually only the partner is available and the constant demand for affection, validation, and affirmation can cause conflict.What are the strategies for navigating a couple conflicts?Intention for conflictWhen you are in conflict, know why you are having that conflict. What is your partner unhappy about? What are you unhappy about? What are the expectations from both of you? Often, conflicts become a medley of all the things you have done to one another and this is not conducive to finding a solution or better relationship.Remember you are trying to build with your partner, every time you want to respond, ask yourself “will this build my relationship or break it?”, “What is my intention by this response?” and “Do I want them to understand me or hurt them like they hurt me?”Tackle individual pointsTry not to have conflicts about multiple things at the same time. Define the disagreement and focus on it.Know your limitsWhen you are angry and you know yourself to shout or be mean with words, then ask for a time out to cool off and then resume when calm. Avoid a shouting match!What will the problem look like when it is resolved?Always have outcomes in mind. Then conflict will be healthy and have direction.Listen to your partnerListen to understand and not to respond. If you feel like you do not understand stop them, and ask, “am I right in thinking this is what you are saying”. Let them respond and do not proceed until you are on the same page about what the issue is and why your partner is hurt by you or your actions.What do I do if my partner isn’t coming to the party?Understand why they are refusing to cooperate and know that you cannot convince them otherwise. If they do not want to resolve a conflict then you must decide if you are okay with the conflict remaining unresolved or what action you need to take for yourself, including moving out, seeking professional help, or even sharing with them how you feel about their decision to not engage.Where do I go for help? Does The Space Between Us offer workshops that can help?You can seek couples counselling.You can seek individual counselling to understand what you bring and what you want out of the relationship.Take a workshop at TSBU to learn more about relationships and how to navigate them.Know when it is time to leave.How do we rebuild our relationships after a period of conflict?Talk to understand why you are having conflicts. Start afresh and communicate your expectations to one another.Build a repair culture.Have rules of how to have conflict, when to stop and when to resume.Have a talking date where you just check how the week was and how you may have hurt one another and what you both appreciated.Acknowledge when you recognise your partner is trying.Keep a friendship between you.Know your partner’s personal history to build an understanding of their present patterns.Build love maps. Researcher and clinician John Gottman notes a love map is “that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life.” Having a detailed love map involves taking a genuine interest in your partner. It means making plenty of mental space to store information about their personal opinions, preferences, quirks, dreams, and fears.Have action plans for what happens after a conflict. For example, who will work on what? How will you provide constructive feedback or, even how much time you want to spend with each other daily? 

How to set boundaries for a thriving work/life balance

In 2020, the world was swept up by the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to loom over our every move. Various countries made the hard decision to halt the spread of the virus through extreme lockdown measures. In South Africa hard lockdown meant we could not move around freely and seeing friends and family outside of our immediate household was stopped for a period of time. This was an event not experienced in any of our lifetimes. According to The Economist, an African perspective, Covid will leave lasting economic scars on Africa.On the work front, organisations have faced massive disruptions. Due to hard lockdown, businesses had to quickly adapt their operations (if they could operate at all). Due to the restrictive movement of people, traditional work environments stopped. Some organisations navigated this by working remotely and employees were thrust into this new way of work. Employees have reported that remote working has resulted in longer work hours, digital fatigue, communication frustration and lack of personal time and space. The question of practically and purposefully navigating this new working context is important.It is necessary for employees and organisations to pick up new skills and habits quickly. Let’s explore some of these for employees. Setting workable boundariesBefore getting into the practicalities it is useful to acknowledge that for those of us from traditional work spaces, this environment was informed and structured by a building to go to. Our employment contracts and habits formed over years told us when to start work, what time we finished, when we could take a lunch break and that engaging with others through meetings and kitchen catch-ups was normal. This tradition is now on its way out.Organisations have chosen to embrace the remote working approach, at first as a response to Covid but later as a strategic workforce decision. As such employees have a responsibility to pick up the habits and skills needed very quickly. A tool that is earning its place is the humble boundary. The American Psychological Association describes a boundary as a psychological demarcation that helps a person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activities. This definition is true in the context of an evolving and dynamic working space. The application of a boundary can enable employees to achieve success in all aspects - both personal and professional. Before delving into boundaries and the relevance for employees it must be clarified that a healthier workplace is not defined as a traditional work environment, i.e. a physical space provided by an organisation but more to the contract of employment (which can be enacted in one’s choice of environment, i.e. remotely). Sauter, Lim and Murphy (1996) define a healthy workplace, as an organisation that “maximises the integration of worker goals for wellbeing and company objectives for profitability”. My challenge for employees is that it is not just the company that is responsible for creating these goals, but rather that the shift towards remote environments allows for a shared responsibility between employees and organisations in establishing a healthy workplace (where one physically and psychologically connects to the employment contract). Adkins, Quick and Moe (2000) refer to organisational health as a quest for an abundant life. It is a wonderful idea that work life can be an abundant life, made more empowering is that as an employee one is fully empowered to co-create and live that abundant life.   Setting the frameworkLet’s explore where an employee can set practical boundaries:Start and end timesI have heard employees tell me that they find themselves working longer hours to “finish up that last email” or “have the last say on a project” which means finishing two or three hours later than usual. I have heard managers say “but I didn’t ask for that”. So let us begin with setting a realistic limit of when to start and when to end. How does sticking to your contractually agreed working hours sound to you? My invitation is for you to bring back a start and end time. Begin the day with breakfast, say goodbye to the family and start work. To help with “shutting off” of work at the end of the day, start a task list, or “today I will achieve” list. Be committed, tick off or follow up on the dependencies. Putting down a task list helps you set your pace and gives you a sense of accomplishment. It gives you permission to “leave” work at the end of the day and gives you clarity on when to “start” the next day.Break, breathe and eat lunchAt the office, we had stops to eat and unwind with colleagues. I remember seeing some employees enjoying my company’s beautiful gardens while sitting outside. Why did that stop? I have heard employees say “I worked the entire day, there was no time to eat, take a break or breathe”. I believe the connections between breaking, breathing and eating is linked to a healthier you and a healthy you is a healthy workplace. If you have a highly structured role, taking a lunch break is possible – eat, go outside or sit near an open window for 15 minutes. If you work in a more ambiguous role you need to create the breaks you need. Pack a lunchbox and take it with you for the day, so you can have moments of breaking from work. FlexibilityI personally love the flexibility of time in a remote environment. At first, though, I ended up having my attention split into many aspects because, well, it could be done. I can work and sign for a delivery. I can work and quickly dash off to the shops because I forgot to buy that important grocery item on the weekend. I can work and have my children sit with me while they finish up their homework with me coaching, correcting and being firm with them while I was reading that crucial email, or responding to my manager’s WhatsApp message. How wrong was I? Flexibility comes with responsibility. The result for me was not being fully present in anything I did. I was always sharing my focus with everything – flexibility doesn’t work for me without boundaries/limits. I was stressed. I was getting short tempered with my kids, starting to blame work for so many emails and WhatsApps. The power for change was with me. I needed to define reasonable flexibility for myself and I have become fiercely protective of my time. After all, time lost is never gotten back.Connections with your organisationPhysical distance can lead to one losing connection with work, the responsiveness needed, communicating face-to-face verbally and non-verbally. It is the sum of all the aforementioned that helps solve issues, motivate oneself and ultimately to find abundance in the workplace. As an employee you have the responsibility to read the organisational newsletter, be curious about your company website, set up meetings with your manager to talk about your challenges with your deliverables, attend communication sessions. If you have check-ins with your manager or your team, participate, switch on your camera, show up. Seize the day.Setting yourself up for successI mentioned earlier that I had allowed flexibility into my life with all its wonderful promises of being able to control my personal and work space but found it not serving me or my responsibilities. The lesson for me was that you can be wrong with boundaries that end up working against you and not for you. The good news is that you have the power to re-establish them so that they serve you better. How can you recognise if a boundary has been poorly set up?Heightened stress (emotional outbursts, inability to sleep, short temper at home or work).The intended use of the boundary does not give you the desired results.The boundary makes you miss important deliverables (perhaps you have applied too much  structure and not enough room for change, if the context warrants it?).The above is not an exhaustive set of warning signs but a few of the big ones. If you find yourself saying “yes” to any of the above. Pause, reflect on the boundary and reimagine it practically!Remote working has created a range of possibilities for us. Some good, some bad and many opportune areas for reimaging our world of work. Being a co-creator of one's workspace and having the ability to allow abundance into work is simply wonderful.Atasha Redhi is a clinical psychologist whose passion is connecting people with and to the workplace on a human level to ensure the workplace is one of dignity, respect and ultimately transformation.