What does a thriving couple relationship look like?

Thriving relationships look different depending on the goal of the relationship. Some people look for companionship and others, a short-term relationship that meets a particular need in their lives. It’s important to understand what the intention of the relationship is to evaluate whether it’s thriving or not, writes TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu. There are some general pointers to look out for.A thriving couple relationship reflects the aligned personal values of the couple. Most people have values of trust, honesty and respect, to name a few and for others these differ. Personal values generally depend on the individual’s principles and how they would like to live their lives. No matter what these are, a thriving relationship will reflect individuals mutually honouring these values for the sake of their partner. They also explicitly communicate their needs, likes, dislikes, and expectations and their partner listens and honours the requests to the best of their ability. How do you build a thriving couple relationship?Communicate expectations: Know what your partner wants and express what you want as well. It is also important that the expectations are realistic.Define the relationship: This eliminates conflict based on the misalignment on the purpose of the relationship. Ask each other difficult questions to get to the core of what you and your partner want out of the relationship. Practice empathy and forgiveness: Relationships are made up of different individuals, so mistakes and misunderstandings are bound to occur. You may need to re-communicate your desires to your partner and both parties need to be patient while getting to know each other’s needs.Have individual lives: Some people feel suffocated by long-term relationships because they assimilate into their partner’s world. They assume they need to completely merge their lives with their partner but this brews resentment and suffocation. If both parties keep an aspect of being independent, the relationship is more likely to feel enjoyable.  Have shared activities that you both enjoy to continuously build a bond.What are some of the negative effects Covid-19?It has been magnifying the problems that may have been present all along but were either dormant or were being avoided.There have been high levels of intimacy demand. Previously people would have had multiple spaces to destress and express their emotions but during the Covid-19 pandemic, partners have been the sole or one of the few spaces they could outlet, hence the pressure in relationships.Distance for those that live apart has been hard to navigate, which usually leaves room for questioning the seriousness of the relationship or whether your partner is as committed as you believe you are.Has any benefit been experienced?For some it has provided quality time and precious moments spent together. For others, it has allowed them to see the perspective of how much they value the person and they may want to intentionally commit to making the relationship work. Some couples also benefited from having conversations as a chance to re-evaluate what each person’s expectations are and realign their relationship goals.How do we build a thriving relationship in a stressful situation?For the most part, this process is the same as building a relationship under normal circumstances. However, during stressful experiences, most people do not have the same capacity for empathy. They may be focused on their own lives and how their situations need more attention from them rather than considering how to effectively communicate with a partner. Forgetfulness of values and principles may surface and all these may cause fall-outs in the relationship. During stressful times, couples need to be intentional to care for the other and also allow for more forgiveness as confusions and conflict may occur during overwhelming situations.How can couples establish the path to a thriving relationship?Be clear about expectations.Listen to each other and if you are not sure whether you are understanding your partner. Confirm with them whether you understand their opinion properly.Rather over communicate than under communicate.Be flexible and take into account that both you and your partner may have different views about a topic so be adaptable in your thoughts.Be dependable when your partner requests help from you.Fight fair, remember what the conflict is supposed to achieve, don’t say words to hurt your partner because you are hurt.Keep your life balanced by not over committing yourself and leaving no time for your marriage or relationship.Spend time together to allow you to constantly get to know each other as you both evolve.Pay attention to your partner and what they say, ask for, and communicate to you.Repair regularly when there’s a rapture in the relationship. Don’t let situations escalate unresolved.How do we do this alongside the pressures of raising children?Always be intentional. Children will always require attention but there are certain things that can be done by a babysitter or a helper. Utilise the help around you to free up time to engage meaningfully with your spouse.Have date nights to keep dating traditions going.Communicate when feeling unloved or when you need attention from your spouse.Remember that it’s not about choosing between your partner and your children. If you set time aside for your relationships, you will be able to have quality time to grow all your relationships meaningfully, including your relationship with yourself.   Book your space on the Building Healthy Relationships to Thrive workshop.Ms Lwanele Khasu is a clinical psychologist with a special interest in empowering self-filters into relationships with others, development in career, and self-fulfilment.

Can understanding racial identity help us thrive?

One’s identity is like a unique puzzle made of different pieces that include race, age, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodied/differently abled and religion. The identity we choose at any given time is never a linear discussion in our minds but rather a myriad of dimensions that together allow us to feel like we belong or not in each situation. The term “intersectionality” refers to the way in which these social identities or puzzle pieces overlap and affect one another, creating interdependent systems of worth or discrimination or advantage or disadvantage. Identity plays a significant role in how we move through the world, how we see ourselves, how the world sees and responds to us, how people and systems treat us and the opportunities that are available to us. In South Africa race as a categorisation has played a significant role in determining one’s status, one’s educational opportunities, one’s ability to earn an income and the perceived weight of one’s opinion. Race has been the most important construct used to label people and define their lot in life. For many years race has determined who enters certain professions and how large corporations are formed and their cultures established and perpetuated. Many graduates and young professionals come from humble beginnings and have, because of their exceptional cognitive abilities, found their way through privileged high schools or universities into largely white corporations to begin their work life. It is no wonder, then, that racial identity becomes an important topic of discussion when these young graduates enter a world that is in many ways foreign to them.Social psychology, since the beginning of the century, has been exploring the meaning of race in our lives and identifying with one’s race. The research has largely come from North America and has tended to assert two almost opposing views. Some researchers like Horowitz 1939, Steel & Aronson 1995 assert that African Americans who identify strongly with being black may be at a psychological risk because of the stigma society has assigned to their race. Other researchers have tended to suggest that a strong identification with one's race can serve as a protective buffer to personal self-esteem while many other studies have looked at the relationship between how you identify with your race, self-esteem, and your ability to succeed in the world.What then is racial identity and why is it an important construct for young professionals to understand in their journey to success in corporate South Africa? Racial identity, in essence, is the significance one attaches to belonging to a specific race. The connection one feels to a group or community, attaching to that a set of shared beliefs or ideals. As human beings we have an innate emotional need to belong as we do to breathe, eat, and sleep. According to Boardman 2020, a sense of belonging is crucial to life satisfaction, happiness, mental and physical health and even longevity. It gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. The loss of belonging has been associated with stress, illness and decreased wellbeing and depression. Given this deep sense of belonging together with our collective history of racial groups being kept apart, we may carry subconscious views about ourselves and our colleagues as racial beings. These preconceived notions, usually unsaid and unchallenged, impact both our self-esteem and the kind of relationships we can build with peers and managers across the colour line.How to maintain a positive mental wellbeingTo maintain positive mental wellbeing in racist and prejudiced environments it is important for individuals to take time to do some personal work. Firstly, we need to examine our own racial identity, how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us and how these shape our world view and experience of the world of work. As young professionals your perception of power, whiteness, privilege, etc. can easily affect your performance negatively. You need to understand how racial identity develops, where you are at in the development process and have a plan regarding how you can move to the next stage.Secondly, when one feels a constant pressure to assimilate and be someone they are not, it may lead to feeling isolated, excluded, anxious, uncomfortable, and frustrated. In some instances, this builds up to a point where one should seek the services of a professional therapist for advice, support, and help.Thirdly, given South Africa’s violent past many young people could have already been exposed to racial trauma before entering the workplace. Trauma debriefing is necessary to ensure realistic assessment of situations that one encounters in the workplace rather than seeing everything through the magnifying filter of past experiences. You may ask what racial trauma is. According to Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor of Psychological Sciences at Kent State University, "at its core, racial trauma is racism". She explains “racism takes three forms, each of which is a chronic stressor for the victim. Systemic racism is experienced when ideologies, institutions, and policies operate to produce racial and ethnic inequality. Interpersonal racism involves two or more people and can be manifested through bigotry, bias, prejudice, and microaggressions. Internalized racism is the acceptance of negative stereotypes and societal beliefs about one’s own racial group.” The ability to discern what is happening to you becomes critical in formulating a strategy to deal with racial trauma.An Inclusive workplaceDuring the height of the Covid-19 pandemic most employers were forced to opt for remote working. This forced all of us to see people in their homes, at times with their children walking into meetings or dogs barking but generally in very private spaces of employees. As we ease back to a more hybrid workplace, the idea that people are whole human beings and not just employees has stuck. Human beings that are made up of multifaceted puzzle pieces or social identities. Feelings of non-belonging and lack of physical safety can trigger anxiety, stress, and depression. Individuals can feel like external situations are out of control and, as a result, can be in a state of constant vigilance and fight-or-flight. When people repeatedly feel they do not belong, they can develop internalised beliefs that they are voiceless, invisible, do not have agency in creating change, and/or are not allowed to take up physical, intellectual, and emotional space. These factors may lead to a sense of learned helplessness and hopelessness. Unprocessed experiences with racism from an individual’s past and collective historical trauma can also have a direct impact on a person’s mental health.Organisations who are to succeed and allow their people to thrive must create an inclusive workplace environment where all people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves, or identities, to work. Inclusivity means not only educating those previously disadvantaged but, equally important, to educate and sensitise those in historically privileged positions in corporates and elsewhere on what inclusivity, cultural and racial openness and non-microaggression entail and strategies on how to relate successfully with cultures and races different from your own. A place where employees feel understood, supported, and have a sense of belonging and can be productive and go the extra mile to achieving their personal and the company’s success. Companies who want to retain high functioning whole individuals must pay attention to how they manage the diversity that young employees bring. As McKinsey & Company states, organisations’ dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion directly correlates to improved economic performance. No organisation can afford to look away from its employees’ various social identities, and how those identities affect individual and collective experiences within the organisation. As The Space Between Us we are committed to offering support to graduates and consultation to organisations on how to create a truly inclusive work environment.About the author:Linda Mthenjane is the managing director and founder of The Space Between Us, a human-centered digital mental health platform in tune with the African psyche.She has over 22 years’ experience in strategic human resources and as a registered clinical psychologist in private practice. In business, she has proven her value as a passionate strategic advisor and problem solver and in the clinical setting she is a trained Imago, HOCI and Relational Life Therapy practitioner working with couples and relationship dynamics.Linda holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from UKZN, an BA Honors in Psychology from Wits and a Business Strategy for HR Leaders qualification from INSEAD.Linda has been practicing Bikram Yoga for 13 years and is also a keen boxer. She has been married to Mzila for 24 years and together they have two daughters.Image: Nappy.co

How to flex your resilience muscle during challenging or distressing times

We all go through trauma, adversity, and distress. It is unavoidable but we can empower ourselves by cultivating the resilience muscle. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from adversity and recover from difficulties. This does not mean you will recover unharmed, or that you will not experience stress or struggles, it simply means that when the challenges come, you will have the internal skills to support you in your journey to recovery. How do I know whether I’m a resilient person?Resilience is not something that can be measured tangibly but you can get a sense of your resilience by asking yourself a few things, including: How long do you take to recover from distress, trauma, or change? This recovery is not about moving on per se but rather feeling you have bounced back from the turmoil the situation may have caused. The situation may still be present, but you find yourself able to navigate it with less harm and paralysis.  How much does distress erupt the rest of your life? The reality of life is that we will all go through adversity but how much impact do these things have on you? Does one thing going wrong destabilise everything else? A sign of resilience is being able to understand that rejection at work for a promotion, for example, does not mean your life is over. In fact, your family life may be prospering.    Are you able to try again? Resilient people generally understand that distress is part of life and are not afraid to try again. Even when the fear may exist, it doesn’t debilitate the pursuit.How confident am I in my ability to fail and rise again? Failure is inevitable and unavoidable. You have to know how to deal with it without attaching it to your self-concept. Failure in one area of life does not make you a failure as a person.2. Can I become resilient?The simple answer? Yes, but you need to be intentional with your decision.Even though resilience can be learned, there’s no guarantee that you will be resilient in all situations. Some experiences may destabilise you more than others. In those instances, you need to work a little harder to bounce back. The iterative process of bouncing back after challenges is a significant self-confidence builder. When you are self-confident, you are less afraid to tackle unfamiliar grounds, in assurance that if things fail, you will bounce back and recover. 3. How can I reframe my thinking to make more empowering choices?Resilience starts with self-awareness. To reframe your thoughts and perspectives, you must first understand what that perspective is. Moreover, you must understand what events or past experiences have led you to have that particular lens of life and then reframing work can begin. The reframing work is about trying to see others’ perspectives so you can then evaluate whether your frame is based on reality and circumstances or if it's faulty and marred by past experiences. The assistance of a therapist or one of The Space Between Us’ workshops is key for this process because you can only question your own experiences to an extent. You need someone to help you through the process or at least be given the tools to do so.4. What small, daily choices can I make to help me become resilient?Make a habit of tracking your emotions throughout the day so you are aware of what evokes various emotions for you. Emotional regulation is a big part of being resilient.Be self-aware.Ask for help when in need.Reward your small wins to continuously build self-confidence.Don’t shy away from challenges and problems, it builds muscle for problem-solving which is essential when going through adversity.Don’t be afraid of failure.Learn to attribute your self-esteem to your character and personality and not only performance.5. What should I do when I encounter a setback?Feel: Pay attention to how you are feeling. Don’t avoid your emotions and go straight to problem-solving mode. Acknowledge the impact experienced.Identify how and in what areas the impact has affected you. Don’t catastrophise and over generalise the impact experienced.Go through a process of understanding what is within your control and what is not.The process of reframing your mindset is key in bouncing back.Emotional regulation skills are essential and these are taught in the workshops provided by The Space Between Us. And remember, don’t rush the process. 6. How can the Building Resilience workshop help me?The workshop is a practical engagement on how the tips above can be implemented.You will learn how to identify emotions, understand them, then regulate them during adverse times.The workshop also addresses how one can understand their thoughts and reframe them.It also goes into what habits you can then address daily to upkeep a resilient nature.It is interactive and not didactic and includes worksheets and activities that can assist one to already practice the skills that are addressed.Book your spot for the Building Resilience workshop here.Lwanele Khasu is a clinical psychologist with a special interest in empowering self-filters into relationships with others, development in career, and self-fulfillment.Image: Nappy.co 

Burnout, PTSD, anxiety and depression: What’s the difference?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a lot of changes and by isolating us it has been able to magnify ongoing societal injustices and, importantly, our own struggles. In our attempts to stay safe, there has been a growing need to also understand how we can live holistic lives that place mental health centre stage. It is important for us to understand that with change comes vulnerability, and this article aims to equip you in understanding some of those vulnerabilities. This will be achieved by discussing some of the differences in identified mental health conditions and conclude with some guidelines on how we can improve our mental health. What is burnout?There has been a growing trend of people wanting to throw in the towel while others try to keep going. Burnout is not just exhaustion that you can wake up and feel better from the next day. Burnout is ongoing exhaustion because of ongoing work stress. You may feel overworked, unappreciated, or overlooked and have lost meaning in what you do or feel incompetent. As a result, burnout impacts the following areas: Emotional (hopelessness, no pleasure, insecure/self-doubt, emotional outbursts) Physical (fatigue, loss of energy, being sickly, change in sleep patterns)  Behavioural functioning (decreased social interaction, increased use of substances like alcohol) What is anxiety? It’s important to distinguish between anxiety disorders and everyday anxiety. Anxiety disorders are ongoing feelings of worry or fear that significantly impact a person’s daily functioning. Some anxiety disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder. Expected anxiety may be feeling anxious in a specific situation or problem. It is generally present for the same duration of the presenting situation or problem, for example, anxiety ahead of giving a speech, etc.  In my practice I have noticed an increase in generalised anxiety disorder with patients constantly worried or finding it difficult to relax, but most concerns or fears around the situation are usually exaggerated. Common symptoms include: decreased concentration;fatigue;muscle tension; sweating;nausea; andshortness of breath;racing thoughts or overthinking; andincreased heart rate. The individual may also struggle with making decisions or with uncertainty. We can’t separate the new normal as a contributing factor in the current awareness of anxiety disorders. What is post-traumatic stress disorder? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an example of an anxiety disorder. It can go unnoticed in a lot of people because it often coexists alongside other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. However, with a rich background assessment it can be identified and treated. A lot of people use the terms trauma and PTSD interchangeably, but trauma is a more time-based emotional response to an event like a car accident while PTSD is categorised as ongoing symptoms or response to a past event. The symptoms of PTSD include: intrusive flashbacks;nightmares about trauma;avoidance of triggers; self-isolation; hypervigilance;eating disturbances.These symptoms are experienced six months or more after the traumatic incident. Someone with PTSD will experience negative changes in how they relate to others or how they view themselves. They would also notice physical and emotional changes. What is depression?In the past many people who suffered from depression struggled in silence while others never sought mental health services. A lot of stigma surrounds people who struggle with mental health with them often being perceived as weak, wanting an easy way out or seeking attention. Thankfully, we are seeing a much-needed shift when it comes to mental health conditions like depression. What has made it difficult for some to understand depression is that we all experience feelings of sadness or low mood. This can be triggered by stress while other times may not even have a trigger. Generally, we can bounce back from these feelings. Clinical depression is more than just sadness and sufferers are not able to bounce back. It is diagnosed when five or more of these symptoms have been present for two weeks or more:depressed mood; loss of interest or pleasure or lack of motivation and desire;decreased concentration; change in memory and sleep patterns; fatigue; body aches; negative thoughts; weight gain or loss; anxiety; andsuicidal ideation and intent. How to build mental resilience and wellnessStrong mental health is essential in helping us cope better in an environment that is ever changing and unpredictable. Our everyday needs are all different but what is foundational for all of us to function optimally is our emotional state, being in good physical health and remembering that neglecting your body is neglecting your mind, social interaction/contact, and intellectual or mental wellbeing also form part of holistic living. The following tools can help:Making yourself a priority. At times we become so consumed by everyday tasks that we end up neglecting our own needs or feel guilty for wanting this. Make it a habit to become aware of thoughts. Your thoughts influence your mood and behaviour.Be realistic and understand your strengths. Make it a habit to care for your physical health, such as exercising, going for walks, and maintaining a healthy diet. Spend time with family or friends. Find healthy ways to express your emotions like journaling, talking to someone or even listening to music.Introduce reading into your daily routine. You can start with just a few pages a day.Limit screen time. Make it a habit to honour yourself and celebrate yourself. Separate your work and personal life by setting work hours.Make time for your spiritual growth (if this matters to you, like prayer, meditation or reading). Remember resting is important!Acknowledge when you need help. This is a form of self-growth and truly no man is an Island. Document the changes you need to make. Share your plans with a trusted friend.Remember that the journey to a stronger you starts with letting go of what you can’t control and assuming responsibility for what is in your control. Hope Magubane is a clinical psychologist.Image: Nappy.co

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.

How to cope with seasonal affective disorder

What is it and how do you know whether the change in seasons is affecting your mental health? Find out to cope.What is seasonal affective disorder and how do you know whether the change in seasons is affecting your mental health? Let’s look at how we can cope with this type of depression.Winter may not be your favourite season, but it could be affecting your mood more than you realise. Summer-loving South Africans bemoan the cold, frosty windscreens, and the shorter days, but for some, it goes deeper than a morning gripe over a cup of coffee. For some, seasonal affective disorder, or winter depression as it’s also known, is a cyclical reality that can be overwhelming and disturb the quality of everyday life.So, what is seasonal affective disorder?If you feel great throughout the year but find yourself feeling tired and depressed come winter, you may well be affected by this seasonal pattern of depressive episodes. For some people with bipolar disorder, this seasonal component may express itself as depression in winter, and mania or hypomania in summer. And for some people, the oncoming spring or early summer can trigger sadness instead.Most commonly, however, seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder that normally kicks in during autumn and the early winter months and may become more severe as winter progresses, as the days continue to shorten, and our mood-boosting sunlight is in shorter supply. This link between sunlight and mood shifts is why seasonal affective disorder is believed to be caused by a shift in the body’s biological internal clock – or circadian rhythm.What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?While it’s normal to feel a bit down sometimes, if you’re feeling down for days on end, if you’re sleeping more than normal, and if you’re turning to food and alcohol for comfort, it’s definitely time to start listening to your body and reaching out for support.Symptoms can also include:Feeling sad, depressed, cranky, agitated, or hopeless.Feeling worthless or guilty.Wanting to be left alone.Losing interest in things you normally love doing.Having trouble concentrating or making decisions.Having less energy.Feeling sluggish or fatigued.Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much. Noticing changes in your appetite or your weight.Having thoughts of death or suicide.In the case of a summer-onset, also known as summer depression, symptoms may include:Feeling agitation or anxiety.Having trouble sleeping.Having a poor appetite.Experiencing weight loss. How to deal with seasonal affective disorderClinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu says treatment depends on the severity of the condition. It’s also dependent on whether you have bipolar disorder or other types of depression. A psychiatrist might prescribe medication if you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. Psychotherapy and light therapy, or a combination of both can also be effective. However, light therapy must be used with caution because it could trigger a manic episode in those with bipolar disorder.There are also plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to help. Here are Khasu’s top suggestions for coping with seasonal affective disorder: Get movingExercise can be a helpful mood enhancer. This is evident in people with depression as well as with anxiety, and is known to both improve and stabilise moods while enhancing self-esteem and boosting physical wellbeing.Get outsideEven if the air is a little fresh, or there’s still a little frost on the grass, spend some time outdoors to avoid the feeling of being trapped during those cold and dark winter months.Get some sunshineSoak in natural light; open your blinds and curtains to let light in, arrange your work space to be near a window, go outdoors, take a walk, and enjoy Africa’s radiant sun (responsibly, of course).Get connectedSpend some time with your loved ones, even if it has to be on a video call. Being surrounded by meaningful relationships can be fulfilling and fortifying.Get mindfulReduce screen time and try mindfulness instead. Exercises like yoga, breath work, guided meditations, and positive affirmations that resonate with you can help you reframe your thoughts and your perspective.Get a journalConfessing your struggles and expressing your emotions into a journal every day can help you understand your thoughts and make the world around you seem a little lighter, a little clearer.Get a routineFind a balance and create a rhythm in your daily patterns of living. Draw up a schedule and stick to it as much as possible. It can help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.Get good foodEat as well as you can. When moods are low, we may be tempted to either skip meals or indulge in some emotional eating, but our entire being benefits when we eat more healthy and wholesome foods.Get resilientSeasonal affective disorder is linked to the change in seasons and winter’s dwindling sunlight … and resilience, in part, is the ability to adapt to changes, and to be able to work through them. Since you’re able to anticipate the possible return of seasonal affective disorder as autumn swings around, you can start making plans on how you’ll spend your days as they start getting shorter. You can also sign up for webinars on building resilience – a sense of control over your own environment can feel quite empowering.For those of us affected, Khasu also encourages us to try and understand its inception. “There may be a root cause for its recurrence,” she says. The anniversaries of traumatic events, for example, can be very intense, manifesting in anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and many other symptoms.But no matter what your journey, Khasu says, “Keep celebrating the little steps. Whenever you’re improving, keep reflecting on it, acknowledging it. It can give you a sense of confidence in jumping other milestones.”

6 myths about depression and mental illness unmasked

What is depression, really? Does it really exist? And in the face of the extreme pressure of Covid-19, what do we need to know about it? TSBU explores the biggest myths about depression and mental illness in South Africa.Much of what we learn about depression and mental illness comes from movies, television, and the ‘word on the street’. And let’s be honest: those aren’t the most credible sources. The truth is that depression is a common medical disorder that, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a leading cause of disability worldwide. And that was before the Covid-19 pandemic created a surge in mental illness. So let’s dispel the myths and instead, learn the real facts about depression. Myth 1: There’s no word for depression in African language, so it doesn’t existDepression does not always manifest itself in physical ways and as a result it is often misunderstood. Clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu says that over the past few decades, there have been improvements in articulating the disorder across cultures and languages. But with more and more people finding themselves affected by depression and anxiety during Covid-19, perhaps it is time that our languages truly reflect an issue that is making its presence known more than ever before. The more we talk about it, the easier it is to talk about.Myth 2: Depression only affects women or is a ‘white people disorder’Psychologists come across this myth all too often. The truth is that depression can affect anyone of any gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Almost one in three South Africans will suffer from a mental disorder in their lifetime, and many local celebrities are starting to share their own stories about dealing with depression, or are opening up about mental health issues. Most recently, this has included Miss South Africa’s Shudufhadzo Musida, Jacaranda FM presenter Rozanne McKenzie, singer songwriter Simphiwe Dana and columnist Gasant Abarder.Myth 3: Depression and mental illness is a sign of personal weaknessDepression is not a sign of weakness nor is it a choice. Not in men, not in women, not in leaders or parents or bosses or employees. Actually, some of the strongest people around are those who have coped with depression or mental illness all their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. is said to have suffered several bouts of severe depression and tried to end his life twice before the age of 13. And just look at his incredible strengths and accomplishments. Khasu reminds us that, “depression is not laziness or weakness; it’s a sign that there is real emotional pain that needs to be attended to and not ignored”.Myth 4: You can just ‘snap out of it’People seem to believe that depression is something you choose when you ‘wallow in sad emotions too much’. However, no one chooses depression. Depression isn’t just a sad feeling. It is a highly complex and serious mood alteration that can cause changes in your personality, appetite, weight, and sleeping patterns. Left untreated, depression and mental illnesses can lead to suicide. So no, this is not something that you could just ‘shake off’ or ‘snap out of’ and it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional – especially when there are suicidal thoughts. Myth 5: Depression can only be caused by a traumatic event While it is true that trauma, grief, big life changes and struggles like severe lockdown restrictions can trigger depression, there are many other possible causes. Other illnesses can trigger mental health issues. For example, depression is very common among people living with HIV/Aids. Depression can also be hereditary, or caused by brain chemistry, imbalanced neurotransmitters like dopamine, changes in your hormone production, and even changes in seasons. A history of abuse and the use of drugs or alcohol can also have an impact on mental health. Myth 6: Talking about depression only makes it worseYou may not feel like talking when you’re in a vulnerable or lonely place, but opening up to supportive people can be an effective way to get the help you need. Talking doesn’t mean that you’re dwelling on the negative or reliving traumatic experiences. Rather, the focus of therapy is to bring you relief, on uplifting you and giving you a new perspective, new skills and tools to help you manage your symptoms. It’s important to know that it is okay not to be okay. Which means it’s very okay for you to ask for help. And remember, there are many different forms of therapy for clinical depression, bipolar, and other mental illnesses.If you’ve been thinking about harming yourself or are struggling with what you think might be a mental illness then reach out immediately to a qualified mental health professional, talk to your doctor, or consider signing up for webinars like the Taking Control in the Covid New Normal. Because in the New Normal we could all use as much help as we can get. 

The myths and truths of healing after loss

The rituals of grieving and the culture of how we mourn are shifting before our eyes during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are all experiencing loss in some way and we are all in need of solace. But how do we cope with loss and grief in a socially distanced world? TSBU explores.“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it is going on when you don’t have strength.” Napoléon Bonaparte.Courage, in the face of grief, can be described as confronting loss by giving yourself permission to feel it. Today, we learn to heal with courage and to find courage in our vulnerabilities.Grief is a normal and expected intense emotional and physical reaction to the loss of a loved one and is mostly a very personal experience. No two experiences can ever be the same and reconciling these losses plays a critical role in the healing process.It is important to explore some distinctions between what is viewed as societal myths and the truths about grief and healing.It’s just a myth …Myth #1: Sharing your own experience helps the aggrieved know they are not alone.Even though it may seem like the most natural thing to do, the worst thing you can do is share your own similar experience. The message it sends tends to minimise the other person’s pain, making them feel unheard.When we don’t know what to say, we often project our own experiences onto others. So what do you do, when you don’t know what to say? You encourage them to continue to share their experiences, their emotions and their journey. The message you want to send is, “I may not understand how you feel right now, but I am here for you”.The most sorrowful and complicated grieving process is “unshared grief”, where the loss is experienced by one person only (for example, the death of a child, a divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a job, etc.). In this case you want to meet the person where they are and not categorise their experience as a common occurrence. Instead, show pure love and support, by being present and make it all about them.Myth #2: Seek trauma debriefing as soon as possible after the trauma or loss. Contrary to popular belief, rushing counselling is not always the most effective way to achieve acceptance and meaning. Being with family and surrounded by loved ones is the first step towards healing. Talking about your emotions and how you feel too soon after experiencing trauma, on the other hand, not so much.Shock and numbness are the natural first phase of grief and in an attempt to protect oneself from impending threat the brain shuts down emotions while it attempts to make sense of a painful reality. Forcing someone to start talking about their emotions when they cannot make sense or name the emotion is futile and will only make it harder to open up later when the rawness of the emotions surface. As the numbness wears off and one is confronted by the harshness of reality, this is a perfect time to guide the person through the emotions and help them validate both the positive and negative feelings. While there are no specific timeframes to emotions, clinicians recommend that this should be no less than 48-72hrs after the news of the trauma.Myth #3: Too much crying brings about more trauma or sorrow.This is a common African myth to culturally help others not to dwell too much in sorrow and by so doing move them quickly through to healing. There are cultures where crying is discouraged, especially in public. As a society we tend to shun anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, including tears.Crying is, in fact, a natural emotion to any grief process. It can be viewed as an intense release of emotions that were controlled during the numbness stage. It is safe to gently lead the bereaved through their vulnerability, with courage, to confront and release the emotions. In one anecdote, US author Rory Vaden describes the courage of buffaloes during the threat of a storm, “as the storm rolls over the ridge, buffaloes will turn and charge directly into the storm … and by running at the storm, they run straight through it, minimising the amount of pain, time, and frustration they experience from that storm”. Nature teaches us that until the person has gone through the process of confronting the pain, they will take time to let go of their attachment to the lost person and move on to discover new meaning and personal purpose. The truth is …Truth #1: Children do grieve.Grief is a complex emotional process for an adult, and for a child it can be extremely confusing. As adults we don’t often understand “death and dying” ourselves and what we know is what we have all been told by our own parents, authority figures or have read about. It is a normal human behaviour to fill in what we don’t know with facts to create our own meaning. This is called fantasising, which in most cases is quite normal for us adults, since we often know exactly why we choose to replace facts with fiction but for children fantasy is reality. Try not to fill a child’s mind with too many unknowns, for example, “she is gone” to a child means she will come back and “he is sleeping” means he will wake up again. This is later replaced by disappointment, resentment or distrust. By skirting the issue, we tend to cause more confusion. Children understand stories with a beginning and an end. It is alright to tell stories that end in tragedy, it helps children deal appropriately with the disappointments of life. Instead, create an end point that constructs positive meaning for the child, while helping them to confront the current reality.Truth #2: The expression of grief is a redefinition of not just the loss but of potential relearning and growth.Reframing the loss enables healing and shifting to new meaning and this is expressed by David Kessler at the final stage of grief; I call it rediscovering your purpose. We tend to attach meaning to the tangible things and people around us, and when those things are no longer there to give us the meaning and purpose we are accustomed to, we experience a sense of loss. When our sense of inner meaning has been deconstructed, how do we reincarnate our lives into the present? It starts by deciding what you want to move towards and starting with an end in mind. Finding your purpose means finding your own reason for existence and often ends with yourself being a gift to a greater purpose that creates personal fulfillment.Truth #3: There is no “right” way to experience or respond to loss.The stages of grief can be viewed as a universal way of understanding the process but it may not be a reality in the mind of a griever.We have also learnt to find meaning in the expression of our grief through societal and community norms that seem to dictate the way we grieve. These social constructs tend to undermine the uniqueness of our personal experiences and robs us of authentically mourning our loved ones. In what way are these social constructs useful for human grief? They enable the sharing of the loss by the family or the community, showing the one who grieves that they are not alone and serves to compartmentalise the grief process in a meaningful way, for all involved. When all the rituals are over, the griever is left to process loss by themselves. The complication of Covid-19 regulations, for instance, is challenging how society experiences bereavement. Take courage and heal yourself first before you gain courage to be there for others.To quote Rory Vaden, “We don't get to choose whether or not we have storms. The only choice that we have is how we respond to those storms.” 

Understanding why I parent the way I do

To become better parents, we need to make sense of who we are, what influences us and what we need to do to move in the right direction of healthy parent-child relationships. We look at historical parenting influences and how our parenting styles impact our children.Parenting – a topic that ignites sometimes explosive thoughts, feelings and opinions.As parents, most of us share the same objective – to raise healthy and happy children. The parent-child relationship has been thrown into the spotlight as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions. In the blink of an eye, many parents were home with their children on a full-time basis, taking on the additional roles of playmate, full time companion and teacher. The stressors of the pandemic were many, including re-establishing and maintaining healthy parent-child and family relationships as well as a healthy home environment.Many people - at various stages of their life - wonder about the things that make them who they are, why they behave a certain way and how to overcome various life stressors and difficult experiences. Some people even wonder why they parent the way that they do and how they can improve the quality of their parenting through learning healthy techniques and strategies. It is important to understand the influences of our parenting styles, including how we were parented.Intergenerational transmission of parenting looks at the process in which parenting by a certain generation can psychologically influence the attitudes and behaviours of the next generation. Despite this, many parents will say that they are aware of how certain parenting influences affected them and are aware of what they do or do not want for their own children. More and more parents have realised the impact, benefits and effectiveness of conscious, present and mindful parenting.A history of traumaIn the South African context, we have a long, painful history of familial trauma, with parents being away from their families (often beyond their control) or cases of children losing their parents at a young age.Many people experienced an absence from their parents - many times a physical absence but also a psychological and emotional one. Parents had slightly different priorities back then – often working hard to survive the circumstances they found themselves in, while caring and providing for their families’ basic needs. While we have similar priorities, our perception of our circumstances plays an important role in the way in which we cope with them.Our grandparents and parents have anecdotes about their childhoods and the impact of growing up with or without their parents, other relatives and caregivers who filled parenting roles. Many of these stories are saddening, painful and traumatic, while others may shed a more positive light on family togetherness and community parenting influences.While there are many theories on parenting styles, how to understand them and how they are expressed; there are some commonalities in how parenting styles can lead to certain feelings and behaviours in children.Adapting your styleParenting styles look at various elements such as warmth, nurturing, communication, behaviour management and our discipline strategies. Let’s look at the four main parenting styles:The authoritarian parenting style is characterised by parents who believe that children should be controlled as much as possible. They believe that children should follow strict rules that are often non-negotiable. Very often these parents do not see the need to explain the rules and why they exist, with disobedience often leading to punishment. The main focus is on obedience so children are usually not encouraged to engage in problem-solving or decision-making. Sadly, these parents also tend to focus on pointing out mistakes and enforcing consequences.This parenting style was often used to cope with the demands of everything they were faced with but various studies have found that children of authoritarian parents are at higher risk of lower self-esteem. While these individuals may grow to be obedient and proficient in their lives, they can struggle with feelings of happiness, display higher levels of aggression and can also struggle in their social relationships.Similar to authoritarian parents, authoritative parents also have rules and consequences but are open to their children’s opinions and take these into consideration. These parents are able to validate their children’s thoughts and feelings, and effectively manage issues before they worsen. Authoritative parents tend to use positive reinforcement and positive discipline strategies to encourage good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour or mistakes. These parents put a lot of effort into maintaining positive relationships with their children and don’t mind explaining why there are rules and why there are consequences.Research has found that children with authoritative parents are more independent, responsible and develop good emotional-regulation skills. Due to the fact that their parents are reasonable and fair, these children find it easier to comply with rules and requests, and they are easily able to internalise information they learn because it has been explained to them. Authoritative parenting has been proven to lead to happier, capable and successful individuals later in life.Many parents of the current generation tend to be more authoritative in their parenting style – they see the importance of providing healthy and firm boundaries for their children but without the need for controlling their children or using unnecessary punitive and damaging strategies.The permissive parenting style is a near opposite of authoritarian parenting where parents are too lenient and only step in when there is a serious problem. Children to permissive parents view them as more of a peer or friend, rather than a parental and authority figure.Studies have found that these children can struggle in school, display behavioural problems and struggle with authority and rules. In some cases they also experience more feelings of sadness and struggle with their self-esteem.While this style of parenting can be the default for many parents, a lack of rules, routine and boundaries can actually be overwhelming for children. There needs to be a balance between rules and a healthy, open relationship with our children.Parents who don’t know much about what’s happening with their children are described to have an uninvolved parenting style. Often these parents will not ask about homework, friends or school, do not spend much time with their children, and are not always aware of the whereabouts or wellbeing of their children. There are very few rules, poor communication habits and very limited parental attention, guidance or nurturing. Children are expected to “raise themselves” as parents may not have the energy to meet their children’s needs (e.g. in instances of parents with mental health issues/a substance abuse problem/overwhelmed parents).Sadly, children of uninvolved parents have been found to have issues with low self-esteem, perform poorly in school and frequently show behavioural problems. These children also struggle with self-control and positive emotions, which affect their ability to relate in relationships with others.So what’s the way forward?With children being the recipients of our influences, parenting techniques and strategies, it is our responsibility to unpack who we are, our thoughts about parenting and our current frame of mind regarding our parenting styles and abilities.On a positive note, many parents are open and willing to do the work that will allow them to grow as conscious parents. Parenting workshops, parental guidance, psychotherapy and parenting support groups have become a norm, as we grow to be a healthier and more self-aware generation of parents.The Integrating Home, Work and Play workshop will focus on important aspects of parenting, allowing for an individual journey into oneself and how to be more present and thoughtful in our parent-child relationships. The space will allow you to gain insight into what your influences are and what more needs to be processed for you to feel like an effective, mindful and conscious parent.Everyone is capable of improving themselves – we just need the time, guidance and resources to do so.

How parents can relate better with their teens

Understanding what your teen is going through can help you transition this development stage smoothly. At the end you both thrive. Let’s zoom in!“The children now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercises. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize over their teachers.” - SocratesThis quote was penned over 2000 years ago. It’s reassuring to know the more things change, the more they stay the same. The complaints about the changes in teenagers by generation remain constant. How many times have you heard parents and other adults venting their frustration about how “teenagers are not like the old days” or reminiscing about how “in the good all days you would tell them what to do and they would get it done, no questions asked!”? Understanding what happens at a developmental level, current culture, and how you can better support your teens can make this development stage a smooth transition. At the end you win, and your teenager thrives. So, get comfortable and let’s zoom in!The brainThe teen brain is still developing, so don’t be fooled by their adult-looking appearance and grown-up talk. A process called synaptic pruning is taking place, think of it as having many pathways on a map that lead to desired destinations. In this stage of development, the teen brain no longer needs certain destinations, leading to those pathways being washed away. Which contributes to a more sophisticated and efficient brain system. The frontal cortex responsible for logic, personality and decision-making is still developing and is the last part of the brain to fully mature. Another important part of the brain in teens that plays a huge role in emotional regulation is the amygdala, responsible for emotions, that is not fully developed yet. Caregivers need to be mindful of these growth points and practice patience on their teens.Developmental stage and current cultureTeens struggle with identity, perspective, self-regulation and are consumed with the “self”. Our current culture is driven by technology, promoting, and maintaining isolation and confusion in teen years. This culture is problematic because as humans we need connections and we have seen a shift from “we” culture to a “me” culture that’s driven by how many likes one gets on social media platforms. It is also important to note that the economic environment for parents has become more demanding, this means less time spent at home and parents connecting more with their work. This shift has left the teen feeling isolated, meaning more screen time, and seeking validation from peers. These factors make matters worse for teens who are already faced with significant biological changes that would benefit from meaningful adult interactions. This has contributed to a decrease in teenagers’ developing socially appropriate social cues like self-regulation and empathy. The challenges play out differently in African homes, with some being faced with zombie-like teens, more banging doors and flaring tempers, leaving parents feeling helpless and not knowing how to interact with their children.  The “me” culture goes against our four basic needs as humans:AcceptanceBelongingControlMeaningful existence To feel accepted and have a sense of belonging is now determined by one’s social media presence and how liked one is by their peers. Teens can find themselves overwhelmed with no control over their lives. This contributes to feelings of isolation and being unwanted. In the Covid-19 pandemic an increase has been seen in teens presenting in mental healthcare facilities. Isolation and feelings of aloneness have taken centre stage during the pandemic and with it an increase in depressed and anxious teens. Creating a new cultureA great responsibility lies with parents or teen caregivers who themselves may have become participants in the “me” culture. Pause to reflect on your own positioning in our culture of overworked parents or social media parents because this will have a huge impact on how you interact with your teen. In moving forward what is important to note is that more meaningful physical connections are needed with teens, and this can be done through more communication. What we know about teens is that they want more connections, but biological factors may make it difficult for them to fully express their needs. Remember this is a confusing time for them and as a parent you have the role of modelling appropriate social behaviours in your interactions with them. This can be done by communicating four variables that are key to promoting of striving teens and maintaining of healthy relationships:EmpathyIt is important to learn to empathise with children to develop trust and secure attachments. It is important to also practice care for others to help children develop an awareness of other people’s perspectives and needs. ForgivenessForgiveness requires acknowledging the act, understanding the act committed and its impact. GratitudeAcknowledge their efforts and allow them to celebrate their own accomplishments and those of others.HumilityWhen you model humility it helps your child see value in others, build deep connections and promote acceptance.Tips for mending the relationship with your teenOn your parenting journey remember Peggy O’ Mara’s words: The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. If the relationship with your teenager is breaking down, these are some ways to fix things:Identify and frame the issue. Is it a …lack of communication? teen isolating themselves?teen always challenging you?feeling like you don’t know your teen?Self-awareness … How do you parent your child? Have you hurt your teen through comments or rejection?What triggers you to respond in a hurtful manner?Guilt and forgiveness … Remember you are not perfect.Forgive yourself for mistakes.Sincerely ask your child for forgiveness. Make teens feel valued … Listen to and respect their opinions. Tell them you are proud of them. Tell them you love them. Give your teens space Isolation and space are not the same.Speak to kids about how to ask for space. Allow teens to make their own decisions … Allow for them to learn and grow.Practice less shaming when they make mistakes. Guide them through their mistakes. Ask for help …Speak to teacher, doctor or psychologist based on the teen’s needs.Show teens that it’s okay to ask for help.These are just some of the skills explored by The Space Between Us workshop “Integrating Home, Work, and Play Series”. In it we learn to develop skills to deepen connections and quality time with children of all ages, while building a network of support with like-minded parents. The workshop focuses on helping parents live an authentic and connected life, which can assist them in avoiding mental health challenges further on in life. You can book your spot now by clicking here.Hope Magubane is a clinical psychologist.

Finding mental health resilience for township youths

We need to normalise mental health and wellness in townships. Through this we can shine a light on the power of hope and community. You can always count on Archbishop Desmond Tutu to find the words to inspire a nation. Perhaps his words can inspire us now to normalise mental health and wellness among the youth that so desperately need it:“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”Our youth are staring down a tide of mental health problems through unemployment, drug abuse and gender-based violence in townships. Clinical psychologist Thobile Dlamini works to turn this tide on suicide, depression, and other mental health illnesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic.  Shining a light on the power of hope and community, The Space Between Us sat down with Dlamini to find out what she has seen in her work in Soweto and what she sees as the solution.What do the numbers tell us?Unemployment batters the 15-34 age group with an unemployment rate of 46.3%, astounding figures when you consider that well over 20 million people fall into this bracket. Consider it, nearly 9 million young people trapped in a situation not of their making and yet shouldering the consequences. In the absence of work, millions must rely on social grants that are often the only means of support for multiple members of a single family.It’s little wonder then that mental health concerns have become a grave concern for Dlamini who works at the Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Soweto. She points out that over the last two years she has seen a spike in mental illness.But why? Is it just unemployment or are there underlying symptoms robbing our youth of hope? Dlamini posits four main threats heaping pressure on already overloaded shoulders:Land of (non)opportunityOn Youth Day, the presidency launched the SAYouth.mobi to create learnership and other work opportunities. But, Dlamini says, these portals aren’t effective. “A lot of young people are in the system and go to school and tertiary institutions and then find themselves sitting at home with their qualifications without even the opportunity of employment.”Born free?“The one thing that most parents don’t understand is that jobs are not out there like it used to be. The minute they see you at home, it is perceived that you are lazy. Then the family begins shouting at you,” Dlamini says. This is because many young people from disadvantaged communities are considered the breadwinners of their family.Of course, the problem is more nuanced than that. We have long boasted about the “born free” generation and raised our children to be confident, proud and to challenge the status quo. Dlamini nurses a blazing hope for these youths. “The current generation speak their minds. They ask questions. If they see something is wrong, they won’t just agree. This generation is being interpreted in communities as a person that doesn’t want to follow cultural or religious ways. They’re just a ‘loose cannon’. This generation is misunderstood. We have a new breed of generation – they are free.”Plunged into darknessLockdown has revolutionised education – desks are swapped for screens and bandwidth is the currency of connection. What about accessibility shortfalls in areas like Soweto?This revolution left desperate teenagers scrambling for resources that were never there to begin with. Plunged into vacuous periods of loadshedding with no end in sight, the toll presented itself starkly in November when many students learned that they had failed the school year, plunging them into depression.AddictedThen there is the lure of illicit drugs. While alcohol has always had a big influence on mental health the rise of hard drugs, especially crystal meth has been devastating for Dlamini to watch. “It’s heart-breaking when you talk to a young person who proudly says, ‘I’ve graduated from dagga to crystal meth.’ This has become their lifestyle.”Coupled with this is the rise in online gambling. Desperate people make desperate choices.Mapping the way for hopeThese setbacks aren’t the end of hope. In fact, this is where hope begins.Unburdening ourselves by speaking openly and listening without judgment we can make mental health part of our conversations and lifestyles for the benefit of all. To build a future founded on unity, compassion, and respect, Dlamini shares this advice:To parents and caregivers:You are raising a new generation and their challenges are not the same as the past. Give them space and trust.Don’t allow a young person to close themselves off in their room after school. These children need emotional attachment and without it they’re going to have a lot of psychological problems.Give your children time to find work. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your kids are lazy because they are doing the best they can.To teenagers and young adults:Take one day at a time and never give up on doing what you believe in. If you see others suffering, approach them and offer your support.If we stand up and talk openly about illnesses like HIV then speaking about mental health will help others, too.If you start feeling suicidal, there are toll free numbers (listed below).Talk to your families. What closes you in a corner, is feeling alone and that loneliness is what is heavy.Depression, self-harm and suicideSuicide hotline 0800 567 56724hr Helpline 0800 12 13 14SADAG toll-free line 0800 456 789Drug, alcohol and gambling addictionAlcoholics Anonymous 0861 435 722Narcotics Anonymous 086 100 6962 SANCA 011 892 3829 Gender-based violence and child abuseGender-Based Violence Command Centre 0800 428 428Childline 0800 055 555 Lifeline 0861 322 322 People Opposing Women Abuse 076 694 5911 Solutions for young professionalsThis situation isn’t limited to the unemployed. Those that do have work face similar anxieties in building careers in the face of massive expectation and constant pressure. But there are better ways to close the book on insecurities, to build a more confident you, to effect positive change in yourself and others.The Space Between Us Young Professional Programme builds skills that will enable young professionals to thrive in their life and career. It develops a sense of self, self-esteem and boundaries as key psychological tools used to build healthy relationships with themselves and others.There is help but we need to break the stigma around mental health. If so many people are struggling with similar challenges, then why aren’t we reaching out or sharing our stories to show others that they aren’t alone? If your story helps just one person, isn’t it worth the leap of faith?Do you have a story to share to help others? Send us your stories and connect with TSBU on LinkedIn and Instagram for more advice and tips on mental health and wellness.

Ambiguous loss: Living with unresolved grief

When you are locked in ambiguity, your grief is frozen in time; you cannot move on and you may not know whether you should be grieving or in mourning. Clinical psychologist Bongiwe Sokhela breaks down the uncertainty of ambiguous loss.  Ambiguous loss occurs without any closure and often without answers. No death is easy, nor bears all answers but most types of loss have some form of conclusion or closure. There is a body and a grave that marks the end, there is often a clear target of anger during the grief process.This kind of loss often leaves a person searching for more answers, complicates the process of grieving, and may result in unresolved grief.The term was first coined by psychologist and author Paulina Ross in 1970. She described this type of loss within two main categories, these being “physically absent but psychologically present” (like a loved one who is missing or who disappeared without trace) and “psychologically absent but physical present” (like a loved one who has memory loss).Those confronted by ambiguous loss have been known to fluctuate between hope and despair. Hope because new information sparks a promise of fresh possibility and despair because new revelations can also bring finality with no new answers. The loss one feels is mixed with uncertainty and achieving closure can be difficult. To overcome one needs to learn to embrace the unknown.How would I know I am going through ambiguous loss?Have you lost a child through miscarriage?Have you been separated from a child through adoption?Do you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?Do you have a relative with a mental illness?Do you have a loved one who disappeared without a trace?Do you have a loved one who died with no answers as to how they died?Do you have a family member who died and the body was never found?Do you have a relative in a coma or that is terminally ill?Do you have a family member who was exiled or relocated to another country and have lost touch with? If you answered yes to any of these questions or similar, and you have been struggling with closure or certainty you may be struggling with unresolved grief and ambiguous loss.What is common among these examples is an obvious lack of finality or limited answers that help you gain closure. You may be left in limbo because you don’t know whether you should mourn their departure or be hopeful that some good news will come one day. The vacillation between the two extreme opposite emotions can keep you trapped in a vicious loop.  Without falling into a trap of naming specific characteristics of someone dealing with ambiguous loss, it is safe to note that whatever you are going through is normal.How do I cope?Face your fears: Start by trying not to avoid the pain. Memories can bring tears and leave you in a state of sorrow and depression. Avoiding these emotions can keep you trapped in a false reality. Unless you find ways to work through the emotions in a safe space, with a professional or a trusted loved one, you may not control the inevitable surfacing of these emotions.Cherish good memories: Try to find meaning to your experience by celebrating the life of the loved one. You may do this by creating a memorial that helps you to focus on positive thoughts and memories.Challenge negative thoughts: Thought stopping is a cognitive behavioural therapy technique that can help you take charge of your emotions, your response to those emotions and take control of the emotional triggers.Do not cut yourself off: It may feel like you are alone in this; a lot of people around you experience their own pain, it may not be the same as yours but that is why you should be sharing your thoughts and fears and find common ground in the type of emotions you all feel and the memories you share.Fluctuating emotion: It is normal, embrace it; normal grief feels the same. Once you think you have healed, a memory or a smell or a thought may surface emotions and pain that you thought you had already overcome. The memory will fade but the reality of the person in your heart lives on.Overcome guilt: Move forward without guilt. Remember guilt will surface but try not to own it, it is part of the healing process and it will pass.Hope: If hope helps, hold on to it, without any denial.Take your power back: Don’t run away from the truth; it will give you the power to make the right choices for those you still need to care for, around you.How do I comfort or help someone going through ambiguous loss?Be a friend or a loved one and be consistent in how you show up. Don’t confuse yourself as their therapist. The person is going through enough ambiguity, don’t add to it.Help remove the angst. Often there are tasks that need to be taken care of with the hospital, the police, filling in reports or the courts and these may bring distress. Be there to offer your assistance.Be kind to yourself and remember you may also be going through the same loss and grief. If you take care of yourself you will have the energy to be there for the one going through the ambiguity of the loss.If you need more answers, talk to your doctor or therapist TODAY and take a positive step towards healing. 

What is post-trauma growth?

After a period of prolonged trauma, like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are scrambling to put the pieces back together. So, where do you start? Clinical psychologist Hope Magubane takes us through it.Staying present and navigating life in the Covid “new normal” has come with unfamiliar circumstances for many. It has seen the introverted individual being pulled deeper into isolation and the extroverted moving into unknown territory of less movement and social interaction. These two individuals, although identified differently, have found common ground in uncertainty and feelings of loneliness. This common ground is rooted in the natural human need for connection with other humans. This speaks to the phrase “no man is an island” and if isolation was our fate, we would have been born in aloneness. The isolation has further birthed an existential anxiety among many, seen as an increase in the search for the meaning of existence and life. As we journey through the road of existential anxiety some have been further knocked by multiple losses through death, income and employment. The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced us to an unfamiliar thief that has come to “steal, kill and destroy”. Many have found themselves living in fear of the unknown, wondering when this thief will pay them a visit as it does not discriminate.As the pandemic continues, we find ourselves forced into acknowledging the trauma of its impact. We are constantly in shock and confusion as death continues to plough through our families. Some have not had breathing room to make sense of and accept their losses. This leaves a bitter taste of hopelessness and feeling victimised by the life circumstances we find ourselves in. Shame and guilt have also gained more room during this time. For some guilt stems from not experiencing any of the impactful losses as those around them continue to be shattered by it. Shame also takes centre stage for these individuals as they struggle to relate with those who appear to be experiencing traumatic events and finding themselves self-isolating from them. Friendships are tested based on support and availability during the “new normal” and unfair expectations. Trust is questioned and unanswered because in truth we are all dealing with things at different levels.A shift towards post-trauma growth has become essential. We must acknowledge that for some, the traumas spoken about earlier are ongoing and must be taken into consideration in addressing post-traumatic growth. Researchers identify post-traumatic growth as the ability to be more than resilient in the face of adversities. It speaks to the individual reclaiming control of the different areas that may have been impacted by trauma. This sees the individual effectively utilising resources to help them navigate ongoing and past traumas. The approach I have established in facilitating this process focuses on the following areas; identifying the trauma impacted area, building connections, self-care and carer and care.Moving past traumaOne of the steps towards post-trauma growth is identifying the areas impacted by the trauma and severity. Trauma impacts us on a cognitive level, this is seen in a change in one’s thought processes that sees individuals taking on a more pessimistic outlook on life. Life takes on the role of an abuser that cannot be escaped, so staying in the pain is better than trying to fight for a way out because the abuse cycle cannot be broken. This moves into an emotional level of impact when the individual experiences a range of emotions, such as hopelessness, fear, blame, shame, anger and sadness. Individuals at this level struggle to shake off these unwanted emotions, which may also give birth to increased anxiety. The emotions and pessimistic attitudes consume the individual on a spiritual level, which can be seen in anger and a shift in a high belief in God or ancestors that the individual may have held as sacred. A drop in their performance or absconding with no explanation will become evident in academics and work level. The last area that needs to be explored is the social level as the individual would have no desire to interact with others and move more into self-isolation.If the individual has been severely impacted in these levels it is important to start to speak about the second step of post-traumatic growth, which can be identified as building connections. The rebuilding or building of connections is very important in the African context in echoing the IsiZulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which loosely translates “a person is a person because of other people”. This also refers to the interconnectedness of people and refers to the actual embodiment of the epistemological stance of Ubuntu. An isolated individual is at greater risk of the impacts of trauma because no one can see their struggles and the individual also has no one to call on for support.This speaks to getting help professionally, spiritually and communally. When it comes to the professional connection, the individual may seek the help of a psychologist who would facilitate the process of the individual overcoming and reclaiming control of different areas that have been impacted by the trauma. The psychologist may refer to other professionals based on their observation, this may include a psychiatrist or other general practitioners. The rebuilding of spiritual connection may speak to individuals seeking the guidance of pastors or traditional healers in helping them mend the relationship that may have been disconnected. The communal connection taps into social or friends the individual may have withdrawn from. The Nigerian phrase “Jejely” which means “little by little” becomes very important in this process to ensure that the individual does not find themselves overwhelmed.  Self-care addresses practical steps one can do on their own or together with the above-mentioned connections: Get an accountability partner/friend who can check that you are able to stick to your daily routine.Develop a daily routine.Sleep seven or more hours.Take multivitamins.Meditate, exercise or take a walk.Eat three healthy meals a day.Clean your house.Find a new hobby.Start journaling your thoughts and what you are grateful for.Remember to bathe.The final part of post-trauma work is the carer and care process, which addresses the individuals that are offering support to the impacted person. This can be those who identify as friends, partners, mother, child, siblings or other. It’s important to remain patient during this period because it may be easy to become bored and frustrated with the individual's process of growth or recovery. It’s important to be able to identify when you have taken on too much and remember that your responsibility is to care. This involves listening and respecting the individual’s needs - be careful not to take on the role of a professional. Doing this will leave you frustrated and feeling drained by the individual. It’s important to exercise self-awareness and self-care at all times.A poem that I find fitting and comforting in putting the pieces together as part of post-trauma growth is Be Gentle with Yourself by Ijeoma Umebinyuo that goes “healing comes in waves and maybe today the wave hits the rocks and that’s ok, that’s okay, darling. You are still healing, you are still healing”.

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.