Pandemic and panic; social distancing and social isolation.

We are living through a #pandemic right now. The Coronavirus, which most of us South Africans had scarcely thought about a mere two weeks ago, is now the topic of almost every conversation and feels as though it controls most of our daily lives.

Management strategies are rightfully focussing on #socialdistancing and careful hygiene in order to slow the spread of the illness, protect the most vulnerable members of society from infection, and help the health care system cope with the large number of anticipated cases.

For most of us this means #lockdown: working from home, no school for kids, and keeping social contact to a minimum. For those of you who are still keen to risk it, restaurant hours and pub hours are reduced in any case. Sports events are cancelled, and gyms have way too many surfaces and sweaty bodies in confined spaces to be a viable place for most people.

Emotional responses vary widely: severe anxiety and panic about job security, infection of a vulnerable loved one are common states. On the other extreme others seem indifferent, are almost proud of their indifference, and continue their lives as if nothing is happening. Most of us have mixed feelings. We are worried, yes, but we hope for the best and long for an end to this all.

#Lockdown presents us with some unique psychological challenges. We face fear and uncertainty, the possibility of economic loss, a loss of personal freedom, the potential loss of vulnerable or elderly loved ones, a sever curtailment of recreational possibilities, and so on.

This represents a loss of our normal coping mechanisms. We use socializing, gym, even work or school, as coping tools that help occupy us productively, enhance self esteem, and distract ourselves from unwanted thoughts and feelings. When our normal coping mechanisms are no longer available we are vulnerable to depression, anxiety, or other symptoms. We also face the very real possibility of finding ourselves slipping into unhealthy patterns of coping, such as emotional withdrawl, substance abuse, or other addictive behaviours (e.g. pornography, online shopping).

Psychotherapy is a known and effective coping mechanism in and of itself. Talking to a therapist is proven to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and addiction, while building up resilience and healthy coping skills. If you ever had any doubts about taking the step to starting therapy as a regular part of your life, now is the time.

Throughout corona lockdown and beyond I will be available to offer therapy and counselling to those in need. President Ramaphosa has indicated in his recent speech the importance of maintaining access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in this is of course mental health care. A useful article on mental health and coronavirus can be found here:

The single best antidote to stress, anxiety and depression is meaningful social connectedness. The best advice I can give it to maintain meaningful contact with friends and loved ones. Social distancing is not the same as social isolation.

How much therapy is enough therapy?

This is a good question to which there is no general answer. How many sessions of therapy you need to attend depends on the individual person and the nature of the problem involved. In general, I adopt an approach of client-led ending – I will wait to raise ending therapy when my client raises the issue him/herself. In my experience this can be after five or six sessions, but often up to a year or more of regular, weekly sessions (50+ consultations).

Research in the area reflects my experience of this. Studies reported by the American Psychological Association ( show that there is no optimal number of sessions – it all depends on the individual case.

I encourage an ongoing conversation about your progress in therapy. If it feels like you are stuck, if the approach is not working, or if you are finding for reasons you can’t quite pin down that you don’t want to come to your sessions, the best thing to do is to raise it with me so we can understand what it is about.

It is normal to feel stuck in therapy at times, and it is normal to feel afraid of change. Even a manifestly positive change can leave people feeling unconsciously vulnerable, and it is natural to resist. I understand this, and I find that a gentle approach to change brings better results that trying to push too fast too soon.

A good psychotherapy process should start with setting goals about what you would like to work on and how long it might take to get there. However, I have found that this plan is one that is refined and elaborated along the way.

The goal for therapy also needs to take into consideration the reality of your budget and was is realistically affordable on a monthly basis. Most of my clients have medical aid which often pays for 15 consultations a year. I do suggest that you don’t rely exclusively on your medical aid for coverage, but plan towards an ongoing budget for your therapy that feels affordable. When we start, we are never sure where we might end up, and it is helpful to settle into a therapy routine where you know that you have the time you need to work through what you need to.

Rates information 2018

Fees (per 50 minute consultation) are 100% of current medical aid rates, which is about R950 per 50 minute session (although the rate varies slightly from scheme to scheme). This rate applies to medical aid claims and EFT payments. A reduced rate of R800 is offered for payments made in CASH at the session. The practice can submit directly to medical aids; however, you remain responsible for your account should your scheme not pay. Payment should be made promptly in these instances. If you prefer to pay in cash, a monthly fee statement for you to submit to your medical aid for reimbursement can be provided.

Career assessments are billed as 4 x 50-minute sessions (about R3800), which includes: an initial intake session, standardized testing and scoring, a comprehensive report, and a feedback session. A reduced rate of R2700 is offered for payments made in CASH at the session.

Run from your problems

If you feel like you’re running in circles and struggling to get on top of your problems, then perhaps it’s time to find another way of getting back on the road to health and wellness…

Running Therapy is a relatively new method of counselling that involves talking about your problems one-on-one with a therapist while going for a walk or run. I covered the benefits of getting active in my previous blog, but running therapy in particular, is a highly effective means of enhancing your mood, reducing anxiety and improving both mental and physical wellbeing.

Whether you’re going through a divorce, dealing with the after-effects of a traumatic event, or simply struggling to cope with the more insidious effects of constant stress, getting moving physically (at a pace you’re comfortable with) really helps get things moving emotionally.

So, what is Running Therapy?

Well, in many respects it’s just like normal therapy in that it’s an opportunity to talk through whatever’s bothering you, but rather than sitting in an office, it takes place outdoors, and on the go.

Many people actually prefer running therapy to traditional methods because they don’t have to sit face-to-face with a therapist, which can be intimidating and reduce the likelihood of you opening up and sharing your thoughts and emotions. Instead, it puts you on the same level as your therapist, as you run (or walk) side by side all the way, which facilitates the non-confrontational flow of conversation.

Running therapy also gives people a great sense of accomplishment as they feel as if they are taking control of their lives again by literally “taking steps” to improve the situation they are in and therefore move forward in life.

And while we all know exercise is good for us, outdoors exercise in particular, has been shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which work to reduce stress and depression and can make people feel revitalised and more energetic.

As a runner myself, I know how beneficial it can be to my own mental health – it allows me time to clear my mind and run through whatever’s bothering me. Free from the daily stresses that often accompany our lives indoors, such as cell phones, TVs and computers, I can simply focus on putting one step in front of the next, and really take the time to connect with what’s going on in and around me. From focusing on my breathing, to taking in my surrounds, it’s quite a meditative process that leaves me feeling more connected to the world, more whole and more vital.

Running does require a certain level of commitment, which in itself can be a challenge when starting out, but every journey starts with the first step, and I’m ready to take it with you. As you start to reap the rewards of consistent physical progress, you’ll also reap the mental and emotional rewards of this path you’ve decided to walk.

So, if you can’t stand the thought of sitting still, or you’d like to try a new way of moving forward in life, then take the first step and get in touch with me to find out more.

Your one-way ticket to emotional wellbeing

In today’s economic times, hard work and long hours seem to have become the norm, rather than the exception. Of course, working hard is important – we all have bills to pay! But taking leave might have more of a positive impact on our wellbeing and overall performance than we realise.

Unfortunately, emotions like guilt, stress, perfectionism, fear (of even more work on your return or perhaps your boss realising they can do without you) are things that often hold us back from putting in for leave and taking the time we need, for ourselves.

What we don’t realise is that the psychological benefits of taking a regular break from your everyday routine far outweigh any reward that might come from being tied to our desks, day in and day out.

The benefits of taking a holiday

Holidays allow us to get away from all the routine “noise” in our heads, to refuel our tanks and to reconnect with our partners, our children and our selves.

Anecdotal research shows that people who take regular breaks are happier than those who don’t. Ever heard of happiness anchors? Well, holidays serve as “anchor points”, allowing you to make memories and strengthen family bonds that will last a lifetime.

But more than that, holidays allow you to experience life beyond the day-to-day. They broaden your perspective, expose you to the unknown and, as much as they’re considered a time for relaxation, they’re also a time of discovery and exploration.

Going on holiday:

  • Broadens the mind
  • Improves creativity at work
  • Encourages out the box thinking
  • Develops creative problem solving
  • Restores ability to focus and think clearly
  • Increases emotional resilience
  • Boosts health and wellbeing
  • Decreases absenteeism
  • Positively affects work performance and productivity
  • Refreshes energy levels and motivation
  • Decreases levels of stress and exhaustion
  • Increases levels of happiness and satisfaction

In fact, if you’ve been concerned about what your boss might think if you dare to take a few days off, then perhaps it’s time to reassess your thinking – it’s obvious that taking a holiday is good for everyone!

So how often should you take a break?

Well, as with most things in life, it comes down to your personal situation, so take a look at these suggestions and see what you can fit in to your life.

Every six weeks:

If you’re not in a position to get away for an extended holiday, try to take a long weekend every six weeks at least. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to go away on holiday to experience the benefits of taking a break – there’s much to be said for the humble stay-cation too! Simply being able to disconnect from work and reconnect with family and friends does wonders for our sense of personal wellbeing. Explore your neighbourhood, go for a walk on the beach, watch the sun go down, read a book and relax. Of course, if you can afford it, a change of scenery does work wonders, leaving you feeling refreshed and recharged.

Every three months:

In South Africa, we’re guaranteed a minimum of 15 days annual leave a year, but with some clever planning around our ample public holidays, you could really make the most of your time off and enjoy an extended getaway every three months! Studies have shown that the ideal length of a holiday should be at least a week (preferably a full eight days) in order to allow time for travel, a day or two to get over the initial guilt of being away from work and a few precious days in between to decompress and make the most of your break.

Once a year:

A lot of people tend to view the end of the year as the ideal time to recover from 12 months of hard work, but saving your leave for December is not necessarily the best option. Unfortunately some industries only shutdown over December/January, so if that’s the case for you, be sure to take a mini-break whenever possible (don’t forget those public holidays!). It’ll help keep your tanks topped up and your head above water until you can take the break you deserve at the end of the year.

Make every day a holiday

There’s no doubt that people come back from holiday calmer, happier and more energised than before. Less stressed, you’re likely to feel as if you can take on the world in those first few days back! Of course, the holiday high does tend to fade after a few days, so how do you keep that feeling as long as possible?

Make every day a holiday! Go for a walk or read a book in the park during your lunch break, take the kids to the beach after work, kick a ball around the garden or find something new and exciting to do together as a family over the weekend…it’s all about bringing those little moments of joy and discovery into your everyday lives. Enjoy!