Lifting The Veil

Anxiety, Depression & Mental Health

Despite the stormy weather we had a good turnout for our “Let’s Get Talking” event on Tuesday 30th July 2019. Participants found the evening interesting and informative. The majority felt that the environment was relaxed, comfortable, compassionate and safe. We had a healthy discussion about a difficult topic, and everyone contributed. Thank you to all who made the effort to come out, it was truly wonderful and humbling.

During the introductions it became clear that everyone in the room has had their own experiences with anxiety and depression. The evening therefore focused mainly on anxiety and depression and we only touched briefly on other mental health issues.

What is anxiety and depression?

Andrea started the conversation with a simplified introduction to what anxiety is.

                “Anxiety (and depression) is a coping mechanism that has taken over control. Fear and sadness are essential to our biological and social survival. These emotions originate from deep within the “survival brain”.

The survival brain has only three responses – fight, flight or freeze. During times of crisis and trauma the survival brain takes over and we start operating with “limited capacity” i.e. the brain withdraws from accessing learnt information and reasoning. This is a healthy and temporary response to crisis and trauma. Some people call this “survival mode”. If the brain for some reason perceives the world to be a dangerous place, it operates more and more in survival mode and eventually this may become a permanent state of mind, which may lead to a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.” 

“Historically anxiety and depression were treated as separate diagnoses. Now we see them more as being on a continuum” says Deborah Rutenberg, co-facilitator and counsellor at The Family Counselling Centre. Andrea Nettel added that “anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin”. The causes are often similar and so is the treatment, some symptoms seem miles apart, however there are many symptoms that apply to both.

The group identified anxiety symptoms as feeling unsettled, “butterflies in the tummy”, heightened energy, hyper vigilance, unable to focus and memory loss. Depressive symptoms were characterised as feeling “lazy or bored”, unable to do things and sleeping too much. Andrea and Deborah added panic attacks, avoiding things and disassociation to symptoms of anxiety. Emotional outbursts and moodiness, they said, could be symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Aggression and anger in men can often be misunderstood symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Another symptom of anxiety or depression is known as self-medicating behaviour.  This essentially means if you regularly have a drink, smoke a joint, eat chocolate or if you regularly engage in excessive or prolonged gambling, pornography or gaming, to “deal with life”, you might be medicating yourself.

If you can’t wait for “wine-o’clock” or if you find yourself checking if the “Boeing has flown over” then you might be using a habit to deal with overwhelming feelings of dread or hopelessness.

What causes Anxiety?

The cause of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, can be situational, environmental, biological, medical or genetic. It can also have its origin in culture, society and upbringing. As counsellors we focus more on the now and “where to take it from here, rather than where it came from” stated local grief counsellor Karin Grobler who was part of the conversation.  Hormonal fluctuations when experiencing PMS, during Menopause and Andropause (male menopause) can make coping with latent or hidden issues more difficult rather than being the cause of anxiety and depression.

What to do?

Anxiety is a well-meaning but overactive coping mechanism, therefore re-training the brain to change its perception of the world is very helpful. Bringing the brain back into the NOW, as a first aid, is one way of managing anxiety levels says Andrea. Here some ideas on how to do this:

  • Gentle bilateral (left, right, left, right) tapping (drumming) on thighs assists the brain to focus on the current surroundings. It engages the sense of touch and hearing.
  • Find 5 things in the room that have your favourite colour and audibly name them. This engages sight, hearing and focuses the brain on the current SAFE surroundings.
  • Singing or humming a song you really like.

These little exercises are by no means a cure but can assist in managing “hamster wheel” thought patterns that may lead to anxious or depressive episodes.

It was suggested to start seeing a counsellor when noticing anxiety or depressive thoughts BEFORE they become overwhelming. This might assist in keeping the dread and hopelessness at bay. Most people only seek help once their life has become unmanageable. By that stage anxiety and depression might have escalated to actual mental health diagnoses and may need to be treated by a medical professional in addition to counselling. 

It was mentioned that there is a stigma associated with the diagnoses and even more so with taking medication. Most people seem ashamed to be taking medication to “cope”.  During the discussion it was mentioned that there is still the belief that taking medication means “I am weak” or “I am giving up” or “I am escaping”. We briefly discussed the myth that medication “makes you into a zombie” and that they are addictive. Some do and some are, however, great strides have been made in the development of psychiatric medication and we see them working very well as temporary assistance to recovery, regaining health and, if needed, as a chronic medication.

What to do for someone else?

If you know someone that seems to be slipping down the slippery slide of anxiety or depression and if you have serious concerns about their wellbeing, then “go over their head” and book an appointment with their doctor asap. No matter if they are asking you not to do so.  If they become very resistant you always have the possibility of calling medical emergency services like CMR, to check up on your dear one. Also, if you are fearing that they might hurt themselves you can report this to the police, and they have the duty to follow up on this. These might seem to be severe measures, however, is it worth taking the risk NOT to do anything. If they are really struggling, they are unable to decide on their own and they need loved ones to guide and help them to find the appropriate help.

They might be “looking for attention” or acting like a “drama queen” and you might feel their threats are not real. Remember they are calling out for help in the best way they can.

If you have any questions about this topic, or if you are looking for assistance, please Whats App or call us on 072 375 6089, and we will assist you with making an appointment to see one of our counsellors.

Self-Care & Stress Relief @ The Safe House

The Safe House and The Family Counselling Centre

“The Safe House” and its staff is one of the projects that we at The Family Counselling Centre (TFCC) support. The Safe House (TSH) is a place of safety for women and children who have been a victim of domestic abuse. It is situated in the middle of our “deep south” valley, in a secret location to ensure the safety of its residents. TFCC provides pro bono debriefing sessions when needed and individual counselling sessions for staff members. We also offer staff development for the housemothers, the social worker and the admin staff.
The recent staff development workshop was held on 28th June 2019. The topic was self-care and was held by Andrea Nettel. Zikho Mkosana from TFCC also joined in the session.

Self-Care Workshop

The 5 Aspects of Being Human

There are 5 main aspects to human life.
1. Physical – Eating Sleeping, Physical sense of well-being, health, Illness etc.
2. Productivity – work, school, housework, how productive do you feel?
3. Spirituality – How happy are you with your individual spiritual life? How well are you connected spiritually?
4. Social – Family and Friends, how good are my family interactions and my friendships?
5. Creativity – Anything from painting, art, knitting, baking, sinning dance, writing, etc. How much creativity is in your life?
These aspects need daily attention and need to be cared for. In order to find out how well you are doing, it is important to be able to rate yourself. This exercise is something you can do by yourself, or if you are a team leader you can encourage your team to spend a little bit of time at least once a week to assess themselves. The rating goes as follows: 10 means that this aspect is exactly where you would like it to be and 0 means it is nowhere to be found in your life right now. This rating will give you an idea where you feel uncomfortable and what does not need to be worked on right now.
The Safe House team seemed surprised at their ratings and found that they were generally high in their productivity, but other aspects of their lives were lacking desperately. This little exercise assisted them to identify areas of their lives they said they would like to improve or focus on.


What is stress?

The definition of stress according Google is pressure or tension exerted on something. Stress, in itself, is not a bad thing. The human body is created to deal with stress. In other words, you are created to deal with certain stressful situations in your life. There is “good” stress like excitement about going on a long-awaited holiday. There is also “bad” stress like lack of finances or relationship trouble. Ultimately stress can get us to finish things on time or organise last minute details before needing to get onto that plane that will take us to our holiday destination.
The problem really is when there is too much stress. Either stress that last for many months, or stress that is simply too great to handle.

Symptoms of too much stress

Cognitive Symptoms
• Memory problems
• Inability to concentrate
• Poor judgement
• Seeing only the negative
• Anxious or racing thoughts
• Constant worrying

Emotional Symptoms
• Moodiness
• Irritability or short temper
• Agitation, inability to relax
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Sense of loneliness and isolation
• Depression or general unhappiness
Physical Symptoms
• Aches and pains
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Nausea, dizziness
• Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
• Loss of sex drive
• Frequent colds
Behavioural Symptoms
• Eating more or less
• Sleeping to much or too little
• Isolating yourself from others
• Procrastinating or neglecting responsibility
• Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
• Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, tapping fingers)

Stress relief techniques

Stress relief, or self-care, is not a once a week thing. Or something we do when we are on our annual leave. Stress relief, and self-care needs to be implemented daily as a routine AND immediately as in response to stressful experiences. The internet is full of suggestions of stress-relief exercises and techniques. I have chosen to share these few because they are simple to use and I have found them to be very effective.

1. Healthy Living:

• Water consumption
• Nutrition
• Sleep Hygiene
• Spirituality
• Sunshine
Take note of your water consumption and ensure you have a healthy balanced nutritional diet. Ensure your sleep hygiene is up to scratch. Everyone has different needs with regards to how many hours you might need. However, it is important to take care that the sleep you do get is quality sleep; That you have a bedtime routine to help your body to close off the day properly and that you sleep comfortably, waking up refreshed. Sunshine is a magnificent stress relief tool. It eases muscle tension, it builds up our vitamin D resources, it encourages healing, it is stimulating to get moving. And finally, having a spiritual connection a spiritual practice, will build resilience and decrease stress substantially.

2. Pockets:

Pockets are moments, 30 seconds to max 5 minutes, that are littered across your day. During a pocket take time to check in with your body, and yourself in general. You can take a moment while boiling the kettle and look out the window. Watch the tree swaying in the wind, enjoy the clouds dancing in the sky, rest your eyes upon a mountain or a sea view. While doing that drop your shoulders and slow down your breathing.

3. Finger Holding:

Eastern medicine and meridian work, western physios, massage therapists and chiropractors use meridian work to alleviate physical pain through dry needling, massage and pressure point release. Sports injuries have been proven to heal quicker with the use of meridian work.
A local study a few years back about schoolteachers and their stress levels made use of “Finger Holding” as one of the stress relief techniques. I cannot remember what the study aimed to achieve, however, there was an unexpected result that was NOT connected to the actual study and that was that ALL the teacher in the finger holding group felt that it was impressively helpful in reducing stress AND building resilience.
Each Finger is related to a certain emotion or stress feeling:
• Thumb = Emotional Pain (Sucking thumbs in children), Grief and tears
• Index Finger = Fear and terror (the naughty finger form authority)
• Middle Finger = Anger Rage and Resentment – (showing the middle finger)
• Ring Finger = Anxiety, worry, Preoccupation (Twirling the wedding ring nervously)
• Small Finger = lack of self-esteem, feeling like a victim (It is the smallest finger)
In short depending on how you feel you hold the corresponding finger with your other hand. Gently holding it you can do so without anyone knowing what you are doing or why you are doing it. Hold that finger until you feel a pulse, or until you feel better. You can do this regularly with each finger to balance and strengthen yourself. (e.g. every morning before you start you work) or you can do it as and when you feel stressed.
(Click here to go to the “Integrated Security” website for more information on finger holding technique)


The Safe House Team felt relieved that self-care could be as simple as that. All agreed that the kind of work they do at the safe house is high in stress, mainly because of the struggles their residents bring with them. We discussed extensively how the trauma of the residents effected the working environment and how each one of them can be personally affected by the clients they work with. Most of the team felt that the 5 aspects of being human were the most helpful and many committed themselves to make space for the aspects that they rated below six.