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Change the world

17/04/2024

Nelson Mandela University’s Executive Dean of Health Sciences, Professor Zukiswa Zingela has produced a book on how to cope with stress and grow towards self-empowerment.

 

The book, EPT to Bloom, stems from a programme, Enhanced Preparedness Training (EPT) that Prof Zingela, a psychiatrist designed to provide support to healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The intervention was initially developed to enhance healthcare worker coping skills. In Nelson Mandela University, it was expanded and implemented beyond the healthcare sector, in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team including psychologist, Professor Pumeza Kota-Nyati and social worker, Professor Zoleka Soji, both based at Mandela University.

Prof Zingela says in her field of work, she has seen how, when people face many challenges across various living spaces of their lives which include work, family and friends, leaning into inherent coping skills can help foster resilience.

With the advent of the pandemic, such coping skills were tested to the limit, giving rise to an explosion of mental and psychological distress which is still reverberating to this day. This has spilled over into the workspace, where the average person spends most of their waking hours.

What this means is that if one’s coping skills are overwhelmed, then it is not only the individual who is affected but also their work environment, colleagues and peers. This book therefor addresses how to enhance coping skills at an individual level and at a group of team level, which makes it holistic in approach.

“As we emerged from the pandemic, it became clear that we are still faced with multiple challenges that affect our ability to cope with life at home, work and in general.” One of the negative effects of this is burn out and psychological distress related to feeling overwhelmed.

The book is an easy-to-read practical step-by-step guide that provides life skills and coping mechanisms to navigate stressful situations. “It helps readers to take control of their ability to cope, in the face of adversity,” explains Prof Zingela.

The first part looks at “reflecting on our many layers as people”. People have many layers like an onion or the underground roots of a tree. “Trauma is one factor that could trigger stress and influence which of these layers become visible to ourselves and to others.

“The book shows readers how to identity their stressors and provides tips on how to take control even when placed under pressure. It also guides on relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and mindfulness, which are all positive outlets for stress.”

Prof Zingela writes, “We can never escape or outrun ourselves. For better or worse we live with ourselves every day,” meaning finding out what triggers us and our stress reactions, is a starting point. “Engaging in regular physical activity helps you reduce stress your stress levels, regularise your sleep and improves your energy levels” as well as walking, hiking, swimming or dancing. 

Depression can stem from “our thoughts revolving around our past, while anxiety can be driven by current worries and fears for tomorrow, meaning, we can often end up in a vicious cycle of despair,” writes Prof Zingela.

To deal with such emotions and anxiety she recommends practising mindfulness, which is learning to be fully “here and now and in the current moment and space”. This can be achieved through mindfulness techniques, meditation, yoga or finding time and space to enjoy nature.

Prof Zingela explains that tough times “do change us in critical ways. The challenge is to make that change that work for us.” This could be acquiring new skills if you have lost your job or reinventing yourself just when your world seems to be falling apart.

An example of tips on anger management and the usual advice which is to “walk away” from the trigger is, “If you are angry, walk away and channel your anger in non-destructive ways like, write your thoughts down on a piece up paper then tear it up; or record your thoughts in a voice note to yourself then delete it.”

In its approach to groups and teams, the advice is for individuals to be aware of the roles they play within such environments and to be intentional about reinforcing those aspects of themselves that enable the individual and team to survive and thrive. Issues if trust, communication and feedback are emphasized and one is guided to reflect further on one’s contribution to the group or team.

The book can easily be read in two or three sittings depending on the reader. What makes it even more useful is that once one has read it, it becomes possible to know which of the tips and guidelines work best for you and one can the go back to reinforce the useful knowledge at any point and time in the future as one’s needs change.

The book is available as a hard copy or eBook on Takealot and Amazon.

Prof Zingela and her Mandela University colleagues are facilitating an EPT short course on how to cope with stress, aimed at members of the public, while the advanced course trains employees with medical degrees or health care qualifications to become certified EPT facilitators at their place of work. For more information, please contact Zimkhitha.Sibam@mandela.ac.za or Annaline.Maasdorp@mandela.ac.za.

Contact information
Primarashni Gower
Director: Communication & Marketing
Tel: 0415043057
Primarashni.Gower@mandela.ac.za