Coping amid unrest

Leoni van Tonder, Chief Human Resources Officer at Ovations

Johannesburg, 17 Aug 2021
Read time 4min 40sec
Leoni van Tonder, Chief Human Resources Officer at Ovations.
Leoni van Tonder, Chief Human Resources Officer at Ovations.

Unimaginable scenes of people carrying fridges, freezers and treadmills on their backs, fires raging and burning down malls, warehouses and businesses made it looked like a scene from a movie (a comment so many people made); however, it was real, and it was happening in our own country, South Africa.

Fearing for the safety of our loved ones, family, friends and colleagues caught up in the affected areas caused a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from anger, anxiety, fear and even hope. The last few weeks have been extremely hard for South Africans, but it has also shown the collective rising of ordinary citizens coming together to unite and stand side by side to show courage and unity.

Our fears were being fuelled by the constant images the news channels were looping, social media full of despair and destruction, and every conversation, Teams meeting or catch-up being overtaken by discussions on what was happening… it was a lot after the trauma of the nearly 500 days we have already had.

How do you cope during a time like this?

Having being asked the question, I did not know, at first, how to answer it. I was also experiencing these emotions; from being fearful, sad and teary-eyed, feeling despair about the future of our beloved country and then the feeling of elation when communities jumped into action!

I had to do some self-reflection. I read a lot and then had to express it in words. I found and realised that feeling overwhelmed, angry, anxious, having trouble sleeping or concentrating are common reactions to witnessing what we saw and have seen.

If you are experiencing any of these emotions, you are not alone – acknowledge it and validate your feelings; what you are feeling is normal.

Here are some suggested ways to deal with the maelstrom of emotions:

Manage media consumption

  • Set a limit on exposure to continued sensational and emotion-stirring images;
  • When checking on updates, notice when it is helpful and productive and when it’s not;
  • Be conscious of what you share, do not stoke the panic; and
  • Find positive messages and encourage others to share messages of support.

Manage the big emotions

  • It is natural to be stressed and worried; be careful not to vent too much and burden especially your children with your emotions;
  • Be vigilant about how you talk about the events and the individuals involved in these actions; and
  • Find a positive way for yourself or your family to deal with the situation. Volunteer to help according to what you can offer, even if it is just writing a note to first responders.

Educate yourself

  • Understand the difference between what is real and what is being sensationalised;
  • Be informed on ways to get help if needed or how to get involved when others need help;
  • Establish what emergency responses are available in your community and how to contact them; and
  • Create a safe space to speak about what’s happening and reflect the feelings of those you are talking to, back to them.

Take care of yourself and others you care about

  • Try to do your best in taking care of yourself physically as well as mentally;
  • Take time to check in with yourself daily;
  • Maintaining regular routines helps us cope in times of anxiety, the familiar making it feel comfortable; 
  • Recognise the emotions and encourage conversations with others who understand and respect how you feel;
  • Focus on what has helped you cope in the past;
  • Fear and anxiety are normal – acknowledge and validate your feelings. Share these feelings with others and respect that everyone is at different stages of their emotional turmoil;
  • Connect with your loved ones and your social support;
  • Take small, achievable steps for you to cope or act as and when you are ready; and
  • Seek professional psychological help if you need to.

The most important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as over communication at this point. Keep checking in and keep reaching out with messages of support, comfort and positivity. And if you are the one in need, let someone know.

If you are looking for ways to volunteer your time or funds, there are several organisations you can reach out to. If you need more detail, have a look at the GoodThingsGuy social media pages.

My message of encouragement is: Ubuntu is alive, well and thriving. Communities uniting to clean up, protect and rebuild show the spirit of who we are as a nation. The newfound respect we are showing each other, the incredible sense of unity and pride and the rising of South Africa’s people are creating the magic for a new dawn. Let us continue to show the collective power of good across our communities, the spontaneous collaboration that shows the remarkable resilience and fortitude that binds South Africa and her people! And never lose hope!

Where to get help?

  • SAPS Emergency response: 10111
  • Cellphone emergency: 112
  • Lifeline: (086) 1322 322
  • SADAG: (011) 234 4837
  • Trauma helpline: (080) 0205 026
See also