Heartlines

Practical tips for working through hard emotions

Being a father

If you’ve experienced difficult things this year, and your reaction to these challenges has put pressure on your relationship with your family, or you’re responding to situations with stronger emotions, there are practical steps you can take to help keep things under control.

Bonginkosi Ndima, founder of the Bongs Ndima Foundation and clinical psychologist Shai Friedland share some tools men can use when they are experiencing intense emotions.

  • Choose your response. “There’s a Zulu idiom, ‘Indlala ibanga ulaka’, which means ‘hunger causes us to be aggressive’ – most of us get a bit agitated when we haven’t eaten or slept well”, says Ndima. How we deal with feelings that threaten to overwhelm us is important. “Do you allow them to dominate you or do you control them?” asks Ndima.
  • Understand your body’s response. Our bodies respond to our emotions. For example, if you are feeling anxious, your body prepares to run away. This means that more blood moves to your legs and arms and your breathing gets quicker. Friedland says that when you feel your body reacting in a certain way because of an emotion you’re experiencing, take a deep breath into your stomach and focus on what you are experiencing with your five senses in that moment. A deep breath will slow your heart down. Connecting yourself with what you can see, hear, smell and taste helps keep you in the present moment, rather than getting wrapped up in thoughts that trigger strong emotional responses.
  • Don’t judge or argue with your thoughts. When you are experiencing a strong emotion Friedland says it is important not to judge or argue with this thought by telling it to go away. It will keep returning if you do this. Rather, identify the emotion – you can even give it a shape or colour, recognise that it cannot harm you, and then return to the present moment by connecting with what your five senses are experiencing.
  • Lifestyle. Exercise is vital – even if it is a walk around the block every day. What you eat also makes a big difference. Avoid very sugary, processed foods as these will cause your blood sugar to rise and then drop – which can mimic symptoms of depression. Instead, drink lots of water, eat fruit, vegetables and fibre, and avoid too much processed food.
  • Have honest conversations. Friedland says that fathers who find themselves in this position should be as open and honest as they can with their families. If you are dealing with a loss of income, communicate what is financially realistic so that family members can align their expectations. Adjust the budget and resist going into debt just to pretend that everything is normal.
  • Keep hope alive. While it may seem in the moment that something like losing a job is a massive setback it does not mean that things will never get better. Remember that external factors have a big role in determining your feelings, so it is normal to feel these emotions, says Friedland. “Think of all the past times you did not think things would work out, and they did,” says Ndima. Be practical and try as much as you can to take small steps towards financial sustainability. Start a vegetable garden for your household to save money, apply for jobs – even if it’s not something you would usually go for. “It helps to get yourself out there,” says Friedland.

To find out more about how to identify signs of depression in yourself or someone you’re close to, read the companion article to this piece here.

Getting help

If someone you love or know is going through a difficult time, it’s important to show them that they can trust you when they share their feelings. “We need to change the narrative and make men understand that it is okay to be vulnerable – this does not mean that they are weak”, says Ndima. If you or your loved one need more support, there are people available to help.

Reach out to the following organisations:

  • The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has great resources and free telephonic counselling. Call the 24-hour helpline on 0800 456 789 or WhatsApp 076 882 2775 for assistance.
  • The Bongs Ndima Foundation was founded to address and create awareness around depression and anxiety amongst South African men. WhatsApp 076 690 5884 to get in touch.
Heartlines

At Heartlines, the Centre for Values Promotion, we believe in the power of story and positive values to touch hearts and transform behaviour.

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