Tough times call for a constructive approach to coping

Break the cycle of negative thoughts

Thursday, April 20 2023

Faced with an ongoing energy crisis, political uncertainty and current global economic challenges, the mental health of our nation has taken a knock with countless people finding it hard to cope. However, healthy thoughts and practises can give you power over how you respond to your reality.

According to Elmari Botes, an occupational therapist at Netcare Akeso Nelspruit who is relocating to head up the Centre of Psychotherapy Excellence (COPE) at the soon to open Netcare Akeso Gqeberha, the impact of trying times on a person’s mental state can be enormous if left unattended, sometimes with long term consequences.


“People’s thoughts tend to be swayed by their circumstances, and what happens around us can dramatically influence our emotions and as a result, our actions. When living through a state of prolonged difficulty where you constantly feel that things are not as you believe they should be, it is easy for negativity to become the lens through which you see the world.”

Botes notes that while it is perfectly natural and understandable to find it hard to cope during tough times, it is important to be aware of your mental state and to work on your mental health, both internally and in your relationships, as the decisions we make now are directly related to future outcomes, such as maintaining those relationships and achieving goals.

“When negativity spills over into other areas of your life it can spiral, influencing what you say and do, which impacts your relationships thereby making life even harder for you to manage, and reinforcing that negative outlook further. It is precisely this type of situation that can lead to you looking back one day and wondering how on earth you got here,” she says.


It starts with acceptance
“This is not to say that we should always try to be positive. In fact, sometimes it is important to feel the weight of a situation to work through it well. Trying to maintain a positive attitude can minimise the seriousness of what is happening.

“Coping well is more about healthy thoughts and practises, which begins with acceptance. Again, this is not about trying to put a positive spin on negative experiences – it is simply about acknowledging the reality of what is happening rather than trying to deny it or compare it to worse situations.”

According to Botes, acceptance does not occur on its own and is a process of keeping an open mind, hearing other points of view, assessing the full picture in its wider context, and then asking yourself whether you can do anything about it.

“A negative outlook can leave you feeling powerless, but even if you are confronted with a larger reality that is out of your control, you still have the power to make changes which will help you to cope better. This can be a far more constructive use of your energy than looking for solutions where there are none or becoming locked into a negative spiral. While it is not always easy, taking a moment to sit quietly with emotional discomfort might enable you to ask yourself: What can I do about this? How do I want to respond to this situation?,” she says.

Take ownership and lean into relationships
“The next step is taking ownership of the part you play in your experience and it is with this attitude that you can bring about change in your life. This boils down to good self awareness, knowing what you need to have in place to cope and, where it involves others, asking them for help. Vulnerability in the right spaces bears good fruit.
“There are those for whom this is a foreign concept but it is about learning to open up to those who you trust, who care about you and who can validate how you feel while providing helpful input so that you can problem solve together. Humans are hard wired for social interaction, we need that feedback from mature relationships to be at our best. It’s not all about advice – it is also about compassion and connection.”

Break the pattern with mindfulness
Botes says that those looking for a constructive approach towards coping during difficult times may find it valuable to compartmentalise or detach from certain aspects of life to remain focused and productive.

“If for example you are feeling overwhelmed, try not to let this colour the entire day for you. Rather set yourself a time limit of say 10 minutes to think about what you are feeling, experience it fully, and then when the time is up move on to an activity that breaks that thinking pattern. This could be going for a walk, a run or having your morning shower – whatever works to help you to reset. If you are facing a problem that you need to work through, you might find it helpful to journal about it and then close the book – you can always come back to it at a later stage when the time is right.”

Forming a habit of taking a mindful moment in the morning can become a lifelong mental health tool for starting the day out with a fresh frame of mind, as opposed to getting caught in that cycle of negative thinking, she explains.    

“Being mindful essentially just means doing something with focused awareness, slowly enough that you take it in fully. This could be enjoying a cup of coffee where you smell the scent of those roasted beans and feel the sensation of the warm cup in your hands, or it could be doing some stretches and paying attention to the different areas of your body – it is about doing something that brings you back to the moment where you can observe your headspace and be aware of your thoughts before the day starts.

“If you wish to grow and progress through adversity, you really need to make time to slow down. If you do, you gain awareness and learn about yourself. If not, you will continue to follow the same patterns and make the same mistakes. This is a form of ongoing life preparation – much like we all have our load shedding kits in place – but this is mental and emotional preparation so that when a hardship does occur you are better equipped to cope and stay on track in your life,” concludes Botes.


About Netcare Akeso

Netcare Akeso operates a network of private inpatient mental health facilities and is part of the Netcare Group. Netcare Akeso provides individual, integrated and family oriented treatment in specialised inpatient treatment facilities, as well as certain outpatient services, for a range of psychiatric, psychological and substance use conditions. Please visit or contact [email protected] for further information.
In the event of a psychological crisis, call 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day for emergency support. Psychiatrist consultations can be made through Netcare appointmed™, online at or by calling 0861 555 565.

For media enquiries, contact MNA at the contact details listed below.

Issued by:  MNA on behalf of Netcare Akeso
For media enquiries contact:    Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, Estene Lotriet-Vorster and Clementine Forsthofer
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