7 Wellness skills to help you deal with civil unrest


“We are born to love. We learn to hate. It is up to us what we reach for.”

Edith Eger, Auschwitz survivor


This past week has undoubtedly been distressing for South Africans on every level – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Whether you have been directly affected by the unrest in your communities and businesses or an armchair media observer sitting in the Western Cape like myself, you have been impacted. This is not a time that will be easily forgotten. And nor should it. It will continue to impact lives for many years to come.

In times of turmoil, it is always the way we choose to respond to situations that determines our well-being. Are we choosing to be reactors or creators? This is a personal choice, as is everything we do and are in this life.

There is power in our words – the ones we share with others and the ones we internalise. Words can be used to create turmoil as witnessed last week. When combined with internalised negative thinking they can be very destructive indeed. Thoughts of concern can quickly spiral into hopelessness if unchecked. We ‘catastrophise’ the news we see into an ‘all or nothing’ doomsday vision. As feeling follows thought, this negative thinking will undoubtedly lead to feelings of anger, sadness and despair… We can empower ourselves by redirecting our negative thoughts and/or creating constructive ones to counterbalance the negative.

Here are some WELLNESS SKILLS that can help you deal with the trauma of this week’s civil unrest:


Be the monitor of your own thoughts. If you feel yourself spiralling towards the negative, ask yourself: How else could I see this? Is this true? What would change if I operated from a place of security rather than fear? The truth in life is that we cannot believe everything we think. Our subconscious (which likes to run our lives) is a scorecard of past experiences and limiting self-beliefs that develops over many years. These beliefs colour what we think about ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. Sometimes they need to be tested and refuted. We are capable of more than our past selves. 


Crisis situations engage the sympathetic nervous system of ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mode. When this happens, we cannot think clearly and revert to survival reactions. This is a vital mid-crisis, but we then need to shift out of this mode to problem solve. Activities that encourage this are deep breathing, nature walks, gardening, yoga, reiki, tapping, tremoring, prayer and meditation.


Tap into our shared humanity by trying to stand in a protestor’s shoes for a moment. Ask yourself questions like: What is that protestor likely to be thinking and feeling? Would I ever be driven to behave that way? Why are the protestors so angry and destructive? What makes me angry and destructive? How does this situation make me feel and why? 


Choose when and where to expose yourself to trauma if you can. Is it constructive to sit 24/7 watching it unfold on your devices?


Do the small things that bring comfort. E.g., enjoy a lovely meal or take a walk in the sunshine. Spend time reflecting on what we have to be grateful for in our lives and pray for those directly affected in a way that is true for you.


Do something, anything to help. By taking action you begin to take back your power. Look at the amazing clean-up efforts happening right now.


Ask yourself the BIG questions: Who do I choose to be in this situation? What do I choose to think? How do I choose to act? What can I learn about myself from this situation? If you are living consciously, the answers should align with your life vision and purpose.

Life is a complex journey of polarities. Hope can follow destruction. Sometimes love is preceded by loss. I was reminded of this recently in the loss of a friend to cancer after a long struggle. Her family suffered immeasurable loss, but they expressed a new understanding of love as shown by their grief supporters. Nothing is ever simple or final.

Can we learn something from this unrest – definitely. Can we use it to test our resilience – absolutely. Can we continue to focus on well-ness in such times – a must.

Sending so much love and healing to my beautiful home, Kwa-Zulu Natal. May she, and the Gauteng communities impacted, emerge stronger and wiser from this experience.

By Paula Cotton of The Peace Portal - Creative Consciousness Coach, UK Psycho-Therapeutic counsellor and Reiki Healer. Contactable on WhatsApp, 083-798-0626 and paula@bulelawildlife.co.za

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