Dr Nitsa, what led you to begin a career in psychology?
“Psychology is, by its very nature, the study of the human condition. I have always cared about people and their experiences and was destined for psychology. The ability to be a good listener, use my observational skills and reflect seemed to come naturally to me. I also understood that taking a scientific approach to the study of the human condition in distress, was essential if you wanted to better understand how people behaved.”
Did your Greek Cypriot upbringing influence your road to success in any way?
“Without a doubt. My parents had a strong work ethic, and they endured many adversities since emigrating from Cyprus to South Africa. But they remained steadfast in their example, traditions, values, and the importance of a good education. That stability gave me the freedom to identify early on that I wanted a good education for myself and not solely to please my family.”
The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has made a dramatic impact on all our lives, especially our mental health. As stress, anxiety, and loneliness become more commonplace while we adjust to the changes in our daily lives, how can one find ways to communicate these feelings, and to cope with the anxiety?
“We must all come to terms with the fact that the mental and physical repercussions of the pandemic will be ongoing. The time is ripe for cost-effective mental health programmes, aimed at teaching people new skills to manage stress. Unfortunately, ‘do it yourself’ options do not appear to be the answer. They work well in controlled trials and studies; however, people do not download self-help material in significant enough numbers and even fewer use self-help techniques on an ongoing basis. Start with having a consultation with your GP/psychologist and enquire about professional services or resources available in your area or online.”
Amidst the busyness of life, it can be hard to take time for yourself, let alone get the care you need. How important is self-care, and what are some of the best ways to cultivate it for yourself and others during any season?
“Self-care and self-compassion are key. Self-compassion means being aware of your own pain and directing feelings of kindness and care towards yourself. Self-care means identifying what you enjoy doing and incorporating these practices into you day or week.”
Many people are tired of emotional unavailability, toxic relationships, and feeling ‘not good enough.’ How does one reduce the emotional baggage so that they can reclaim themselves and make space for better relationships and opportunities?
“Interpersonal effectiveness requires a deep understanding of why you choose the wrong partners, as well the consequences of these unfulfilling relationships considering what you know about the other person as well. Counselling can help you develop skills in this area if it is happening to you repeatedly or if it is having a pervasive effect on your life. The DEAR MAN skill set (by way of example) is an easy place to start this process:
• Describe – Tell people exactly what you are reacting to
• Express your feelings and don’t assume others can read your mind
• Assert yourself by asking for what you want or state ‘No’ clearly
• Reinforce that you feel heard/unheard and thank people for listening
• Mindful – be mindful of your position and don’t get off the topic when something
matters to you
• Appear confident and speak using an effective voice tone and physical manner
• Negotiate – be willing to give to get”
One of the most important issues facing parents today is the issue of cyberbullying, and ways to address the situation if they suspect their child is involved. Let us talk about the psychological effects of online bullying. How does one resolve the matter if their child is either a victim or the instigator?
“Victims typically use the Freeze response. They are hurt by the effects of bullying and are inclined to feel down and find it hard to cope but there is always something they can do, such as:
• Talking to an adult they trust and getting support this way
• Have someone help them report cyberbullying
• Getting offline if you can, even a short hiatus can help you regroup, but not before telling the bully what they are doing is not ok
“Perpetrators, by way of contrast, use the Fight response. They are usually angry, rage at others and are highly confrontational. Usually there is a history of family violence and a myriad of anti-social problems. If your child is cyberbullying, I would suggest the following:
• Anger management counselling for your child
• Bullies often have low self-esteem and want to feel better about themselves by targeting others. If this is the case, address the root cause, not the behaviour alone
• Bullies need help too – with finding better ways to address their low frustration threshold and inability to manage their anti-social tendencies
• Exploring the possibility that the bully is the victim of bullying themselves.”
As a successful Greek Cypriot of the diaspora, you are an ambassador for Cyprus abroad. How has the Greek Cypriot community in Australia responded to your success?
“My experience has been that Greeks and Greek Cypriots in Australia are proud of each other. Being Greek means the whole is always going to be greater than the sum of its parts. I have received much goodwill. And I too am proud of other Greeks that have achieved success in their fields and feel sorrow when I hear otherwise.”