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Updated 24 February 2016

Users' questions to CyberShrink on mental health

Health24.com’s CyberShrink Professor Michael Simpson answers questions on mental wellbeing

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Q:
I’m a single mom of a little girl aged three-and-a half. We’ve never been away from each other for longer than one night.I’m about to leave on my own for the UK to visit a friend for a week.

My daughter will be staying with my parents, whom she’s extremely close to and very content with. I’m just a little worried she won’t cope without me for the week.

What’s the best way to explain to her that I’m going away for a week but will phone her every morning and evening?
Please give me some advice so I can help her understand.

A:
Kids are generally far more resilient than we think. In fact, you may find the experience more unsettling than your daughter does!

But be aware she could pick up on your anxiety and feel anxious because of that. Try to turn the experience into an adventure and reassure her you’re confident she’ll cope well.

In World War 2 it was found kids in London coped surprisingly well with the Blitz, despite nightly bombings and the destruction of whole street blocks – provided their parents remained relatively calm and confident about what was happening.

Q:
Whenever I’m at a club or party and someone asks me to dance I have this sudden fear of dancing. My heart begins to beat faster and I become nauseous. I eventually discovered it’s a condition called chorophobia, or fear of dancing. There seems to be no cure for it.

A:
Decades ago people with too much time on their hands came up with a whole lot of fancy words to describe every type of phobia they could think of. But the exercise isn’t really useful. Basically what you’re describing is a phobic anxiety disorder and the treatment would be the same as for any other such disorder. The few varieties where there’s some value in specifying subtypes would be agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder (of which there’s a hint in your complaint). I wonder whether this is genuinely a fear of dancing – if you danced all by yourself, alone in a room, would you feel bad?

It seems what you’re suffering from is more a social fear of standing out in a crowd, of standing up in front of other people and doing something that may make people look at you. All these phobias respond well to two types of treatment: a medicine used to treat depression could help, as could cognitive behaviour therapy (a compact form of psychotherapy).

Q:
My husband is really disappointing me. He has a hobby that makes him sit in front of the computer for hours on end. For some time now he has been trying to get out of his current job. He earns a terrible salary and his boss is a complete nightmare. Recently a wonderful opportunity come his way and he went for the interview. They’re offering a very good salary but his hours will be slightly longer than now and he may have to be on standby one weekend a month. He’s not sure if he should take the job as he won’t be able to ‘‘do his thing’’ on the computer. At the new company he’ll be able to work his way up; where he is now he can’t grow at all and things won’t get better. We live in a dump and this job could at least help us get somewhere. It seems as though he only thinks of himself. I don’t know what to do with him any more.

A:
This needs calm discussion between the pair of you. A hobby is a good thing as some refreshing fun but to turn down a job with good pay and prospects just to spend more time in front of the computer is short-sighted. Remind him that one reason he feels so desperately in need of all that time ‘‘doing his thing’’ on the computer is because he has a lousy job and boss. If the job at the new company brings more fulfilment and satisfaction he’ll probably find that while he can still enjoy his time on the computer he won’t need it so much as it won’t be his only source of satisfaction and pleasure.

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