The Covid blues strike again

Anxiety is peaking among many South Africans as a combination of stress after the recent unrest and rising deaths from coronavirus grows.

Garth Johnstone

Yesterday I had the day off and went into Howick to do some chores and admin, taking the opportunity to get some sun (and warmth) during the 35-minute drive each way to town and back.

On the way back I decided to stop in at one of my favourite haunts to stock up on pizza bases and grab a coffee.

It was only while sitting in the sun at Caladdi, sipping on a delicious black coffee, that I realised just how tense I was and how much I needed to unwind. Rare for me, I sat there for a good 20 minutes just soaking up the rays and thinking. There was a nice breeze blowing keeping things cool and I was able to just let go as I sipped the coffee and enjoyed the relaxing environment. I realised that what I had was definitely a case of mild depression and heightened anxiety.

It seems like in 2020 and 2021, the blows just keep coming.

Covid-19: Why we are so stressed and ways to overcome it

Frustration about travel is a thing, as many have had to postpone their plans and are unsure when they will be able to dream again. Some remain separated from loved ones. Picture: Iata

It’s all relative… how do you compare someone who can’t even scrape enough money day-to-day to put food on the table for his family, to someone bummed out over a cancelled holiday. But we are all, in different ways, suffering the pain of hardship, disappointment, missed opportunities and anxiety over the future – with the exception of the fortunate few who are set up to thrive during this pandemic. Some people are mourning the loss of loved ones.

Inability to plan

Personally, for me, trivial as it might sound to some, the issues are a feeling of isolation, an inability to plan coupled with anxiety about the future, and frustration at not being able to travel. I have been lucky enough to keep earning during the pandemic.

Merge our concerns about a nasty third wave of Covid-19 in SA, with the Delta variant charging in some places where the pandemic had seemed under control (eg the US, China), plus opinion from top scientists that further variants are on the way, and it all makes for a lot of gloom, reflection and nervousness.

There’s no doubt that the violent unrest, which started a few weeks ago as anger at the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma and morphed into an up-yours exhibition of rage at the government and economy, has added to our pain.

The violence and destruction of recent looting sent shockwaves across SA. Picture: Florian Olivo/Unsplash

Scenes of looting, trashing of infrastructure, shots fired on the streets and normal citizens having to take up the role of law enforcers gave the nation a nasty wake-up call, disturbing for many and a game changer for some. The utter lawlessness and helplessness of the police were a slap in the face for law-respecting South Africans, many of whom are still trying to make sense of what happened.

Now read: Violence, looting leaves a bitter taste

It might help us feel better if there was clear and transparent accountability for what happened and why. It’s obvious that Zuma was a factor, but there’s no doubt that the populace, desperate due to unemployment, poverty and a lack of opportunities and hope, were ripe for manipulation by the puppet masters. With all the uncertainty around Covid-19, lockdowns and the economy, this was just too much to bear for many working-class South Africans.

Children have been exposed to images of looting and violence and general lawlessness that might disturb them. It’s important these are talked about and kids feel free and comfortable getting back to their usual routines. Those who show lasting affects need to receive counselling or parents must seek professional assistance. Picture: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

So, is it any wonder that anxiety and depression are on the rise in SA, just like in many other parts of a troubled world? Vulnerable communities, among them the unemployed, the elderly and children, are some of the most at risk. Remember, that children who may have seen the images of violence and looting, are not yet mature enough to process it all and will also have trouble “unseeing” what they saw on our streets and at our shopping mall. Their fear and anxiety will manifest in a variety of ways, and is added to the stress from interruptions to schooling due to Covid-19.

Now read: How to help your child cope with trauma caused by recent unrest

Personally, I am feeling a ratcheting up of the pressure, a bit like a kettle coming to the boil. I’m aware of what’s going on in my head, which helps a bit, but the unease and anxiety remains. I am making sure to take mini-breaks from social media and news consumption to try to ease the bad news burden.

**If you, or your children feel unable to cope with the stress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the recent unrest and violence, seek professional help, for example, from The South African Depression & Anxiety Group, (0800 567 567), or a psychologist.

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International Beer Day: Friday, August 6 2021.