How we can remain socially connected during the pandemic

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  • Dr Penny Kupa addressed issues pertaining to the right of connectivity and the realities of the pandemic
  • Dr Kupa is a social worker and member of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP)
  • A possible third wave of the pandemic makes it crucial that we find ways to cope with factors like anxiety


It has been a year since South Africa went into nationwide lockdown as a protective measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus. An influx of academic literature shows just how unprepared we were for the extreme nature of the lockdown, suggesting that many people are struggling with loneliness, anxiety, as well as depression.

Dr Penny Kupa, a social worker and member of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP), addressed issues pertaining to the right of connectivity and also the realities of the pandemic. 

She noted: “The restrictions have been unbearable for many people, especially as there was absolutely no time for any psychological preparation. We have seen the results of this. Violations of isolation and lockdown restrictions were frequently reported in the media right from the early stages of hard lockdown.

One way to explain this behaviour could be a plain disregard for the law. However, at the same time, recognition needs to be given to the fact that when people are not coping with any stressful situation, they tend to revert to what they regard as normal, even if inappropriate.”

Health24 interviewed Dr Kupa to get her input related to important issues about connectivity during lockdown in a South African context.

1. In a recent press release, you highlighted how social media is a useful tool for the youth to overcome loneliness during lockdown. How do you suggest adults deal with feelings of isolation associated with this period?

Isolation is unpleasant irrespective of your age. My observation is that adults that are tech-savvy and had access to the internet took advantage of social media platforms to maintain contact with friends, colleagues and family.

For those without access to such tools, they need to recognise that prolonged isolation may have negative impact on their overall health and can trigger stress responses if not attended to.

Phone calls to friends and family, exercise, starting a hobby, meditation, journaling etc., may go a long way to make one feel connected. Focus should be what one can do to deal with isolation rather than allow oneself to be immobilised by limited options.  

2. Announcements of a third wave approaching may cause a lot of anxiety, especially for individuals with co-morbidities. What can these individuals do to get peace of mind?

Life crises challenge us to re-look at our existing coping mechanisms and evaluate what may work and what may not. This means that it provides opportunities to acquire new coping skills and/or improve existing ones as we adapt to the reality of the pandemic. My observation is that we have reasonably adapted during both the first and the second wave and made the necessary ongoing changes in attitude and behaviour.

It is okay to be anxious but at the same time also acknowledge how resilient you have been up to now. With the experience that we have gained from the second wave, chances are high that the “can do” attitude will help us live through the third wave. Channel the anxiety into constructive ways of coping.  

3. As a nation, as well as globally, we were not mentally, emotionally, and in many cases, financially prepared for the pandemic. If by any chance future generations were to experience similar conditions (i.e. harsh lockdowns), would it be possible to prepare them for such a scenario?

There is no way of predicting what a future pandemic would be like and its impact on the lives of individuals and families. My view is that all we can prepare them for is that pandemics are a normal human experience of almost every generation.

4. Do you have any other advice for people who are struggling to cope mentally during the ongoing pandemic?

  • Focus more on what you can do and NOT on what you cannot do. Make an effort to maintain realistic optimism about the situation.
  • Keep regular contact with friends and family that remind you in a loving way that you matter and inspire you.
  • Self-care by maintaining a realistic exercise routine, healthy eating, relaxation and reading and/or watching inspiring books and movies.

If all these suggestions do not work, seek professional help. Professional help these days is available telephonically, virtually and face to face.

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