Anxiety, frustration and outrage – load shedding is taking a toll on our mental health

The power cuts are compromising our mental health and well-being.
The power cuts are compromising our mental health and well-being.
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  • Eskom has ramped up load shedding, with SA nearly experiencing stage 7 on Monday.
  • Data by the University of Johannesburg has revealed South Africans are frustrated and angry about the ongoing power cuts. 
  • A psychiatrist says it's important to acknowledge that these feelings are natural and that such a crisis can easily take a toll on your mental health.

South Africa has already suffered more than 100 days of load shedding this year, and the energy crisis is set to worsen, analysts warned this week.

Needless to say, the continued power cuts has caused a wave of anxiety and unnecessary stress for millions of people. The Gross National Happiness index by the University of Johannesburg revealed that South Africans are furious about load shedding and that it could lead to protests, News24 reported.

At this point, the continued outages have become far more than an inconvenience. They are damaging small businesses, disrupting the flow of traffic, increasing cases of theft - such as cable theft - affecting productivity levels for people working from home with no backup power supply, damaging appliances and devices, and causing refrigerated foods to spoil very quickly, among several other impacts.

The stress and anxiety of it all is taking a mounting toll on our mental health. In 2019 specialist reporter Mandy Wiener wrote

“We are anxious and on edge … We need to talk about the mental health impact that load shedding is having on us as a collective. It [load shedding] permeates every aspect of our lives, and the knock-on effects are real. It's making me angry and short-tempered, and irritable. I know I'm not alone on this…”

One psychiatrist says it’s a very natural response for us to experience frustration, anxiety, anger and outrage in the current situation.

“These are all normal human responses when faced with uncertainty and frustration, especially if you feel ‘done in’," says professor Renata Schoeman, head of the MBA in Healthcare Leadership programme at Stellenbosch Business School.

READ MORE | Trying not to lose it over load shedding

While Schoeman believes it is important to enlighten ourselves about and address the facts regarding the cause behind the current bouts of power cuts, it doesn’t help to focus on this because the result is the same. 

“We are sitting with uncertainty, and it impacts our day-to-day living. It impacts our ability to do our work, earn an income and take care of our families,” she says, adding:

“So step one is to recognise that we all have strong feelings at this stage - and it’s okay.”

Take control of what you can control

The second step is to take control of what you can control, says Schoeman. “It doesn’t help to get involved in negative conversations about load shedding and get yourself more negative about it.” Instead, ask yourself, “What can I control?” 

One way to be in some form of control is to have a reliable app that will update you on your load shedding slots, such as EskomSePush, which gives you live updates and alerts on upcoming power cuts. 

“Try to at least be updated with the schedules. Avoid checking it constantly, but [where possible] check it the day before and make plans accordingly. This will help you create a sense of what you can expect of the day to come and decrease your anxiety,” says Schoeman.

Be adaptable

It’s important for us to be adaptable in terms of the expectations we have for ourselves and the rigidity in our daily programmes, says Schoeman.

“If you have this idea that you need to be able to cook supper every evening and realise that you won’t have electricity between 6-8 pm the next day, be open to swapping things around and having a ‘cold’ supper like a sandwich. It’s always best to plan ahead and simplify your life and to think in terms of what is possible.”

Plan for the unpredictable

Eskom does not always stick to the schedule of power cuts, which means we could be pushed into higher stages of load shedding at the last minute. After two weeks of being between stages 2 and 4, the rolling blackouts escalated to stage 6 in the early hours of Sunday morning, for example. 

WATCH | Permanent Stage 2 load shedding an option - but Eskom decided against it, for now

In this scenario, it’s important to have a contingency plan in place to avoid leaving us on edge, says Schoeman.

“If you’re someone who cannot function without having your morning coffee, keep water warm in a vacuum flask,” or invest in a small gas stove, she says.

Repurpose your time

Many of us found ways to use our free time during the Covid-19 lockdown, and the same can be done when we have load shedding, says Schoeman.

So if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs because you’re disconnected from technology, try to make better use of your time by stepping outside for a walk, if it’s safe to do so. During the evenings, you could take time to reconnect with your family over a board game, for instance.

Avoid panic buying

The ongoing load shedding may tempt you to panic buy items such as generators and inverters, but it’s important to avoid ‘doomsday panic buying’, says Schoeman.

READ MORE | 'We are in a very bad place', expert warns as load shedding ramps up

“I think there is a demand and supply [issue with Eskom] at the moment, and we can just hope it gets better and that the government and Eskom are being honest with us in terms of what to expect to make contingency plans. But it's not a good idea to panic buy all these [gadgets and devices],” unless necessary, says Schoeman.

Keep it light 

South Africans often turn to humour to make light of serious situations affecting the country as a collective, and the case has been no different for the energy crisis.

“Don’t lose your sense of humour,” says Schoeman. “That doesn’t mean we should have toxic positivity about the situation - it’s not a positive scenario, but do try to keep a sense of humour.”

Past studies have shown that humour can be a great mechanism for dealing with stressful situations, as per Psychology Today, while, in an article for the Conversation, one researcher wrote that memes were “mood boosters” as they helped to ease pandemic stress.

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