Loadshedding started in 2007 and now with close to 500 rolling blackouts since 2020, the mental strain is starting to take it's toll on South African people.
Thandi wakes up on Tuesday morning, rolls over to see if she has enough time before she starts her day- her alarm clock isn't on. In a strategy to stop late night scrolling, her phone is tucked away in her bedside draw. She takes it out and is in instant shock. She knows it's loadshedding but she's shocked that she has overslept by thirty minutes. Thandi jumps out of bed, quickly scrubs herself down in what feels like a lukewarm shower, and heads out the door.
She just makes it into work on time, sets herself down at her desk and switches her laptop on. Just as she begins to look through her emails, internet connection is disrupted. Loadshedding is affecting the area she works in. The generator is taking longer than usual to kick in, and only powers up the Wi-Fi and select electricity outlets for staff to plug in their laptops when necessary. After her long day, Thandi is back in traffic, trying to rush home so she can cook herself a meal before the next blackout. The schedule changed during the day and not only is she without electricity but it's four excruciating hours long. Thandi has no warm food, nothing to watch on TV and her cellphone is dying.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) recently conducted an online loadshedding survey amongst its community members, taking a look at how the rolling blackouts have really affected people's lives.
Every 4 out of ten participants experienced feeling depression, and 62% of participants reported to struggling with anxiety and panic. Additionally, 1 out of 10 participants had suicidal thoughts.
What is it about loadshedding that could be creating so much disruption in people's overall well-being?
Feelings of helplessness due to the general standstill without electricity.
Still expected to perform at a high level in the workplace despite power disruptions.
Food spoilage and appliance breakages- leading to a financial impact.
Strained household relationships, with members of a household going to their respective rooms or areas in the dark.
Increased fear in crime and the household being robbed, forcing people to stay indoors when they may feel like being outside.
The biggest issue was the uncertainty behind possible loadshedding schedule changes, electricity not returning at the time specified or a possible electricity fault following the scheduled blackout- resulting in a longer period without power.
How are you helping yourself?
If loadshedding is affecting your mental health and there doesn't seem to be an end to it in the future, what are you doing to pass the time when the power is down? From the loadshedding survey, some participants used "numbing" activities to pass the time, like sleeping for majority of the day, going to the pub/ bar where there is power and drinking, or scrolling social media for the duration of the power cut. Many others have chosen to use the time to indulge in creative projects, go for a walk in nature (if it's safe enough), meditate, take up yoga or in the case of my niece, convince her whole family to play boardgames by candlelight.
The difference is clear: unhealthy or harmful ways of coping versus healthy ones. Loadshedding may not be going anywhere anytime soon, and that makes it all the more important to focus on creating coping activities and skills that can add to and not take away from your mental and emotional health. Knowing what to do to combat the anxiety that comes with a schedule change, or when the electricity hasn't yet come back at the scheduled time. Learning that the lights being off doesn't mean you have to lack connection with those you live with- granted the relationships are relatively happy ones. Here are a couple of ways to cope or tools you can look into:
Breathwork in moments of anxiety and panic to help you calm down.
Learn to meditate.
If you have Netflix on your phone, download a few shows or movies that you can watch alone or with a partner if you have one.
If you don't live alone, play some board games or cards. If you don't have either, research games that just involve pen and paper, or the items around you home to build stronger relationships.
Go for a walk in your neighbourhood, if it's safe or go to your nearest botanical gardens and take a walk.
Engage in mindful cleaning and organization for a space that's conducive to a better mindset.
Whatever it is that you choose to do, pour into your cup and enrich yourself so that when the power is back up and going, you can try to carry on as normal. If you're feeling like you need extra help and support sue the code COACHME to get your first Mindset and Mindfulness Session with me, Awande. Also consider reaching out to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) right here, where all the numbers, chat lines and online chats are available.