Exploring the Psychological Impact of Loadshedding in South Africa
Does Loadshedding cause Anxiety? To successfully answer this question one needs to understand what anxiety is. It is an intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. It could manifest in many forms such as panic attacks, anxiety disorders and stress symptoms.
Since its inception in 2008 loadshedding has been a constant source of uncertainty and frustration in South Africa. This frustration has gradually made way for anger, fear, helplessness and constant worrying, up to the point where it has started to impact our daily lives and livelihood.
As can be seen by some of the points raised, this has now created the breeding ground for anxiety. True, not everyone suffers from the same degree of anxiety, but as it is slowly becoming a constant in our lives, it may turn into an anxiety disorder.
There are a number of factors caused by loadshedding that actually exacerbate our anxiety, and herewith are a few which is of particular significance in our current situation:
- Fear of not performing in our place of work;
- Fear of not completing tasks/meeting deadlines;
- Fear of not being able to provide financially if running your own business;
- Fear of lay-off or retrenchment.
As our anxiety escalates because of loadshedding, so our ability to perform optimally also grows exponentially in a negative direction. This constant on/off of our anxiety can directly lead to anxiety disorders for which we eventually need to seek professional help, namely trauma counselling or anxiety counselling.
The biggest single contributing factor is our helplessness with the situation. Since most of us tend not to become violent about the situation, it could surface in different ways, like being tense in the workplace, snapping at family and friends for no apparent reason and being overly emotional. Anxiety disorders now start to surface, as our coping mechanisms are under constant pressure.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorder, USA, the five major types of anxiety disorders are:
*Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which is characterised by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
*Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterised by recurrent, unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors. Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety. (This one of the more common anxiety disorders occurring during the loadshedding periods, as it tends to temporarily shift the focus off the immediate anxiety of loadshedding.)
Panic Disorder is characterised by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. (This disorder is most prevalent as a result of loadshedding, as in South Africa we have aggravating and physical factors compounding our fears during loadshedding.)
*Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
PTSD which can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. (In South Africa the real fear of a home invasion during loadshedding is foremost in many South Africans.)
*Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)
With social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterised by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.
If we now look at the above disorders analytically, and compare it with what we have experienced first- hand in South Africa, albeit road rage to an increase in assaults, house-breaking, theft, and many more acts that could be seen as an assault on our psyche, it is clear that there is a marked increase in anxiety, and eventually anxiety disorders. All of this is a direct result of loadshedding.