Sarah Buitendach Contributing editor at FM
A woman helps a relative with a face mask during a food distribution organised by a charity, in Vrededorp, Johannesburg. Picture: MARCO LONGARI / AFP
A woman helps a relative with a face mask during a food distribution organised by a charity, in Vrededorp, Johannesburg. Picture: MARCO LONGARI / AFP

There have been moments in the past week where I’ve wondered whether there’s anything good left in the world. I know I’m not alone.

Between the escalating Covid numbers (now 35,812 cases and 755 deaths), businesses closing all around us, people starving and the US igniting in flames of anger and hurt, I’ve muttered, more than once: “Come on, universe – enough already.”

It turns out the universe was awfully busy shepherding Elon’s guys towards the space station, so I am yet to get a response. Chances are, many of you reading this will have had similar iterations of anxiety, fear or depression recently.

Last week polling company Ipsos released the results of a poll aimed at figuring out South Africans’ behaviour and mental state during the lockdown. It polled more than 1,000 people online, even if it wasn’t as robust as it could have been as respondents weren’t asked if they’d experienced those problems before the pandemic. 

Still, whatever way you skin it, the findings are pretty glum. We ladies are taking more strain, it seems: 40% of the women who answered said they’d suffered from anxiety as a result of the pandemic and lockdown. This levelled out to 30% once the menfolk were included.

Ipsos also found that some of us have been grappling with insomnia, eating too much and exercising too little during the pandemic. Up shoots my hand for all three.

Now that our world is opening up (ever so slightly), might things improve?

I wouldn’t bet on it. Consider the stress of potentially sending children back to school; the fear of having to be in close quarters with colleagues; using public transport; and not knowing what the future holds. You realise pretty soon that we’re not magically delivered from Covid-19; we’re just dealing with a different kind of problem.

The Brits might be in a different situation to us, but this piece by Telegraph writer Celia Walden sums up how I think a lot of us are feeling about level 3. Her thesis is that the easing of the lockdown is causing anxiety precisely because “suddenly we’re not all in this together anymore”. 

Blissful escapism

In an attempt to mitigate my own worries, I’ve found respite in nature and books. The golden winter rays blanketing Joburg right now are a balm, and so are whodunnits, set 80 years ago and featuring dames with moxie.

It’s an enchanting combination, and it’s for this reason that I loved this visual story by The New York Times. The newspaper’s photo editor scoured the archives and found a series of images dating back to 1962 of people reading in the sun. It’s a blissful antidote to the anxiety rippling at the edges of our society right now

As for other soothing elixirs, these tips from The Conversation are practical and comforting. The writers raise an excellent point about being kind to yourself and others: cut yourself some slack and stop with the vitriol. 

It’s easy to be snappy, rude, and basically awful when you’re under pressure – especially on social media – but pretty much everyone is in a bad way, so that’s not going to help. Martin Luther King Jr put it eloquently: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

*Buitendach is the FM's Life editor and editor of Wanted magazine.

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