Johannesburg - In January each year, scores of people from all walks of life struggle to leave the comforts of the festive season behind and return to their everyday lives.
For some, the stress that work, school, gym and other fundamentals of a daily routine brings is so intense that even getting out of bed every morning becomes a battle.
The phenomenon is so common that it has even been termed “Janu-Worry”.
“Some people worry about the uncertainty of an entire new year while others worry about change in their environment, relationships and in the economy, for example,” explained SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) spokesperson Kayla Phillips.
“All this worrying can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety as the new Yyear may also see new responsibilities such as a new job, new relationships, or even taking your child to school for the first time.”
But while mental health experts believe it is somewhat normal to experience anxiety at the commencement of each year, they are concerned that finding the motivation to kick off 2021 might be harder than any other year in recent history as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to grip the globe.
“There is still so much unknown about this virus and this uncertainty brings a whole range of mental issues,” Parktown North therapist Michael Kallenbach said.
But more distressing this year, he warns, is that death, illness and suffering is more prevalent in our lives than before.
“Everyone seems to know someone who is either ill at the moment, recovering from Covid-19 or has recently died.
“No one wants to see a family member or friend die or get ill, so this is the cloud that’s hanging over all of us at the moment.”
Kallenbach said that unlike any other event in recent history, no one is immune from the challenges brought on by the global health crisis.
“While teenagers and those entering adulthood are unsure about their future, the elderly are experiencing loneliness and isolation because they are unable to see their loved ones.
“It is really tough and no one is immune from this crisis.”
Kallenbach added that the request for his assistance this new year was significantly higher than previous years.
This, he believes, is because apart from the challenges brought on by the coronavirus such as illness and other health-related problems, death, financial stress and the challenges of being isolated and away from family and friends, every individual still has their own personal battles too.
“There is a general mood of doom and gloom, not only in South Africa, but all over the world, and there is such a scarcity of good or welcoming news that we all expect the worst and are not sure what’s around the corner,” he said.
These sentiments were shared by Joburg clinical psychologist Michael Sissison who warned that while 2020 might have been the year of our nightmares, 2021 could prove to be even worse.
“The second wave (of Covid-19 infections) is not only stronger than the first in terms of infections and deaths but it is also taking an increasing toll on people’s mental health.
“There is more stress and anxiety than ever before, people have loved ones and things like their jobs or homes or cars and so many relationships are under strain because of all of this and because of being in isolation for such an extended period of time.”
Sissison believes that this does not bode well for the sentiment of a new year.
“Many people usually start a new year with positivity and make resolutions to attempt to better themselves during the year but this year there appears to be much less desire to do that.
“New year’s resolutions also represent hope but there isn’t much of that this year; it is such a monumental period in our history.”
Both Sissison and Kallenbach stressed the significance of the long-term mental health impacts of Covid-19.
“The coronavirus vaccine might bring some hope but there is no vaccine for our mental health,” said Sissison.
“People are going to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experience long-term stress and trauma similar to events like the 2004 Tsumani and the Chernobyl disaster.”
Kallenbach agreed and believes that the global health crisis could cause the worst cases of mental health since World War II.
In such a challenging time in our history, he believes that change might be the answer.
“We have to think about the changes each of us can make to our lives. We also have to think about how we can help ourselves and what we can do to improve our mood.
“A low mood is transient, and perhaps we need to think that there are a whole lot of people out there who are worse off than we are and, in the end, we don’t have it so bad.”
Sissison urged people to follow a healthy lifestyle as it would not only aid during a global health crisis but could also assist with improving mental health.
“Try and eat a balanced meal, exercise regularly, drink enough water and get enough sleep.”
He also suggested making time for mental healing but limiting the amount of time spent watching news coverage of the pandemic on TV as well as social media and to try and be mindful of our thoughts.
“You should also set time to do things that you enjoy and benefit you.”
Sadag’s Philips said that talking about your concerns or worries is vital, particularly during these unprecedented times.
The organisation provides free telephonic support, counselling and referrals to appropriate mental health-care resources nationwide.
* Call 080 070 8090 to speak to a counsellor seven days a week, every day of the year, from 8am-8pm or visit www.sadag.org for more info.