There is no denying the fact that stress levels have been infinitely higher for everyone since the COVID-19 crisis hit South Africa. Many attribute their rising anxiety to economic problems, fear of falling victim to the virus, and missing out on important aspects of their education throughout the lockdown. However, what most of us fail to acknowledge is the fact that our empathy for others during these trying times plays a significant role in our own stress.
What is the connection between stress and empathy?
When you see your family members worrying about making ends meet, about losing their jobs, and about the spread of the virus in general, your love for them means that you are more likely to emulate the anxiety that they are feeling. Basically, by nature, the more stressed your loved ones are, the faster that stress will begin to rub off on you. This is called affective empathy and can lead to a never-ending cycle of worry if left unchecked.
What to do
The problem in this pandemic is that we are all affected and, as such, there is often little than we can do to help alleviate the stress of those close to us. For example, students who can no longer work part-time as a result of lockdown will be unable to assist their recently retrenched parents in paying household bills. In these situations, the only course of action is to come together, ensure lines of communication are always open, and to work on strengthening family bonds.
If you are battling to cope with increased stress brought about through affective empathy, it is vital that you find good quality coping strategies.
For starters, try to identify your main stressors and take note of how you are currently dealing with those feelings of anxiety. Ask yourself whether you can make changes to avoid or reduce the stressors and, if not, make changes to how you deal with them instead. Exercise, read, be kind to yourself, and make a point of opening up to your loved ones.
If ever you need to talk to someone objective, you can always contact the SADAG mental health line on 011 234 4837.