The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left many people across the globe feeling on edge and unsettled. Thoughts of a nuclear war, concerns of a new COVID variant, worries about inflation on top of daily life stressors is more uncertainty than many of us feel equipped to handle. While the fear felt by Ukrainians who are amid these violent attacks is incomparable to those witnessing from afar, it is normal for us to feel the pain and grieve the suffering of others.
Social media, online newsletters, and safety apps have made it easy to receive minute-by-minute event updates and while we may appreciate always being in the know, it does permit information overload. As the conflict between the two countries continues to unfold, it is important to understand that constant exposure to tragic events can lead to increased anxiety and stress. Everyone experiences stress differently but being able to recognize that you may be overwhelmed or is the first step towards managing it. Some common signs that you’re struggling to cope with the challenging times include trouble sleeping, irritability, above baseline blood pressure, obsessive worrying, disruption of daily routine, or unusual changes to appetite or weight. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned that your physical, mental, or emotional health may be impacted, there are steps you can take to achieve relief.
Limit your exposure
First, you need to understand the extent to which you are preoccupied with the news coverage. Monitor how much time you spend researching, watching the news, doom scrolling through social media, refreshing your Twitter feed, engaging in online discussions, and checking your apps. You’ll want to create reasonable limits around your news intake and social media use that allow you to stay informed and protect against psychological distress. Examples of limits may be setting specific times or days for content consumption or deleting some apps. Remember that limits are not meant to be set in stone – they may look differently for everyone and can be adjusted appropriately.
Be intentional with content consumption
In addition to setting boundaries around your media exposure, also consider the type of media you engage with. News coverage involving graphic images or personal stories may be particularly traumatizing. Try to avoid clickbait headlines that overpromise and underdeliver and instead, seek information from trusted, credible sources.
Establish a sense of control
After you’ve set limits around the influx of media stories, it’s not unusual to feel guilty or disconnected. Staying up to date creates a false sense of control that provides temporary relief. You can give yourself permission to feel anxious during unprecedented times and do what’s necessary for your wellbeing.
Support the need for control in a healthy way by redirecting your focus to activities that are meaningful and fulfilling. Consider spending some time researching practical ways to help those impacted by the war in Ukraine, e.g., donating, volunteering, doing advocacy work. Show support to others by giving them a validating space to process these events. Get involved in the efforts of local community organizations.
Take care of yourself
The most crucial step in reducing distress is to take care of yourself. Take the necessary time to relax and do the things you enjoy. Self-care practices can be taking a walk, meditating, eating healthy, exercising regularly, practicing mindfulness, getting sufficient sleep or reaching out for support. If you’re not taking the time to recharge it will be harder to show up for the people you love, attend to your responsibilities and be resilient in the face of other crises. Since we cannot predict or control current conflicts, the best we can do is stay informed, contribute where possible and maintain our health as we withstand the storm.
The events around the war in Ukraine will affect everyone differently and these coping mechanisms may not be appropriate for some. If you or a loved one is having difficulty managing stress and anxiety surround this crisis or any other stressors, it may be helpful to talk to a licensed mental health professional. Mental health professionals are trained to offer individualized action plans for managing concerns.