Managing Your Anxiety About the War in Ukraine
The current war in Ukraine has many of us on edge, and for those of us who are already struggling with anxiety, the situation is testing all the progress we've made during the last two years of COVID — especially as we manage our exposure to media and the stresses of feeling helpless.
Here are some helpful tips for staying grounded when you're concerned about what's going on in Ukraine or any time current events have increased our stress and anxiety levels.
How to Safely Stay Informed About the Ukraine War
We do not always have the luxury of shutting out important world news, especially if we have loved ones in Ukraine or these events impact our professional industries. With a balanced approach to news consumption, we can stay abreast of current events without feeling fearful, overwhelmed or overly anxious.
Avoid major network and cable news broadcasts
Network and cable news shows are produced to evoke strong emotions. Forceful music, emphatic, urgent speech, and startling imagery of upset or wounded Ukrainians are designed to cause the type of anxiety that keeps us glued to our televisions.
If you prefer to consume information on TV, news channels such as the PBS News Hour deliver the news with far less hype.
Stay Away From Social Media
Have you heard the term "doomscrolling"? That is what we do when we scroll through our social media feeds, seeking out the headlines or opinions that jump out at us. When we are anxious about a current event like the war in Ukraine, it is difficult to tear ourselves away from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok.
You can choose one or two feeds from a reputable source that does not sensationalize the coverage, and limit yourself to a few minutes a day on social media, or you can temporarily remove your apps from your mobile device if it helps you refrain from checking your accounts more than is necessary.
Ask a Friend to Screen Information
If you are fortunate to have a friend or family member with whom you can have productive conversations about current events, ask them for highlights and summaries, or ask them specific questions that they can answer without including the more gut-wrenching details. Often, our loved ones want to know how they can help us when we are feeling anxious, and they may welcome this opportunity to be supportive.
If you have a loved one who is directly affected by the conflict, it is usually a good idea to have one person remain the point-of-contact for your social or family circle; this doesn't have to be you if you are not up to the task, and you can ask that person to adhere to the same requests as above.
Channel Your Feelings into Actions
The sense of helplessness goes hand-in-hand with anxiety over events we feel are beyond our control. Fred Rogers (a.k.a. Mr. Rogers) famously said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
This isn't just fantastic advice for our own children, but it is something we can take to heart ourselves. When we focus on the human interest angle, we can balance the "bad" feelings associated with war. Furthermore we can empower ourselves by taking meaningful action on our own, or with outreach groups.
- Find local community groups that are assembling care packages for refugees.
- Donate to relief organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the Ukrainian Red Cross, and the International Rescue Committee.
- Consider supporting a refugee family in your community, or host one in your home if you feel that's a realistic option for you.
- Write to your government representatives, urging them to support Ukrainian refugees and those still fighting at home.
Whatever you do, do not commit time or money beyond what is reasonable for you. The feeling we should "do something" is natural under these circumstances, but it is counterproductive to commit ourselves to the point at which we are causing ourselves more stress.
While philanthropic actions can be considered self-care, it is okay to close the door to current events for a while and focus on ourselves. Here are everyday ways to reduce stress that are especially important when we're upset by the war in Ukraine or any other anxiety-inducing situation:
Get Exercise and Fresh Air
Spring is here just in time to make it easier to go out for a walk, hike, or bike ride. Fresh air, exercise, and sunlight positively affect our mental well-being and give us a break from consuming media or thinking about the Ukrainian conflict. If you find your mind wandering, consider listening to a lighthearted podcast.
Seek Out Healthy Distractions
In addition to outdoor activities, find ways to keep your mind occupied. This can be anything from volunteering to pursuing a hobby you have neglected. Be mindful of unhealthy, counterproductive coping mechanisms, as these are often our go-to activities when we are feeling stressed.
Maintain Your Eating and Sleeping Schedule
A healthy routine that includes set sleep and wake times and healthy meals will help keep our mood stable and our bodies cared for. The perfect time to go to bed when you are anxious about the war in Ukraine is immediately before the 10 o'clock news.
Take the time to create healthy meals, whether you are packing lunches for work or planning dinners for yourself or your family. The act of cooking itself is an excellent distraction, and nutritious food helps us keep our brain chemistry on track.
Consult with a Mental Wellness Counselor
If you are having difficulties managing your anxieties related to Ukraine, you might want to speak with a skilled counselor. "Everything will be okay, don't worry" isn't helpful but it is a common response when we turn to our loved ones for comfort. A trained counselor will help you with these thoughts experienced by people directly or indirectly affected by this war:
- Conflicts of opinion within your personal or professional circles
- Fear of worst-case scenarios
- Anger towards world leaders
Together with your Mary, you can work on anxiety management skills and create a plan for balancing your need for information with your right to insulate yourself from stress and anxiety.
It is natural to feel anxious about today's news from Ukraine, and while you might feel powerless, there are ways you can enable yourself to safely stay informed and contribute as appropriate. More important, it is okay — and essential — to look after yourself, even when you are concerned about the people directly affected by the war. If you are having trouble keeping your anxiety about Ukraine in check, seek the help of a mental health professional; Mary Shull is here to help.