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Reducing overwhelm from war-related anxiety

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

The tragic events in Ukraine are impacting so many observers and are conjuring up mixed emotions of anxiety, helplessness or fear for the future, especially since so many of us are watching lives being torn apart from a distance. Just as we felt the world was returning to some form of normality after lockdowns and constant COVID testing, we’re now surrounded by harrowing news of Russia invading Ukraine.

Despite the fact many of us aren’t impacted directly, the uncertainty surrounding the world as we know it, as we read about the terrifying and distressing news, can lead to an increase in troubling emotions and decline in our mental health.Whilst we cannot at all diminish the events that are going on around us, you’re not alone in feeling a rise in anxiety levels.

Here are some ways you can cope and resume your life as best as you can:

Change how you absorb news

Given that so many of us check social media as soon as we wake up in the mornings, and regularly throughout the day, it’s important that we consciously limit the amount of exposure we have to triggering images or footage that might conjure up trauma reactions. Ask yourself how much information you are taking in and avoid scrolling social media first thing and starting your day with negative news. Whilst it’s important to stay knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world, read a well regarded newspaper or journal rather than absorbing negative content on social media.

Focus on normality

Replace anxious thoughts with thoughts of the everyday and ordinary tasks you have in your life such as “I need to put a wash on” or “I need to shop for tonight’s dinner.” We can’t control the events around us but it can be helpful to focus on the mundane tasks in our days in order to still feel purposeful in the ones we can make a difference to, as well as be distracted by the little snippets of normal life around us.

Meet your basic needs

It can be really difficult to feel as though you should focus on yourself at all, given everything that’s going on right now. We can feel helpless and undeserving of resuming our lives, not to mention that feeling extra stress can cause changes in appetite. But know that it’s not selfish to focus on meeting your basic needs too through all of this. Eat at regular intervals, maintain exercise routines and limit caffeine intake - all will help your ability to cope more effectively.

Name your emotions in order to tame them

Naming your emotions allows you to acknowledge how you’re feeling in a given moment whilst shrinking the power they have over you. By naming emotions - such as helplessness, grief, anger, sadness - you can regularly check in with your thoughts, identify how you are feeling and take an observatory approach to them by actively managing your reactions to events rather than allowing your thoughts and feelings to engulf you.

Deepen your breathing

Whilst no amount of breathing exercises or meditation will outright change the disastrous events going on in the world right now, it will allow us to change our reactions to events that are completely out of our control. Try breathing in for 4 counts and breathing out for 4 counts for a total of 5 minutes in order to slow your racing heart rate and allow you to reclaim some calm to your days.

Immerse yourself in things you enjoy

Distract yourself from the overwhelming and painful events around us by focusing on things you enjoy. That might be going to a gym class, catching up with friends, taking a walk in the park or cuddling up with a pet if you have one. Whatever it is, focusing on the good isn’t selfish, nor does it mean we are being naive about events going on around us or ignoring the reality of them. However, it’s important to remember that we can still find moments of enjoyment through the pain. Focusing on the good things around us will remind us that there is so much beauty in the world too.

Stay connected and check in with loved ones

Although we can’t always be present with our loved ones at every opportunity, it can help reduce anxiety by staying connected and checking in with them during times of crisis. Chances are, you are not alone with your feelings and sharing that with them can reduce the overwhelming burden you feel, whilst bringing you closer together.

Donate to a charity

Feeling helpless during global events can be one of the main causes of anxiety. By donating money and clothes to charities such as the Ukraine Red Cross and Save the Children you will have both a positive impact on those affected by the conflict, in need of support and protection, as well as your mental health.