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If you’re worried about the war in Ukraine, you’re not alone. Although it may be your first instinct to think about those caught up in the conflict, it’s completely normal to feel upset or concerned about what you see from afar.
War is terrifying to hear about, and it’s causing a return to a heightened state of anxiety and stress for many. According to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression jumped 25% in the first year of the pandemic. With COVID-19 beginning its transition from pandemic to endemic, a sense of relief and a gradual return to normality had begun. However, the war in Ukraine has created further uncertainty, and for many people, it’s taking a toll on their mental well-being.
This article outlines ways to cope with war-related anxiety and support those affected by the war.
How to Cope
Watching a war unfold can make you feel out of control, heightening anxiety and stress. Instead, try to focus on what you can control. Consider the following coping tips:
- Avoid doomscrolling. A University of Florida study has found that doomscrolling—a term used to describe the concept of binging on negative news—is a new and unique behavior. Understandably, you may want to follow news coverage about current events to stay in the loop of what’s happening, but spending too much time doing this can negatively impact your mental health. To combat this unhealthy habit, try to spend less time on social media and focus on facts rather than speculation.
- Be physically active. Try to give your mind a rest, shifting the focus to your body instead. Physical activity creates mood-boosting chemical changes in the brain. Engage in activities such as swimming, cycling, walking and running.
- Be mindful. When thoughts feel spiraling, mindfulness activities may stop your mind from racing. Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and other mindful practices can help you feel in the present moment.
- Take time to unwind. It’s essential to still engage in activities you enjoy. Creative outlets, such as hobbies, crafts, writing or home improvement, can especially be a good distraction.
- Maintain sleep habits. Although it may be hard to sleep when anxious, try to maintain your usual sleeping pattern. Being well-rested is vital for emotional balance.
- Connect with others. Good relationships foster a sense of belonging and provide an outlet to share experiences. Sharing worries with others can improve your situation and feelings.
Connect with friends and family to bolster your mental well-being. Make plans, such as a family meal or lunch with a close friend or colleague.
Especially amid the current events, it’s essential to focus on what you can control: your thoughts. If you’re concerned about your mental health, reach out to a professional or use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline by calling or texting 800-985-5990. SAMHSA’s 24/7 confidential hotline is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for Americans experiencing emotional distress related to any human-caused disaster.
How to Help
It may be harder to cope with war-related anxiety if you’re unsure of how you can help. However, there are many avenues to make an impact. Various charity organizations offer a wide range of support for those affected by the war. Charity Navigator, a nonprofit evaluator, assessed ways to help and recommends the following organizations:
- Direct Relief
- Heart to Heart International
- International Medical Corps
- Project HOPE
- Save the Children
These charities outline various ways to make a difference, including volunteer opportunities, charitable donations and other activities.
When anxious and helpless feelings occur, it’s hard to know what to do, but it’s important to focus on what you can control. You are in control of your thoughts and can take steps to protect your mental health.
It’s natural to feel anxious in the wake of destructive international events, but don’t suffer alone. Your employer may offer mental health resources. Additionally, if you’re feeling anxious or concerned about your mental health, talk to your doctor or call or text SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990.
By Madasin Jennings, Account Specialist
Like most people during some point in their life, I struggle to cope with my stress and anxiety. I have spent countless hours scouring the internet for tools that can help me understand and change my anxious thoughts and behaviors into more positive ones. During this search, I happened to stumble upon a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) based book written by therapists, The Anti-Anxiety Notebook. If you struggle with stress and anxiety and haven’t worked through this book yet, I highly recommend it.
In the introduction, the authors make a very good point about how a lot of research and tools have been developed and published about what causes stress and anxiety and how we can manage it, but these tools were never developed and marketed in a way that are easily accessible by the public. While these authors have already created a notebook tool utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my curiosity had been peaked so I hit up my old friend, Google, to look up the scientific evidence surrounding CBT.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has several core principles but the one I find most interesting is that it can be used to teach people to identify, evaluate, and respond to their stress and anxiety, to change their thinking, mood, and behavior. I am especially drawn to this because this method allows an individual to develop a self-regard that is extended to include a regard for others. By understanding that your thoughts and feelings are not determined by a situation, but by your perception of a situation, you can begin to identify and analyze your thought patterns. This will lead you to change the way you think about a situation, and in time, change your behavior toward the stimulus.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is by no means an overnight fix and may not work for everyone. However, if applied correctly, it can help many people suffering from a range of problems, including but not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital issues, eating disorders, and even some mental illnesses. The application for CBT seems endless, mainly because these techniques are so universal but can easily be molded to fit the specific needs of an individual’s diagnosis.
I am now looking forward to my personal journey with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as I work through The Anti-Anxiety Notebook… and who knows, maybe another CBT blog post is in our future!