Coping with The Ukraine Crisis- Tips from a Psychologist

The world seems like a difficult place to navigate right now. Following the Coronavirus pandemic, we are now facing the crisis in Ukraine. As a result, our baseline for tolerance of emotional events may be quite low. We may be experiencing a myriad of emotions including anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.

Yes, it is awful, and no you don’t have to bottle it all up and “carry on”.

When facing adversity, our brain essentially goes into ‘threat mode’. While this is a normal and natural response with the aim of protecting us, it can create some quite difficult symptoms. If we can understand and notice when this occurs, then it can help us respond and cope much better.

There may be much that is still out of our control right now. However, there will be things that we can focus on that are within our control such as how we respond to our thoughts and emotions. We may notice our thoughts fast forwarding to the “what if’s” or perhaps trying to predict outcomes. We may notice and urge to gain control by consuming more and more media to help make sense of the situation or avoiding things in our day to day lives such as work demands or socialising.

Many have become overwhelmed by the news coverage and images on social media. There may also be accompanying feelings of guilt about wanting time away from the news. We know that long term stress can exert an impact on both our mind and body, so we need to get a balance between looking after our own wellbeing and being compassionate towards others. We will undoubtedly have daily responsibilities that we need to manage. If we are overwhelmed, then we can’t take care of our daily needs or make effective decisions about how we may want to help the people impacted by the war.

Some tips that I have been using over the past few days….

1. Try and “lean in” to what you are feeling. Notice and name your thoughts, feelings, and any bodily sensations you observe. What can you manage even with these showing up? E.g., to attend that work meeting, to fil in that form, to drive to collect your child.

2. Try some simple self -soothing exercises or grounding exercises. Sit on a chair, push your feet into the floor and take an in-breath. Look around and name 3 things you can see and hear.

3. It is ok to take breaks from the war. Have time away from the news and social media and conversations with others about the war. Limiting media consumption and social media use can beneficial if it is a source of overwhelm or distress. Think about just watching new bulletins rather than using apps and 24-hour news channels

4. Try and stick to your daily routine where you can. There is a lot of talk of people taking time off work and other commitments. Try not to use this as an automatic response to adverse situations. An alternative approach is to revise what you can manage and make allowances accordingly. This is a self-compassion or self-kindness approach and can help you keep the balance of being meaningfully engaged in day to take life vs not being overwhelmed.

5. Try and take some time for valued activities. These can be a combination of things you enjoy for yourself or with others. Again, we may notice that ‘guilt’ shows up around doing his when there are people struggling in Ukraine.

6. Remember to keep up your self care baseline – eat a nourishing diet, hydrate well and move your body/exercise regularly having a regular sleep routine where possible and of course taking some time out to focus on yourself. Take a simple short walk each day in nature, if possible, as this is great for helping you process thoughts and emotions.

7. It is helpful to utilise your autonomy and assertiveness where you can in respect to how you communicate with others about what you are able to manage right now and what you are not able to manage.

8. Put in boundaries around talking about the war, being asked to help with collections or social media support. Only do things if you feel you are emotionally and physically able to right now.

9. Be aware of the urge to compare yourself with others in respect to what they may be doing to help those affected. We are not all the same and what works for one person does not mean it works for someone else. Some people find that helping others helps them manage their wellbeing, while for others they benefit more from targeted time out and self-care.

10. Another way of managing uncertainty and anxiety is to revisit boundaries in terms of your relationships, study, work, and leisure time. You may want to think about what you can and can’t manage right now and where there may be ‘tweaks’ needed in your daily schedule.

11. Taking some ‘targeted time out’ which is time away from study, work and socialising and focusing on yourself can help uncertainty and anxiety. This can be as little as 20 minutes where you read a book, watch a valued TV series, draw, write or have a relaxing bath.

12. Connecting and talking with others about how you feel is also important. It helps to normalising the myriad of feelings that people are experiencing right now.

13. Things that have helped me cope include downloading a music playlist of songs I really connect with. Listening to them with headphones while mouthing/singing the words will help you to connect with the present moment. Reconnect with a lost hobby/interest. I bought a calligraphy set this week, which is something I used to love doing. It is quite calming when feeling the ink flow on the page.

14. It is useful to remember that we are super resilient as human beings. If you were to look back at how you have navigated the last 2 years, you will probably be surprised at what you have achieved.

If you are struggling, please contact your GP or local Wellbeing Service. Charities such as Mind and The Mental Health Foundation and the British Red Cross are a great source of information currently.

If you are in a position to help the people of Ukraine and refugees crossing border’s, then you can find information below. Helping others can be beneficial for our wellbeing and demonstrates compassion for mankind.

https://www.dec.org.uk/

https://donate.redcross.org.uk/appeal/ukraine-crisis-appeal

https://ukrainianinstitute.org.uk/russias-war-against-ukraine-what-can-you-do-to-support-ukraine-ukrainians/

Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo- Psychologist/Red Cross Volunteer