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War in Ukraine making you feel scared, helpless, or anxious? Two experts explain their coping strategies.
If, like the team here at Marie Claire UK, you’ve watched the invasion of Ukraine this week in horror, you’re not alone.
Putin’s decision to invade has shocked the world, causing citizens, celebrities, governing bodies and governments globally to condemn Russia and ask them to retreat. As of yet, that hasn’t happened, with Russian forces continuing to attack Ukraine by land, air and sea.
It is thought that over 100 lives have been lost and 100,000 victims displaced so far.
Saying that the constant stream of families being torn apart, elderly men volunteering to fight to protect their grandchildren, and innocent civilians injured in the cross fire is highly distressing to see would be an understatement. It’s been dubbed “the most significant military action in Europe for decades,” with Vladimir Putin being accused of war crimes as cities are shelled.
Feeling a little out of sorts at the constant barrage of highly emotive and upsetting news? We’re with you on that. We’ve spoken to Gail Marra, clinical hypnotherapist and author of Health Wealth & Hypnosis, and Joanna Konstantoupolou, health psychologist and founder of Harley Street’s Health Psychology Clinic, to get their take on how best to cope – mentally and emotionally – with the ongoing war.
Worried about the war in Ukraine? 4 coping mechanisms for dealing with negative news
Konstantoupolou shares that sometimes it can feel as though we’re seeing a constant barrage of negative news coverage – especially given the last few years. “From climate change to war, terrorism to major crime stories, media coverage can feel relentlessly gloomy and that can be incredibly distressing,” she explains.
Find that the news often heightens your fear and anxiety? You’re far from alone, she continues – especially given the current situation in Ukraine. “Whether you feel that you’re regularly affected by the news or not, it can be extremely upsetting to watch and read the current coverage,” she goes on.
Do know that, as humans, we have what’s known as a “negativity bias”, which unfortunately means that we tend to be drawn towards negative and distressing news often without even realising it, or so explains Marra. “It’s good to be aware of current world events, but we can get sucked in to the negativity,” she explains. “It can become overwhelming and ultimately, make you feel totally powerless. Yet by default, you search for more of it.”
While seeking out negative news may be a part of human nature, as with everything in life, the hypnotherapist explains that how you respond is key.
When we react negatively to negative news – particularly dramatic news that threatens to affect us personally, like the current war – we automatically go into fight or flight mode. “In this mode, we are on the defence, pumping out adrenaline and cortisol which raises our blood pressure, increasing our heart rate, which leaves us feeling confused, angry, stressed, anxious or afraid.”
Bottom line: it’s okay to feel stressed right now, it’s okay to feel nervous, and it’s okay to feel helpless. We are facing unprecedented times and feel the deepest sympathy for the people of Ukraine. This will affect your day-to-day.
There are, however, a number of coping strategies you can both use to help protect your mental health and further, to show your support for the citizens of Ukraine, share both experts. “You may not be able to change the situation, but you can change the way you react to it with these simple steps,” shares Konstantoupolou.
1. Help where you can
Know this: You can’t the juggernaut of current affairs, but you can learn to live with bad news and make a difference where you can.
“Small acts such as signing a petition, donating clothes or sending money to large organisations may not stop bad things from happening, but they can assist you in feeling like you are helping the situation,” shares Konstantoupolou.
Do read our guide to how to support Ukraine, if you’re not sure how.
2. Talk to people
A problem shared is a problem halved, and talking about your anxiety can help you work through the emotions and perhaps get a clearer perspective, shares the psychologist.
“Other people may have a different take on a news story or the future outcome, and hearing their point of view could help you find a balanced perspective,” she shares.
3. Switch off
One of the best coping strategies? Taking a break from the coverage.
“Yes, it’s important to be informed about world events, but if it all becomes too much and is starting to damage your mental wellbeing, then taking a break from the coverage is key,” Konstantoupolou shares.
Try this: Reset your social media feeds, avoid news websites and turn off the TV for a few hours in the evening. A break from the constant media coverage can give you the headspace you need, plus will allow you to take the information in, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings towards it, and then decide how to act on it.
If you know that you have taken in the current news headlines and done everything you can to support the innocent citizens of Ukraine, know this: decompressing and making sure you are protecting your own mental health is one of the easiest ways you can help.
“In therapy, I encourage clients to close their eyes and imagine their mind as a clear blue sky with the occasional white cloud passing through it,” shares Marra. “Breathe slowly and deeply as you visualise the clouds floating gently past until they fade and disappear. Spending a few moments every day practicing this simple method can work wonders in restoring calm and clearing your mind.”