It’s normal to feel anxious as you follow what’s unfolding in Ukraine. Here’s how to stay informed while protecting your mental health.
Thanks to social media, news reports and violent images that bombard us at all hours, we often experience what experts call vicarious trauma when a horrific event occurs ― like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which as of Thursday morning had reportedly resulted in at least 40 deaths. It’s in our physiological nature as human beings to feel some amount of empathy and sorrow for others dealing with a traumatic event. Even though we’re not physically present, we still feel the mental health effects of what’s going on.
This is applicable to any grim situation. An impending war, a relentless virus, a devastating mass shooting ― you don’t have to be immersed in the crisis to be affected by it. If you are dealing with feelings of unrest, anxiety or doom right now, know that it’s completely normal. And while you may not be able to abate it entirely, there are ways to make it more manageable.
Here’s some advice on how to handle the emotions associated with vicarious trauma right now:
Follow trusted sources.
Disinformation spreads like wildfire during times of crisis. Make sure you’re following credible sources and engaging with confirmed reports, tweets and other content. (And remember that just because a Twitter account is verified doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.) If possible, try to find multiple sources confirming the same information before you share or even necessarily believe a report. Spreading and buying into inaccurate stories, photos and videos only contributes to your own panic and anxiety, and the panic and anxiety of others.
Set a few boundaries to prevent excessive doomscrolling.
It’s unrealistic to suggest logging off entirely, but it’s vital to set some boundaries when it comes to social media. Stay informed, then give your brain a break.
For example, try setting aside a block of time to check in on the news. If you find yourself reaching for your phone at night when you can’t sleep, try directing your attention to a lighter part of the internet instead of scrolling through headlines.
“Social media is a gift and a curse, but I’ve begun using it to find someone or something new,” Racine Henry, a therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York, told me in December. “I limit myself to the explore page of either Instagram or Twitter and click around until something piques my interest. Or I watch random videos on Facebook of people making an extravagant cake or applying a complicated makeup look. I will never do any of the things I watch, but it’s entertaining and there are endless videos available.”
Turn to mental health experts on social media.
During tumultuous times, I personally find it soothing to read quotes and hear takes from mental health professionals, whether on Twitter, Instagram or even TikTok.
There are tons of great therapists who offer soothing words of wisdom on social media (here are a few of my favorite follows). Whatever they post online shouldn’t be taken as direct mental health advice, but it can serve as a calming voice when your brain is otherwise racing.
Try to keep a normal routine.
Speaking of scrolling late into the night, do everything within your power to stick to your normal schedule. That includes bedtimes, wake times, working if you’re able to handle it, and any other regular aspects of your routine.
When tragic events happen, “we feel a loss of control in our lives and everything going on around us,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, previously told me. “The more we can stick to our normal routines, the more our brains and our bodies feel like we’re back in control.”
It can be hard to shake the emotions that arise when following the news.
Move your body in some way.
Our emotions need a physical outlet. To relieve some of that anxiety and tension, try gently moving your body. This could mean going for a walk, doing some light stretching, taking a home boxing class, or whatever it is that helps you feel good. The idea is less about exercise per se and more about finding a tangible way to get out your feelings. And speaking of which…
Cry if you need to.
It’s not frivolous to feel affected by what’s happening in the world right now. Suppressing anything you might be feeling only contributes to poor mental health. Experts emphasize that it’s vital to acknowledge how you’re feeling, instead of dismissing it in the hopes of gaining some sense of ease. That might include crying (and research shows that crying can be a therapeutic release).
Be mindful of your other coping mechanisms.
I’ve certainly defaulted to grabbing drinks with friends in the midst of a stressful situation or pouring a glass of wine as I park myself in front of the TV. In moderation, that’s a normal part of our culture as long as you’re not living with a substance use issue. But you should definitely be aware of these habits and be mindful of when they might turn into something more insidious.
If you’re turning to alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms as a crutch, you should reach out to a professional or someone who can help you process what’s happening in a healthier way. Experts stress that these behaviors often worsen your mental health if they turn into a reliance.
Reach out for extra support.
This could be to your therapist, your loved ones, your co-workers or anyone you trust when it comes to sharing your feelings. Support systems are crucial during periods of unrest and trauma.
“When we are distressed by something, the more we talk about it, the better off we are going to be,” Reidenberg previously advised. “There’s only so much ‘yuck’ we can handle before it begins to come out in unhealthy ways … so if you are feeling distress, say so.”
Pay attention to how you feel and behave in the coming days. If you notice you’re withdrawing from others, not keeping up with a standard routine, or feeling intense emotions that make it difficult to function, it’s time to seek professional mental health advice. (The same applies if you notice this happening with loved ones.) This type of reaction is a completely normal response to what’s going on in the world; a therapist can give you the tools to make it more manageable.
By Lindsay Holmes 02/24/2022
Source: Huffington Post
As Russia Invades Ukraine,
Tips to Manage ‘Headline Anxiety’
By Damian McNamara, MA
Turn to any news channel, news site, or social media platform, and you’re bound to see continuous updates on the situation in Ukraine, the individual and public health toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing political and racial divisiveness in the United States, and more.
So how can someone who wants to keep up on developments protect themselves from stress, anxiety, and dysfunction when such negative news seems to be everywhere?
Today’s news will induce even more anxiety than usual. The sight of plants & gentle colour gradation alleviates stress. 15 mins walking in a green space dials down blood pressure, pulse rate, stress hormone levels (cortisol) & lifts mood but if that’s tricky my photos may help. pic.twitter.com/3ktiVe4APB
— Emma Mitchell 💙 (@silverpebble) February 24, 2022
“I think everyone’s experiencing some degree of anxiety about what’s happening in the world,” says Michael Ziffra, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago.
It’s a matter of severity; being anxious is a normal human reaction, he says. But watching the news becomes a problem if it “makes it hard for you to do what you need to do and just sort of enjoy life.”
Different people will react differently, but in general, “the sign that it’s getting a bit too much is if you cannot stop or pull yourself away from it,” he says.
It also can be a problem if someone spends a lot of time obsessing or ruminating about negative news while off screen, to the point that it disrupts their work or home life, Ziffra says.
When Stressors Stack Up
A cumulative effect is also possible when negative news updates come close together.
“Clearly, what we’re experiencing right now is unprecedented — all this happening at once — prolonged pandemic, the political turmoil, the war, climate change,” Ziffra says.
Long-term exposure to stressors generally worsens anxiety, he says.
Although the effects of chronic stress vary from person to person, many have feelings of depression, anxiousness, sleep disruption, and fatigue.
Uncertainty Can Up the Anxiety
A stressful event generally has a beginning and end, which can help people manage their reactions to it. In contrast, some of the current stressful situations carry more uncertainty.
“Look at what’s going on in the world right now. We still don’t know how things are going to play out with the pandemic or with the Russia and Ukraine conflict,” Ziffra says.
I stopped watching the news after Jan 6 bc the fixation was so unhealthy. For the first time ever something really snapped and I said you know what, I can’t do this to my anxiety anymore.
— Angela (@TheKitchenista) February 24, 2022
If someone has a relative or friends in Ukraine, keeping up on developments is normal, he says. But “people need to be mindful of the fact that they’re going to be very sensitive to the latest developments.”
Avoid looking at photos or watching videos coming out of Ukraine, he says, because they can be graphic. Instead, restrict your exposure to written news updates.
In addition, Ziffra suggests anyone feeling more stress or anxiety than usual seek out their friends and other social contacts. Because most of the country is not in a COVID-19 lockdown, it is easier to reach out to friends and family now for support.
In March 2020, ahead of the divisive federal elections and the beginning of the pandemic, Ziffra wrote “5 Ways to Cope with the News” on the Northwestern Medicine website. His suggestions on ways to avoid triggers and manage stress still apply today, he says.
Okay so it’s bad domestic and world news time, you wanna be in the know but you don’t want to make your anxiety worse. Here’s some tips:
– Rather than “hearing every side” prioritize news sources with some kind of journalistic integrity.
— jupitarian decadence as praxis 🍋 (@praxisastrology) February 24, 2022
He warned at the time that “developing obsessive habits of consuming news and information can be dangerous to your mental health.” In addition, social media can intensify the effects of news overload.
Also recognize that obsessing over the news is very common. Ziffra wrote, “We’re in very uncertain times, and times of uncertainty tend to be very anxiety-provoking for people.”
Michael Ziffra, MD,
associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences,
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Feb. 24, 2022