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How to cope with war-related anxiety

Anxiety/Stress Management

Don’t let the impacts of war overseas leave you anxious. There are steps you can take to manage your feelings and return to a sense of calm.

Amid headlines and images of the Russia-Ukraine war, a new layer of anxiety has set in. In our practice, clients—already coping with pandemic-related stressors and all of the other life stressors that exist outside of a pandemic—express worries about being drafted and disappointment regarding the postponement of meaningful trips, perhaps indefinitely. As with the pandemic, we don’t know exactly what the war will mean to the average U.S. resident.

If there is one feeling that is familiar from these last two years, it is uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean it feels comfortable, nor is it any easier to cope with now. We have reached a point when it feels hard to trust that the latest COVID-19 recovery headline will not be followed in short succession with yet another unexpected surge and all that comes with it—daycare closures, remote work and mask mandates, positive COVID tests and the ensuing consequences. And now, some of us fear the next headline will be that of a third World War. This new layer of anxiety is compounded by several others, from the social barriers that masks impose to the devastating losses of loved ones we’re still grieving to the many other lost plans that could not be carried out in these times.

The changes we have recently experienced in our daily lives and life trajectories have given rise to many natural signs of anxiety—worry, confusion, overthinking decisions that used to feel easy. With the added layer of war in Ukraine, some may feel gripped with the guilt of being safe, an ocean away from the violence, while Ukrainians and Russians suffer.

If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because these are normal human reactions to the times we live in. And yet, there is no singular reaction that is the most “normal,” particularly since the compounded impacts of the pandemic have played out very differently in our diverse and unequal country. However, amid these differences, there are some universal coping skills that can help us all.

Identify your triggersserious white woman on phone with coffee

When you notice your body feels out of whack or your mind is going into overdrive, it’s time to pause and notice what just happened. What triggered you? Was it a thought you had based on news you read earlier this morning? Or is it the image on the screen you’re looking at in the moment? Or perhaps it’s the way that people on social media are writing about the war. Sometimes, the anxiety response is immediate, while at other times, it doesn’t hit until hours later. It can take some effort—by talking to a friend, writing in a journal, or simply taking time out to be mindful —to realize what caused the anxiety. Identifying it is important because it gives you the opportunity to address the trigger itself by making a plan. 

Make a plan 

You have the power to reduce contact with your triggers by making a plan. In some cases, you won’t want to eliminate your triggers altogether because some exposure to them is valuable. For example, you might find news triggering, but want to stay informed. Or you’ve thought of eliminating social media altogether due to how triggering it is, but know that feeling too cut off from your online communities can also create anxiety. In these cases, it’s better to create healthy boundaries than do a complete detox. If you notice that images of war on TV frequently replay in your mind, make a realistic plan that enables you to cut down your viewership. It’s easy to say you will cut down, but if you don’t identify exactly how you will achieve this, it likely won’t happen, so be clear with yourself about what you’ll do.

Tips for limiting media consumption

If news images, headlines, TV newscasts, and social media posts on the war are taking a toll, it’s time to regulate your contact with the news. Try out these suggestions  to see what  works for you:

  • Take a holiday from the news every weekend or on pre-identified days
  • Avoid war article surfing  
  • Set a limit on the amount of time per day when you read or watch the newsIdentify the types of articles and images that are most likely to trigger you and when you notice these come up, make it a rule do not linger on them for more than a few seconds
  • Confide in a friend about your feelings if something you view, read, or hear frequently replays in your mind.

To apply these tips to your life, consider what it will take for you to make each of the changes you plan to make. For example, if you aim to stop reading news while commuting and you are in the habit of scrolling through the news for the entire bus ride, perhaps you’ll need to bring a book on the bus or set up app blocks on your phone during that time. 

black man reading newspaperTake Care of Yourself

Now is the time to make sure that you are engaging in healthy self-care. Make sure to incorporate your go-to self-care techniques into your routines, and consider adding a couple that research shows are highly effective in improving peoples’ moods: exercise and social connection with supportive people.

You don’t need to join the most competitive football team in town or even sign up for the aspirational activity you’ve been trying to get yourself to do. Simply taking a walk outside while listening to your favorite song or podcast, cleaning, or doing yoga at home will help.

Last but not least, there is nothing like talking to a friend to let go of stress and anxiety. Call the person who knows you and knows what to say to help bring you back down when you’re stressed. Let yourself lean on them, and let them lean on you.

If you feel you could use some extra support coping with anxiety, don’t hesitate to call us at 267-317-8817 or schedule your free consultation here. We’re here to support your journey to a calmer, happier life.