NEWS

How to Cope With Stress and Anxiety Caused by the War in Ukraine

drawing of girl amidst worrisome headlines

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Key Takeaways

  • If the situation in the Ukraine is causing you fear and anxiety, those feelings are normal.
  • Limit the amount of news you watch to help protect your mental health.
  • Prayer, meditation, practicing gratitude, and time outdoors are also helpful ways to protect yourself mentally.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the world took notice. When Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to his country’s nuclear readiness, the world grappled with fear and the possibility of violent conflict. As the conflict between the two countries continues to unfold, we're left to deal with the unsettling emotions of uncertainty.

Thoughts of catastrophe are understandable when we think about any type of crisis. After two years of bouncing from one COVID-19 variant to another, the Ukraine situation has people on edge.

“Feelings people may be experiencing are anger…hopelessness, helplessness, and numbness, because of being overloaded,” states Erin Jones, LCSW, of e.Piphany Concepts.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the concerns about war are a lot to handle. But if you understand how the flow of information about the conflict is impacting you mentally, there are steps you can take to protect your mental health and maintain a sense of peace.

Headline Hysteria

Reading the news to understand what’s happening in the world is an important part of being an informed citizen. But news headlines, meant to grab your attention, can do more to incite fear than offer information. The continuous flow of information can be overwhelming.

“It is important to be honest with yourself and honor yourself as it relates to knowing what the threshold of your mental health is. ‘What are my limits? How much news is too much news for me?’ Those are the questions to ask yourself,” Jones says.

Erin Jones, LCSW

‘What are my limits? How much news is too much news for me?’ Those are the questions to ask yourself.

— Erin Jones, LCSW

That limiting of exposure extends to social media. The endless scrolling through stories and infographics while being inundated with virtual noise can create a negative atmosphere of panic and doom.

 “Taking time away from social media [and] news reports are key. [Try] scheduling social media time, taking news notifications off of your phone, and other measures of that nature,” states Jones.

When you pick a daily time frame to catch up with the news, use that time to read and listen to information from highly credible, ethical, and objective sources.

If you’re not sure how to tell if you’re inundated with the news, take stock of the impact it’s having on you.

“If we’re looking at anxiety and depression, they’re going to impact us not only mentally, but physically. They impact relationships. They can impact sleep,” states Felice Martin, MS, NCC, LPC, NeuroCoach and NeuroLeader, Behavioral Health Associates of Georgia, LLC. “There’s a range of impacts that current events can have and really are having on society,” she notes.

If you’re experiencing any of these behaviors, stepping away from a constant cycle of news can give you much-needed relief. Similar to the self-care needed when reports of the COVID-19 pandemic were unending, set your limits and stick to them.

Protecting Your Mental Health

The news never stops. Information is disseminated into the atmosphere all around us. If you decide to take a break from the headlines and the news, what’s next? How can you replace a negative hole with something positive and helpful?

Replace Doom Scrolling with Time Outdoors

Sign out of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Take a walk outside and enjoy nature. Being in the outdoors can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Breathing in fresh air has a calming effect and can allow you to center yourself and stay in the moment.

Yes, you may be struggling with fear; however, acknowledging those feelings, removing media triggers, and relaxing in the great outdoors can be just the helpful remedy you need.

Spend Time with Loved Ones and Practice Gratitude

Although the possibility of conflict is disturbing, be thankful that you live in a generally safe environment. You have access to food, shelter, and medical care if needed. We should express gratitude for the basic things that we take for granted.

You can also spend time with your loved ones. Enjoy their company, whether by phone or in person. Talk with them about how you are processing what is going on in Ukraine and give them the space to share their thoughts. By allowing someone else to feel heard and validated, it can help you feel less alone in your feelings.

Reach Out to People Who Are Directly Affected

Showing compassion to people who are impacted by the situation in Ukraine takes the focus off of yourself and puts it onto others.

Offer moral support to Ukrainian friends who may be worried about their family members. Other friends who have lived through similar invasions may be dealing with PTSD. Members of the military and their family members may be dealing with fears of deployment. Offering a listening ear can make a world of difference to someone who is struggling.

You can also offer financial support through reputable organizations that help people in Ukraine. Research shows that helping other people provides a sense of well-being.

Step Away from Catastrophic Thinking

Yes, the possibility of nuclear war does exist. But there’s not a great likelihood of that happening from what we know now. Catastrophizing and focusing on “what ifs” can cause negativity spirals and heightened anxiety. There’s no real benefit to obsessive worry, especially when the conflict is out of your control.

Trust that the people we’ve elected to run our country are making the best decisions for our national security, and the nations of Europe are working together to find a way to halt Russia via sanctions in order to minimize the necessity of violent force.

Tap Into Meditation and Mindfulness

Mindfulness activities, including meditation, or prayer if you are a spiritual person, are powerful tools. They can help take the focus from expecting the worst and get your mind to a place of peace.

A mindfulness practice can help you feel more rooted in the present moment, acknowledging that while there is no way to control what happens in the future, you are safe right now. The practice of taking a slow deep breath and bringing yourself back to the present when emotions intensify can be a huge help as you attempt to process conflict taking place overseas.

And if it applies to your belief system, prayer can serve a similar purpose and allow you to feel a bit more grounded, “Even from a spiritual point, prayer and relying on one’s faith is very important during this time. It can actually help to relieve some of the anxiety and depression one may feel,” says Martin.

Talk to a Mental Health Professional

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with global disasters because they impact everyone differently. If you or someone you love is feeling debilitated by the events unfolding in Ukraine, consider talking to a licensed mental health professional. They can offer personalized strategies for managing your anxiety surrounding the crisis.

The difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic have stretched our minds and bodies. Processing another potential crisis may feel daunting and overwhelming. Having methods to handle the fear and emotions that come from dealing with the crisis can help you function and cope in a time of uncertainty.

What This Means For You

The thought of nuclear war is scary. Focusing on potential catastrophe, however, is harmful for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Practice measures that can allow you to stay informed, but still protect you from excessive worry, fear, and anxiety.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2018;76:320-329.