How to Manage Wartime Stress and Anxiety
Compiled* by Dan Fallon, LPC, CEAP, Program Manager
Wheeler Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the media have been flooded with broadcasts and images of a country under siege. News about warfare and its consequences—the number of lives lost, people losing their homes, lack of food and shelter, and implications for the future—can be overwhelming and scary. As you follow news coverage about war and current events, it’s important to pay attention to how it affects your physical and emotional health. Here are some tips to help you recognize your emotions, avoid triggers, and manage anxiety:
Take short relaxation breaks to let go of tension. This is easy when you remember to use your breath as your guide. Whenever you notice you are getting stressed or anxious: (1) stop and pause for a moment, (2) take in a deep breath, and (3) slowly exhale, releasing any tension you may be carrying. Use spare moments throughout the day to breathe away tension or to recall pleasant images and memories that will help soothe you. You can also practice relaxation guided imagery to calm your mind and body. By reducing your overall anxiety level in these ways, you will be better able to deal with stressful information and world events.
Engage in a mind-body practice to relieve stress. In addition to exercise, there are many practices and techniques that specifically enhance the mind-body connection and help relieve stress. These include such activities as tai chi, yoga, walking meditation, ecstatic dance, walking a labyrinth, as well as focused sports performance and playing a musical instrument. The most effective techniques will get you in touch with a "felt sense" of your aliveness in your body.
Explore the healing power of mindfulness to reduce anxiety. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing in the moment. The method is to simply notice the ever-changing flow of your mental, emotional, and physical experiences as you go about your daily life. Although deceptively simple, the practice of mindfulness is a crucial tool for discovering and sustaining balance in your life.
Take time to care for yourself to restore balance in your life. Providing good self-care is not selfish. If you are totally stressed out, you won’t have much left over to give to yourself or to others. It’s important to take the time to do something you love to do—something just for you—at least once a day. Go for a leisurely walk, get a massage, listen to some favorite music, take a long hot bath, get a manicure, take a nap, or do any other healthy activity that gives you energy. This will increase the balance in your life and help you to better deal with anxiety and stress.
Limit time spent on consuming news on war. With smartphones, it’s easy to get daily updates, newsletters, notifications, and minute-by-minute alerts about breaking news. This can easily become too much information to handle. Turn off or delete certain news sites or apps, especially if they’re overwhelming you.
Accept uncertainty. To deal with the worry or stress war may cause, focus on what you can control. It’s completely normal to feel uncertain. To offset this, take care of your health, lessen exposure to negative news, and practice accepting your emotions. Regularly exercise, eat well, and prioritize sleep. To take your mind off stress or worry, try doing activities that make you feel good. If you’re feeling lonely, check in with your friends and family.
How to handle the trauma of war from afar. Stress and concern about the conflict is widespread, especially for those with loved ones in Ukraine. Warnings about potential cyberattacks and images of the conflict have put many on high alert, even those without a personal connection to the county.
Support the people of Ukraine. If there is a large Ukrainian community near you, reach out to find out what they need. Depending on how long the insurrection lasts, they may be organizing to accept refugees or to send supplies.
Express gratitude as a powerful antidote to fear. When you give thanks, it is difficult to also feel fear at the same time. A heartfelt sense of appreciation that connects you with what is good and right in your life will help restore harmony and balance in both your mind and your body. Remember to be thankful for the many blessings already present in your life.
Develop a sense of compassion to increase your resilience. If you can open and expand your heart—even just a little— to the true humanness of others, it can transform your attitude toward yourself as well. Cultivating a sense of compassion will expand your horizons and connect you to a larger concept of yourself.
Choose relaxing activities before bedtime to get better sleep. It is extremely important to get a good night’s rest and watching TV news at night before bedtime can be detrimental to the quality of your sleep. A better relaxation strategy is to catch up on the news during the day, and in the evening focus on relaxing or mentally uplifting activities. Instead of watching TV news at night, try listening to music, reading a book, or watching a non-violent movie.
Look beyond the immediate to find the deeper meaning. This tip is about finding your faith and trusting it. Call upon any higher powers that have significance for you and ask for guidance to be able to see the deeper meaning of events in your own life and in the world at large.
Seek Help Through Your Company's Employee Assistance Program, a company-sponsored benefit that offers confidential counseling services to employees and their family members. The services may include a predetermined number of counseling sessions for consultation, solution-focused counseling, and referral services. The goal of an EAP is to help you and your family members overcome obstacles that may interfere with your job, health, or general well-being.
Constant news coverage about war and destruction can affect your quality of life and make it difficult to continue with your duties and responsibilities. Help and hope are possible, and both are within close reach.