It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, scared and anxious when you’re regularly exposed to war-related news and images. This response has been called “war anxiety,” “nuclear anxiety,” and “headline stress.”
You might be experiencing:
- Low mood and tearfulness
- Feeling frozen/stuck
- Irritability and anger
- Chest tightness
- Breathing difficulties
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Sleeping problems
- Digestive issues
- Finding it hard to slow down and relax
- Eating too much/too little
In worrying times like these, supporting your mental health is more important than ever.
Given the lack of mental wellbeing skills education in schools, it’s understandable we often to resort to unhelpful coping mechanisms.
Alcohol and excessive food and sleep may be effective short-term coping strategies, but over time, they tend to increase your distress.
The aim of this online guide and workbook is to provide you with practical tools to take care of yourself effectively – for the long-term.
Information Diet Plan
‘Doomscrolling’ or ‘doomsurfing’ refers to the excessive consumption of negative news.
It’s understandable that you want to keep yourself updated about the latest developments, as doing so increases your sense of certainty and control, and it’s how your brain is wired.
It’s your natural instinct to scan the environment for potential threats.
However, doomscrolling can be harmful to mental health.
Given the endless flow of depressing, anxiety-inducing stories, it’s important to be mindful of how much media you’re consuming.
A lot of the news is speculation about what could happen in future. This kind of information can easily fuel war anxiety. So, what can you do?
- Consider setting a limit for the number of times per day you’ll read the news or check social media.
- Disable notifications/alerts/newsletters.
- Set a timer when you’re reading, which can prevent you from going down a rabbit hole of never-ending news. Experiment with different timings to find out what works best for you.
Limiting your news intake is often the quickest and easiest way to alleviate war anxiety.
Stick With Reputable News Sources
The rise of ‘fake news’ could mean you’re exposing yourself to distressing misinformation.
Save yourself the stress and stick with reliable sources only:
5 Ways to Wellbeing
In 2008, The New Economics Foundation was commissioned to develop a set of evidence-based actions to improve mental wellbeing.
You can use the five-step framework they produced to reduce your war anxiety:
- Connect With People
- Be Physically Active
- Learn New Skills
- Give to Others
1. Connect With People
In ancestral times, being part of a community was vital to our survival.
There’s now considerable evidence that suggests that, on the whole, compared with people in previous decades, we spend less time with family and friends.
We have fewer close friends and are less involved in our communities. This is concerning as social connection is a core pillar of mental health and wellbeing.
Here are some actions to consider:
- Spend more time with people who matter to you.
- Even though it may be difficult, try talking to someone about your feelings.
- Call a helpline such as The Samaritans, Anxiety UK or CALM and share what’s bothering you.
- Find a local support group to join.
- Use a social networking platform to make new connections such as Meetup, Citysocializer or
The feeling of love comes and goes on a whim; you can’t control it. But the action of love is something you can do, regardless of how you’re feeling.” - Russ Harris
Poor mental wellbeing can interfere with the quality of your relationships in several ways:
- Anhedonia (a lack of pleasure) may mean you have trouble enjoying time together.
- You might be projecting feelings of hopelessness about the future onto your relationship as well.
- Being irritable might lead to more disagreements and arguments.
- Having a low sex drive can cause issues around physical intimacy.
- Using alcohol and other drugs more than usual may create conflict.
If you’re experiencing poor mental wellbeing and you’re in a relationship, try to remember the words of Russ Harris noted above.
Why not try the Love Languages Test with your partner? You can then make an effort to act with love in ways your partner finds meaningful.
For more helpful resources including a list of international helplines, check out The Social Connection Planner in our Free Tools Library.
2. Be Physically Active
We tend to think of exercise as a healthy habit. We’d instead argue it’s a basic need.
Our bodies are designed to expend a great amount of energy, and when they don’t, it negatively impacts our minds and bodies.
Lack of exercise is associated with both mental health difficulties and chronic illness.
Research suggests you need around 21 minutes three times a week to get the benefits of exercise. So, you don’t have to spend hours doing it – it’s something most of us can fit in to our lives when it becomes a priority.
Daily brisk walking could be a great place to start.
Here are six key benefits of regular movement:
1. Less Stress and Anxiety
Exercise reduces the overall activation of our amygdala and sympathetic nervous system, the parts of your brain and body that generate stress and anxiety. It burns excess adrenaline and blood sugar, which helps you feel calmer and reduces your blood pressure.
2. Better Sleep
Research shows that people who exercise regularly fall asleep faster, sleep longer, have better quality sleep, and wake up less often during the night.
3. Less Muscle Tension
Exercise helps ease muscle tension, which helps you feel more relaxed for hours afterwards.
4. Better Digestion
Working out can help you absorb vital vitamins and minerals which help you feel calmer.
5. Increased Focus
Exercise increases your alertness and ability to focus by increasing blood flow to the brain.
6. Enhanced Cognitive Functioning
Exercise stimulates chemicals in the brain called “brain derived neurotrophic factors” which help new brain cells grow and develop, providing you with a stronger foundation for learning new knowledge and skills.
With such wide-ranging benefits and a lack of negative side effects, it’s no wonder doctors regularly prescribe exercise as a mental health intervention. It’s a shame doctors don’t have time to properly explain all the benefits so that patients understood just how powerful it is.
3. Learn New Skills
“Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.” – New Economics Foundation
Learned anything new recently?
Developing your skills and knowledge is a simple, effective and enjoyable way to enhance your mental wellbeing.
Here are some things to consider:
- What do you find interesting? Make a list of topics and learn about them through online articles, YouTube and books (why not pay your local library a visit?).
- Browse free online courses, Udemy and Skillshare and see what piques your interest.
- Find a local adult learning provider and attend an in-person course.
- Ask your employer for extra training or education (you might find this sample training request letter helpful).
4. Give to Others
Helping others in times of crisis can give you a stronger sense of purpose, control and empowerment.
Here are plenty of ways to get involved:
- Ukraine: What You Can Do to Help
- How To Help Ukrainians: These Organizations Are Looking for Donations
- How Americans Can Help People of Ukraine
- How To Help People in Ukraine
Mindfulness practice is about learning to relate to things in a direct way, without the mental filters of concepts, past experiences, or value judgements placed on top.
It’s about shifting your attention to your five senses, noticing what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Here’s a mindfulness activity you can practice to reduce war anxiety.
Mindful Music Listening
It’s simple: Play this song, close your eyes, and listen.
“Perception without language” may be the most succinct definition of mindfulness.
When you just listen, you’re practising mindfulness.
When mental chatter arises (it will – a lot), gently redirect your attention to just listening. Focus on observing all of the song’s layers.
To become more mindful, apply this “perception without language” approach to daily life as much as possible.
It’s so easy to spend our lives lost in inner dialogue, missing the richness of the human experience.
Life is a lot like music. The more you can sense the richness that comes from noticing all of its layers - as opposed to being lost in your mind - the more satisfying it’ll be.
Sit, close your eyes and practise mindful music listening with any song or sounds that make you feel calm in times of emotional distress.
Lean Into Uncertainty
People prone to anxiety have been shown to have a low tolerance for uncertainty.
Prone to doomscrolling (see page one)? An aversion to uncertainty may be an underlying cause. You’re trying to seek out more information to increase your feelings of certainty.
Here’s the thing: uncertainty is an inescapable part of life. The sooner you become comfortable with this, the sooner you can reduce your war anxiety.
Which words remind you of this and help you feel better?
- “There is nothing certain, but the uncertain.” – Proverb
- “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only ” - John Allen Paulos
- “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer
- “Change is the only constant.” – Heraclitus
- “Every man’s life lies within the present; for the past is spent and done with, and the future is uncertain.” - Marcus Aurelius
- “The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” - Seneca
“A world-class athlete was number one in the world in her event and had won two consecutive world championships. Only a few human beings on the planet ever reach that level of athletic achievement. Yet, upon winning her second championship, she said her primary emotion was neither elation nor satisfaction, but fear. The reason? She was afraid she wouldn’t win next year. Minds are like that. They will never change. They are evaluative, predictive, comparative, worrying “organs”. But in the case of values, it’s different. Once you choose them, you are in fact choosing them. You’ve won. Then they allow you to follow your path and to measure your progress on that path.” – Steven Hayes
Values are the aspects of life that matter most to you.
Connecting with your values allows you to live a richer, more meaningful life – regardless of the circumstances.
In fact, studies show that reflecting on your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions around.
One study found that people who affirmed their values before a stressful task had significantly lower cortisol responses compared with those who didn’t.
Take a few minutes to watch this video describing the difference between a values-driven life and a goal-driven life.
To help you clarify your values, we’ll complete two exercises.
1. Self-Reflection Exercise
First, spend some time reflecting on the following questions.
- What qualities do you most appreciate in others? In yourself? What does that say about what you value?
- What would you do if money and other people’s opinions didn’t matter?
- What are you doing when time flies?
- Which events in your life have been the most meaningful to you?
- If you were to be stranded on a desert island, which three things would you bring with you? What do these things tell you about what’s important to you?