Russia invading Ukraine: anxiety coping tips for events you have no control over

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6 min read
The Russia Ukraine conflict is making many of us feel anxious. (Getty Images)
The Russia Ukraine conflict is making many of us feel anxious. (Getty Images)

After weeks of uncertainty, this morning many of us woke to the devastating news that Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine.

The ramifications are terrifying and are already being felt, with up to 18 people reported to have been killed in a missile strike in Odessa, while official government numbers say 40 soldiers have died so far.

The move comes on the day all COVID restrictions in England are set to end, in what could be deemed as the light at the end of a very long, anxiety-inducing, pandemic tunnel. But instead of being able to breathe a collective sigh of relief, we find ourselves holding our breath once more, faced with the very real possibility of another global disaster and potential large-scale war.

And once again we're feeling that helpless dread and anxiety about issues that we have zero control over.

Read more: How to spot anxiety in your child – and how to help them

According to psychologist and wellbeing consultant, Lee Chambers, feeling powerless to do anything could be contributing to the stress and anxiety we're all experiencing right now.

"When we look at events in the world around us, it's only natural to feel worried about how they might impact us and cause uncertainty in the future," he explains. "Sometimes we have more control than we think over how we can plan and prepare ourselves, and might even be able to influence aspects.

"But there are scenarios, like the situation with Russia and the Ukraine, where we can feel powerless and hopeless because it seems wholly out of our control."

Doom scrolling can amp up feelings of anxiety. (Getty Images)
Doom scrolling can amp up feelings of anxiety. (Getty Images)

Chambers says this can generate an underlying current of anxiety, which we have also witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic.

"As we hope to move forward with positivity, we've also been challenged with the rising cost of living, which though difficult, we do feel we have some control over as we can plan how to manage our finances," he explains. "However, the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine is more instability that feels unpredictable, and something we have very little control over."

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, agrees that the timing of the Russian invasion is having an increased impact on our anxiety levels.

"Just as we are recovering from COVID, we are now faced with another massive world event that is out of our control and which could have significant implications for our lives," she explains. "Anything that is outside of our control can be experienced as being incredibly threatening and cause us high levels of anxiety."

Having had to deal with exactly this type of situation for a prolonged period of time in the form of a global pandemic has also shattered any sense of predictability in the world and added to the sense of stress we feel.

"We are perhaps more likely to think that something bad will happen because of the scale of what has happened over the last couple of years," Dr Touroni adds.

So what can we do about it?

While we have no influence over the political situation in the Ukraine, what we can do is alter the way we react to circumstances that are completely out of our control.

"When it comes to managing these anxieties over the coming months, there are some smaller techniques we can use in the moment if we feel it coming to the fore," explains Chambers. "These include relaxation techniques such as deep, focused breathing and mindful activities such as walking and yoga."

Watch: Russia-Ukraine crisis: 'Full-scale invasion' - what do we know so far?

Here are some other simple techniques to help us cope with this form of spiralling anxiety.

Be mindful of catastrophising

During times like this, Dr Touroni says it can be easy to slip into catastrophic thinking (ruminating about worst case scenarios).

She suggests trying to spot any disastrous scenarios you might be creating in your mind. "Remind yourself that negative thoughts are the byproduct of your mind and they’re not necessarily representative of reality," she adds.

Getting outside can help reduce stress levels. (Getty Images)
Getting outside can help reduce stress levels. (Getty Images)

Be present in the moment

Instead of thinking about what could go wrong in the future, Dr Touroni recommends maintaining your mindfulness to keep you in the present moment. "Practising a short mindfulness meditation each day can help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings and see how we can become entangled in them in ways that might not be helpful," she adds.

Read more: Stacey Dooley urges mental health discussion and shares coping strategies

Try not to doom scroll

Limit your time spent on social media and the news. "Both can amplify anxiety and be especially triggering if you’re someone who already struggles with day-to-day worries," Dr Touroni explains.

Write it down

Jotting down our feelings can help to relieve stress and anxiety, according to Chambers. "Getting our feelings onto paper takes them out of our minds and encourages us to see our thought patterns to see if we can challenge them in a healthy way," he adds.

Turn to your senses

When you're struggling with stress, another small tactic Chambers recommends is doing something that activates our senses, such as cooking or aromatherapy. "This helps to bring us into the moment and gives us space to soothe ourselves," he explains.

Practicing mindfulness can help us cope with anxiety. (Getty Images)
Practicing mindfulness can help us cope with anxiety. (Getty Images)

Find your anxiety triggers

If we know what they are, we can take control over our exposure to them, whether that's what we consume, places, people or memories.

"Anxiety impacts sleep, yet sleep is important for emotional balance, so trying to sleep optimally will support managing anxieties, as will eating a nutritious diet and moving our bodies." Chambers explains.

"We should also look to keep our minds healthy, with a type of mental training that works for us, whether that be meditation, mindfulness or exploring nature," he adds.

Read more: 'Anxiety' chosen by children as word of the year for 2021

Develop a coping plan

Sandra de Monte, founder and director, MindBerry Group says connecting with friends and family and sharing your concerns can help to relieve stress.

She suggests using a focus exercise that you can do wherever and whenever you sit down for a few moments.

"Breathe in and out and concentrate on your breath to check in with yourself," she says. "Then choose a colour and look around you to identify objects of that colour. This will calm you down and distract you from concerns and negative thinking."

Seek professional help

The way you're feeling about current events is likely to be a normal and totally valid reaction, but if you're worried about your mental health and escalating anxiety levels, then consider talking to someone about it.

"It is always important to consider that sometimes professional support can also provide you with tools and techniques if your anxiety symptoms are impacting your daily life," Chambers says. The key message is: never suffer in silence. We're all in this together.

Watch: Daily tips for managing stress and reducing anxiety