Coping with worry and uncertainty about the threat of war

​​​​​​ The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on Thursday 24 February, can provoke anxiety and fear in oneself and those around you even if you are not experiencing an imminent threat of war. The unfolding situation is a crisis that affects us all in one way or another. Many people are wondering, for example, how to help those in need. It is also important to take care of your own well-being.

Use reliable information sources

A great deal of disinformation (deliberately misleading information) is being disseminated over the Internet. The current situation feeds the spread of disinformation and stokes fear, anxiety and uncertainty. People also differ in terms of how much it helps them to deal with the crisis when they get more information about it. When acquiring information, you should think about your own tolerance levels, try to be methodical, and stick to sources of information that has been shown to be reliable.

Reliable sources of information take a neutral approach, try to present things based on the best information available, and do not try to actively influence your opinions.

Please also take note that following the news on this topic is challenging. The situation is changing rapidly and, even from reliable sources, some of the details may be inaccurate or incomplete.

Also, try to limit your use of social media and at least consider how much weight you give to the stories and perspectives you encounter there.

Advise children and young people also to avoid social media and discuss with them the headlines and content that they see, while listening to their feelings and seeking to maintain a sense of security and hope. Among the different social media channels, TikTok in particular has been found to contain both true and false video material about the crisis in Ukraine.

Make a plan for how you will follow the news

From the point of view of your ability to function in everyday life, it is important both to make a plan for how much you will follow the news and then stick to that plan. Even if you would like to actively follow the development of the situation, it is important to ensure that this does not interfere with daily work or family life, for example. You could, for example, schedule a daily time for yourself to go through the latest news. If this is difficult, it may help to think of how setting these times gives you freedom to focus on other things at other times.

Help

The sense of solidarity and sympathy for the situation of Ukraine and its citizens is strong among Finnish people. There is an understandable desire to help and alleviate the distress of those who are suffering. The main way to help is through cash donations, but you can also help by other means.

Take part in the discussion

You can help by participating in public discussion, while avoiding and recognising the misleading information mentioned earlier. You can take part in the discussion on social media or by taking part in demonstrations, for example, but remember to take a break from this discussion from time to time so that you do not become overwhelmed.

Support aid organisations

You can financially contribute to humanitarian aid and help civilians affected by the war. Large international organisations are a safe option. With more unfamiliar organisations, always find out about them before donating. The following are examples of well-known international organisations:

Finnish Committee for Unicef The Finnish Red Cross Save the Children Fida Church Foreign Aid

Talking to children about war and the threat of war

As a parent or guardian, you will encounter situations where you discuss war or the threat of war with a child or young person. With school-age children, it is okay to talk about the threat of war and crisis situations around the world. The younger the child is, however, the more they should be protected from news about the crisis.

Create space for conversation

Give the child space to calmly talk about their experiences, thoughts and feelings. They may not yet have the vocabulary for describing what they want to say. Maintain a calm and hopeful presence, even if the child reacts strongly, and also give room for negative feelings. Such negative feelings may emerge, for example, in the child’s play.

Protect the child from your own worry

Even if you are personally affected by uncertainty and worry, it is important to talk to the child as calmly as possible and to convey a sense of security. It is common for a child's fears to provoke strong emotional reactions in an adult. If a child starts a conversation and you feel very anxious, you can either postpone the conversation or ask another adult who the child feels safe with to talk with them instead. It is of primary importance, however, that the child is able to express their feelings in an accepting environment.

Emphasise that the things on the news do not directly threaten the child

It may be difficult for a child to grasp the distances involved and who is affected by various crises and how.

People are working for peace

Point out that, while the issues in the news are worrying, many adults are working to resolve the situation. The spread of war, conflict and crisis to other regions is in no one's interest.

More information is available on the website of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare

Take care of your own well-being in these uncertain times

Recognising your own reactions to threatening and uncertain situations and nurturing your own well-being will help to maintain your functional capacity in everyday life and support others who are worried about the situation.

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 Finding relief in everyday routines

Anxiety and worry can be alleviated by following your usual routines. Also important for maintaining and improving your mood are regular sleeping and eating rhythms as well as exercise and focusing on meaningful activities.

Reduce your level of strain by decreasing the amount you do. Go for activities such as reading or listening to books, watching TV series, listening to podcasts, trying home exercise routines and stretching, or studying something interesting online.

Try to find a balance between processing the threatening situation and other matters. If this is difficult, try to create concrete plans for your days. ​

 How does anxiety develop?

Anxiety is a natural and understandable reaction to changes and abnormal situations.

Anxiety develops when the body’s alarm system gets activated by signs of threat or danger, and if this persists for a long time, it manifests as constant worry. The uncertain situation poses a threat to which the body and mind react. This feels unpleasant in your body and stimulates the experience of anxiety, which your thoughts can then intensify even against your own will. If your thinking becomes especially negative, the situation begins to feel more threatening than it really is.

The focus of news coverage on the war between Russia and Ukraine raises questions of how to prepare for the worst. This can give an increased feeling of control and lessen the anxiety, but this is often only temporary.

Excessive anticipation can easily turn into excessively dwelling on and worrying about the issue, which is then difficult to stop. Dwelling on the matter seems to make you feel better for a while, but going through your worries over and over again actually makes them worse. The whole body is also burdened by being in a continuous state of readiness. Anxiety indeed arises from the fact that the body has, in a sense, prepared for battle and begins to go into overdrive.

Focus on something else for a while and give your body some space to breathe. There is no need to watch or read every related news broadcast or article at its time of publication. ​

 Coping with uncertainty

The uncertainty stirred by the war in Ukraine may relate to a possible military threat to Finland, for example, or the role and fate of yourself and your loved ones in such a situation. This crisis has changed the world and our lives in an unexpected way, and it may suddenly seem that you cannot predict at all what will happen and how everything will turn out. Sometimes you may feel that if you can't be sure of things, life can no longer be good enough on any level.

Because uncertainty is difficult to cope with, it may seem an attractive goal to achieve certainty about everything. Since certainty can never be achieved, however, the effort to achieve it often adds to your worries and consumes energy. Instead, learning to tolerate and except uncertainty is the path to less worry.

It is difficult for many to tolerate uncertainty, but it is possible to learn to live with things that cannot be controlled and about which you can never be certain.

Exercise: tolerating uncertainty

In this exercise, you get to think about uncertainty and how to deal with it.

  1. Consider the different factors in your life which you cannot be sure of. Think for a moment and then list all the things that come to mind.
  2. What thoughts does this uncertainty bring to you? For example: “If I'm not prepared enough, things will probably go wrong in the worst possible way.”
  3. What methods have you used to achieve certainty in different areas of your life? For example: “I ask other people to remind me of things, and I check things with them in order to be sure.”
  4. How have you benefited from seeking certainty? For example: “By following the news, I have avoided surprises.”
  5. What have been the downsides of seeking certainty? For example: “I can't concentrate on things, I just go over the issues again and again, and I'm frustrated by the uncertainty.”

When you recognize unpleasant thoughts and feelings in yourself, do not try to get rid of them but instead accept that they are there. By practising tolerating these things, it will become easier over time to cope with them. This is a skill that can be practised. ​

 Psychological coping in an uncertain situation

When listening to news about the war in Ukraine and carrying worries about the threat of war, everyday life can often feel difficult. However, it is possible to practice coping skills in everyday life. Accepting your own incompleteness and taking on the task of practising these skills as part of your life is already enough to bring you much closer to a balanced and calm approach to the issue.

Using your time meaningfully supports your mental and physical well-being. Of key importance is balancing your time between following the news, taking care of your relationships and doing the things that matter to you. The most important thing is to maintain a steady routine. Even small actions can support one's own everyday well-being if they reflect one's own values of what is a good life and a just way to act.

Worry and anxiety can lead to problems such as loss of appetite or insomnia. The reactions may be strong, but they are understandable and quite common. You don't need to get rid of them right away. Allow yourself to rest if you find you are overburdened.

A concerning situation can also affect your relationships and other networks in many ways. People deal with things in different ways and differ, for example, in the extent to which they want to discuss the issue. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone can help you feel better and broaden your own view of the situation when you are finding it difficult. It is also important to be open with those close to you about what kind of things help you deal with the situation.

Exercise: relaxing by breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing helps the body relax. When worried, people begin to breathe quickly but shallowly. By practising relaxing breathing, you can learn to get your body out of its emergency state and sooth your anxiety.

Do this exercise when you feel anxious and either it is hard to think about other things or the anxiety is in some other way interfering with your daily activities.

Let’s practise:

  1. Find a comfortable position. Don't cross your legs, however.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  3. Breathe slowly in and out.
  4. Try to breath so that only the hand resting on the abdomen moves. The chest should stay in place.
  5. Pay attention to your breath and continue to breathe gently for a while.

Focus on counting the breaths: in 1, out 1, in 2, out 2, and so on. Focus on counting to 10 without increasing the speed of your breathing. If you lose focus, start again at one and count calmly to ten. There is no need to hurry.

Exercise: accepting emotions

The war between Russia and Ukraine and concerns about the future and the possible spread of war can stir up many different emotions. You can practice accepting emotions, but you cannot control what emotions emerge.

Let’s practise:

  1. Stop doing everything for a moment and focus exclusively on the feelings stirred by your worries.
  2. Express them in clear words and accept them as they are. Be gentle in how you think about yourself and the feelings provoked. These are the emotions you are experiencing right now, and they are understandable.
  3. Focus on your bodily sensations for one minute: the calm rhythm of your breathing, your clothes against your skin, the floor under your feet. Observe your feelings calmly, like a radio commentator, no matter what they are. Just take note of your feelings, without judging them.
  4. Close your eyes for a second. Imagine what your worry would look like. What shape and colour would it have?
  5. Then let it go. Watch in your mind how your worry slowly distances itself, as if carried away by the waves. Rising and falling, moving away.
  6. Let yourself return to a place of calm.​

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