What can we do to look after ourselves at the difficult time?

What can we do to look after ourselves at the difficult time?

The horrendous situation affecting the people of Ukraine is both heart-breaking and anxiety provoking. I have found myself absorbed in the news at points over the past 2 weeks, in disbelief and struggling to make sense of what is going on and how quickly it feels it has escalated.

I am sure I am not alone in this. In fact, I know that in my clinical practice, several of my clients have expressed similar concerns and a whole range of feelings from anxiety, anger and sadness. There is an overarching sense of helplessness… what can I do to help??

This also puts us on high alert. We are taking in a lot of threatening information and our brain is registering this and alerting our nervous system.

It is really important that we are kind to ourselves and allow ourselves to limit our exposure and connect with our life as it is now. Remember that being kind to ourselves does not mean that we are forgetting about what is going on or that we are less compassionate about the situation. It means that we are doing what we can to look after ourselves and our loved ones at this time and it is not to the detriment of the struggles people are facing as a result of the invasion.

Equally, absorbing ourselves in it all will not enable us to control the situation. In fact, it is likely to increase our sense of helplessness and heighten our feelings of threat.

What can we do to help whilst also looking after ourselves?

If we look after ourselves, we are more likely to be able to consider what options there are for us to help in some way. 

  1. Limit how much you are taking in. To be honest, the news is often looping over the same thing for hours so that people can catch up when they tune in.

    In these situations, we can get worried about missing things that are going on. This is because when we are anxious, our brain will be hypervigilant and have a need to know every detail in order to assess risk. You could set a time for yourself to tune in and find out the latest news but get a balance so that you are not absorbing yourself in it, as many of the scenes are overwhelming.

  2. If you are feeling helpless and want to offer some support, have a look online to see the different ways you might be able to help. There are lots of charities supporting different needs of the Ukrainian people. Or you could check out social media and find out if there are any local collection points that are asking for clothes, toiletries etc or perhaps you could offer to volunteer there to help the collection. Another way of feeling like you have a voice in this is to attend a demo.

  3. Once you have been able to feel less absorbed in it so that you can focus on ways of helping, it is time to try to contain it so that you can create the headspace to look after you. It doesn’t mean you have forgotten about it; it means you have kind of parked it in your mind; it’s still there but you are not constantly overwhelmed by it. You could visualise a container and imagine putting this all in there, so it is safe and accessible but allows you to also focus on other aspects of your life.

  4. Turn your attention to the present moment for you. It is useful to do grounding activities which can help orientate you to the present and calm your nervous system. Ideas include exercising, walking in nature, connecting with a friend to do an activity together, if you have children and/or pets then playing with them can be very therapeutic and grounding, making sure you are eating and drinking properly and nourishing yourself. This is not being selfish or uncompassionate. This is crucial for your own strength and wellbeing, which you need for yourself and for anyone else you look after and care for.

In his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl wrote about his experience of being a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. He observed how, although we cannot avoid suffering, we can choose how to respond, to make meaning from it, to move forward, even with the smallest of actions, and find our purpose. To me, this is deeply moving and shows us that there are things that cannot be taken away; our values, our love and how we choose to engage with the most extreme external situations to find a purpose and keep moving forward.

Connecting with the awesomeness of the world through nature, connecting with loved ones and checking in with yourself and your values can help re-orientate you to this within yourself at this challenging time. With love x

This article was written by Dr Joanna Astill, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Owner of Breakthrough Psychology Services and Co-owner of Stressed Out to Feeling Fabulous

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