Overwhelmed by the crisis in Ukraine? Here's how you can deal with the stress
Dr Alla Demutska, originally from Ukraine, shares her thoughts on the crisis in Ukraine and how we can deal with the accompanying stress.
Russia’s relentless war on Ukraine has led to numerous deaths, destroyed civilian infrastructure, and forced millions of people to flee Ukraine — resulting in a humanitarian crisis in Europe.
The sheer impact of this war also stretches beyond those who have relatives and friends in Ukraine; keeping up with the Russian invasion is taking a toll on our mental health. “Humans are empathic beings, and it is very difficult to observe suffering that our other fellow beings are going through, see the ruins of once beautiful cities, and try to comprehend the devastation and impact,” says Dr Alla Demutska — who is originally from Ukraine — Lecturer of Clinical Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore.
She adds, “I left Ukraine 20 years ago, but I still have close friends who are living there and friends who are now displaced because they had to leave their homes to save their lives. Many of my friends, who live in Singapore and Australia, and I, are going through a rollercoaster of emotions from horror, anger, fear, sadness, to guilt and numbness.”
“What I am feeling right now — and what you might be feeling — are all normal responses to human tragedy. We all are dealing with strong emotions differently. Some try to keep themselves busy all the time, while others might sit in front of the TV feeling overwhelmed and unable to move. A state of paralysis and complete lack of energy can be disrupted by periods of near-manic energy and minimal sleep. Some may go into ‘survival mode’ and may not experience the psychological effects until much later.”
So, how can you help yourself and help others when you are overwhelmed with strong emotions? It’s very important to come back to basics, Dr Demutska points out:
- Focus on sleep, healthy food, and physical exercise
- Restrict alcohol and caffeine
- Take calming breaks between work tasks
These acts provide the basis for better balancing your emotions. You can also talk to your friends or a psychologist, or keep a diary — share your feelings and reflect on what helped you cope in the past.
However, if you are under a lot of stress, you need to first focus on the present and on coping with the stress that you currently face. Psychologists often teach their clients slow-breathing and grounding techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation. By calming yourself down, you can start thinking more rationally and provide better help to yourself and to others around you.
When you are feeling overwhelmed and need short-term relief, it can help to focus your attention on an activity and away from your thoughts. Dr Demutska suggests five ways to focus your attention:
- Actions: Do something around the house — clean, cook, move furniture around, do a crossword or a drawing, take a shower, have a massage, and move your body with yoga or exercise.
- Focus on helping others: Check in on your loved ones and see if there is practical support you can offer.
- Soothe yourself: Try to soothe yourself by watching a soothing movie/programme, reading a book, or listening to music.
- Engage your mind: Count backwards from 100, subtracting 7 each time (100, 93, 86...); name 10 colours or pieces of furniture in the room; think of 10 cities starting with the letter A.
- Use your senses: Name 5 things that you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
Watching war unfold can make you feel anxious and out of control. It’s important to have compassion for the people around you, including yourself, through small, positive steps.
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