Several of my clients have reported increased anxiety and overwhelm recently, in light of the Ukraine / Russian conflict.
Such heartbreaking stories of tragedy can bring many big emotions to the surface. From sadness and despair to shock and disbelief to helplessness to anger and rage.
And there’s exhaustion too.
We’re just getting used to living with Covid and tentatively feeling our way through the reduced restrictions and now there’s a war happening. Oh, and did I mention escalating fuel prices? It all feels a bit much to be honest. No wonder emotions are bubbling to the surface. According to YouGov, many people are feeling stress, sadness and fear.
The first thing to know is that these feelings are completely normal.
Unless you’re a thrill seeker, humans generally prefer certainty. And the combination of the past two years living with a pandemic, coupled with uncertain finances – and now the war – can add to an overall feeling of impending doom or threat. Maybe you have friends or family in the Ukraine, are worried about the threat of nuclear war or are sensitive to the suffering of others.
It’s important to understand that some stress is a good thing. It can prepare us for a brilliant performance and make us alert and focused. The human body is designed to cope with short term stress and then return quickly to a calm, relaxed state where healing and restoration take place. But too much chronic stress is debilitating to both body and mind. And this is where many people have ended up. The pace has been relentless for two years. Many of my clients are recognising that they are in constant low-level fight or flight. Some of them are in ‘freeze’ mode.
It’s been a rollercoaster. And while we have little choice but to buckle in for the ride, there are a few steps we can take to make the journey easier.
Limit the news
While it’s good to keep up to date with current affairs, it’s important to take a break. Thanks to modern technology we can be in a state of constant information overload with 24 hour news in the palms of our hands. And it’s not good for us.
Yet you have a choice.
You can choose to limit yourself to a certain amount of news each day. Nobody is making you watch it! When you’re up to date the latest information, you don’t need to keep watching the drama unfold. You can still care about what is happening, without immersing yourself in it. Keep up with the facts (if you can find them!) and leave the rest. You might subscribe to a newspaper like ‘The Week’ so you can get short updates as well as other current news. Researchers have found that watching negative news can have an impact on how you perceive your own personal worries. So if you find yourself suddenly catastrophising more about situations in your own life, you might like to consider reducing your exposure to bad worldwide news.
Put boundaries in place
Many of my clients are empaths or HSPs (Highly Sensitive People). For them, they don’t even need to watch the TV or read the papers, they feel what is going on. If that’s you, you may need to have conversations with people you live with if they insist on watching / listening to the news all day. In our household, we’ve agreed that my husband will listen to the radio with headphones, so that I don’t have to immerse myself in it. A client has asked her partner to find one of his friends to discuss ‘war stuff’ with, as she doesn’t want to engage in conversations about this topic. Another client has agreed with her partner that meal times are free of ‘war talk’ and that if he wants to watch anything on TV he watches it on his ipad rather than in the family room. Not keeping up with the news doesn’t mean you are burying your head in the sand, uncaring or not facing reality. It can mean you are practising self care.
Your feelings are normal
All the sadness, grief, helplessness and rage. Even your feelings to constantly watch the bad news – when you know it makes you feel more helpless and stressed – is not your fault! Humans are wired for the negativity bias and it’s been hugely successful in the evolution of our species. But as there are no longer any sabre toothed tigers, the daily news, someone cutting us up when we’re driving, an email from our boss, or a glance from someone in the wrong way, can all be perceived as threats and kick off the fight / flight response. So don’t beat yourself up about it. The key here is to accept and embrace the way you feel. That doesn’t necessarily mean indulging in a pity party, but it does mean not shaming yourself for feeling the way you feel. You don’t need to add guilt or self loathing on top of everything else!
Acknowledge and validate your feelings
Many of my clients feel guilt on top of everything else because they know they live a ‘privileged’ life. But it’s important to honour that you have tough things going on too. And that you have big feelings when you do. You might feel dynamic emotions such as rage or you might feel completely numb. You might be tearful or emotionally shut down. Whatever you experience is valid and as counter-intuitive as it may sound, one of the best ways to deal with these feelings is to turn towards them and accept them. It can be helpful to think of emotions like a small, hurt child. You wouldn’t get angry with them, tell them their feelings aren’t real or try and push them away. You’d hold them, and speak to them with reassurance and confidence. A simple mindfulness practise for this is to spend a couple of minutes noticing your feelings in your body – you might feel anger in your chest or sadness in your solar plexus for example. Our instinct is usually to distract ourselves or try and push these sensations away. Instead go towards these feelings. Put your hand on the part of your body that is feeling an emotion and say hello. You might be surprised how much compassion you have for yourself.
Take care of you
The first thing you’ll be told when you board a plane is that if there is a crisis situation, you should put your oxygen mask on first. By taking care of yourself, you’re better equipped to help others. This situation is no different.
Here are some ideas of ways to take care of yourself:
- Get out in nature as much as you can. Going outdoors and hearing the birds singing, noticing the changing seasons and watching the sunset reminds us that life goes on and good things are still happening. There are also many psychological and physical benefits to being outdoors.
- Take mindfulness breaks. See if you can punctuate your day with mindfulness. This can be as simple as setting a timer on your phone every hour, then pausing and taking three breaths. If you have more time you could do a quick body scan to move you from your mind back into your body.
- Enjoy hobbies. Anything which gets you in the flow and requires you to focus on something can be helpful. You don’t have to be good at what you do, you just need to enjoy it and then set aside time to do it. You can channel your emotions into art, poetry or music or just do jigsaw puzzles or play solitaire.
- Use essential oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants and the aromas from the oils can promote a sense of relaxation or wellbeing. Lavender essential oil is well known for its relaxing properties. This research shows that inhalation of essential oils may be a safe alternative to pharmaceutical interventions for mild to moderate sleep disturbances. A warm bath before bed with a couple of drops of lavender essential oil is a wonderful form of self care.
- Indulge in nostalgia. It’s been shown that remembering ‘the good old days’ maybe by looking through old photos, reading an old letter or playing music from that era can have a positive effect on emotions. psychologist Constantine Sedikides suggests nostalgia may act as a resource that we can draw on so that we can move forward with less fear and greater purpose. Other scientists say nostalgia can improve mood and mental health.
Now you’ve taken care of yourself, it’s time to help others. Feelings of helplessness are not uncommon. And the best antidote to overwhelm or anxiety is to take action. So figure out what you CAN do.
Donate money or things
You might research some charities that are collecting money and choose one to donate to. In my area a local volunteer group collected food, toiletries and baby supplies to drive to Poland. It felt good to me to donate real tangible ‘stuff’ as I question the validity of some charities and worry about where my money actually goes.
On an even more practical level, you can help refugees. Air Bnb offer a platform for you to offer a safe space for refugees in your home. You can provide a comfortable bed and basic amenities for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Airbnb partners with nonprofits that check refugee guests for eligibility and assist them before, during, and after their stays. Read more about the scheme here.
Or book an air bnb, but don’t go! One way to ensure some of your money goes directly to someone in need is to book an air bnb. I booked a weekend with a family in the Ukraine and sent them a message saying I wouldn’t be going, but I wanted them to keep the money. (I take no credit for this, it went viral on social media after one lady did it, and I thought it was a brilliant idea)
Donate your skills and time
If you can’t donate money, perhaps you can donate your skills, or your expertise. Collection sites need people to sort and ship items for example.
Once you’ve done something practical on-the-ground, as it were, consider the power of positive intention.
Intend for peace
I run a couple of online Zoom sessions for those who believe in the power of positive intention. We spend time doing EFT as a group to clear some of the emotions that are coming up for us, then focus for ten minutes sending an intention (Based on my training with Lynne McTaggaart) for peaceful resolution. Contact me if you want an invite. I’m holding these sessions on a Monday evening at 7:30GMT and they are free to attend.
Peer-reviewed studies conducted by the Transcendental Meditation organisation, show that a critical mass group of meditators can have an affect on lowering conflict, fatalities and crime. They call this the Maharishi Effect. Read more here.
In studies completed between 1983 and 1985 during the Lebanon war, results showed 66% increase in cooperation between antagonists; 71% reduction in war-related fatalities; 68% decrease in war-related injuries; and 48% reduction in levels of conflict. [Source: Davies JL, Alexander CN. Alleviating political violence through reducing collective tension: impact assessment analysis of the Lebanon war. Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality 2005 17:285-338. Available for download here.]
Lynne McTaggart’s work is very similar in that she has examined what happens when a large group sends a highly specific intention to make a change. She’s now come to the conclusion that a small group of just half a dozen individuals, can have a powerful effect too – hence my Monday night groups!
If you’re religious you might set time aside to send your prayers. Which brings me on to…
Be the change
It might sound odd, but peace starts with you. It took me a good 40+ years to really grasp this concept, and I’m still working on it. Through my training in energy psychology and energy awareness, plus a deep dive into Quantum Science, all the pieces of this crazy ol’ life are starting to fall into place.
It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it. You don’t need a formal practise or a large group. As Mahatma Ghandi is reported to have said, each one of us is required to ‘Be the Change’ (although some sources say he never said this and what he said was…
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
What I take from this is, if you want peace in the world, then BE peace. When you feel irritable, hostile, impatient or wish harm, then it’s an invitation to welcome what is, accept it and choose what you want instead. Where can you be a little bit more peaceful? Start with yourself, perhaps. How do you speak to yourself in the mirror? What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake? What situations cause you to feel impatient (hello monthly bookkeeping!), or angry (road rage anyone?). As mentioned previously, this isn’t about shaming, this is about noticing, accepting and coming from a place of empowerment and choice.
Reach out to your community
If you don’t feel you can do something to help the victims of this war then who could you help? Maybe this is a time to volunteer in your local community. In her poem “Soul on Deck”, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ writes “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Intending for world peace can feel overwhelming, but a friendly conversation with a neighbour might just be the beginning of a ripple of positive actions – and who knows where it might end?
If your emotions are spiralling out of control, reach out for help. I’m only an email away.