At a time like this when the world is just coming out of a two-year period of chaos due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and now the invasion of Ukraine, our mental health has never been under so much strain. The easy access to real-time news reports on social media and mainstream media outlets isn’t helping matters either, so what’s a person to do to protect their mental health? We discuss below some tips that you can implement to shield your mental health from the vicarious trauma of the war playing out in Ukraine.
Read news summaries sans video and pictures
You know that a picture says a thousand words, and a video reel says a lot more! Seeing pictures, especially graphic ones, about the war and its effects can increase your empathy for those affected by the conflict. Consequently, you will experience second-hand trauma (vicarious trauma) as a result of watching videos and images of what’s happening during the war.
To minimize how the news can adversely affect your mental health, opt to read news summaries, especially those that come without video or images. In this way, the emotional and mental toll on you will be kept minimal and you will have fewer negative emotions to deal with.
Avoid re-watching news stories
Many times, news stations will get to a point where they keep broadcasting the same news stories periodically, say at the top of every hour. Watching the same disturbing stories over and over again makes those images stick in your mind, and that will wreak havoc on your mental health.
It is far better to watch a disturbing news story once, if you can’t avoid it, and then switch channels once the same news story is replayed. Otherwise, you risk being sucked into “doomscrolling” as a result of your mind and emotions being primed to expect the worst and constantly looking out for the latest on what is happening.
The worry and anxiety triggered by vicariously experiencing what is happening thousands of miles away will eat away at your physical and mental health in ways that will not initially be obvious to you.
Double down on your self-care routines
Whenever we are caught in the middle of a distressing news cycle, we easily find ourselves falling behind with regard to taking care of ourselves. As you may already know, there is a strong link between your physical wellbeing and your mental health.
For example, when you don’t get enough sleep because you are spending so much time following the stressful news on social media, your mental wellbeing will suffer since you will be grumpy due to sleep deprivation.
It is therefore important for you to eat right, especially fruits and vegetables. Remember to drink enough water so that your body isn’t dehydrated. When your body is well nourished, your mind will also be in a good state since it will have all the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
Exercise is another important self-care factor that you need to give attention during a cycle of stressful news, such as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Exercise gets your “feel good hormones” flowing, and this in turn will have a beneficial effect upon your mental state. Additionally, physical activity acts as a welcome distraction from all the bad things being reported on the news, and you need that distraction in order to keep the negative effects of such news at bay.
Other ways to practice self-care in the midst of a stressful news cycle is by meditating, doing breathing exercises, yoga or taking a walk in the woods.
Get positively involved
We are not saying you pack your bags and fly out to Ukraine in order to fight alongside the Ukrainian troops! What we mean is that watching the news from a distance and doing nothing can magnify the stress you experience.
Action beats inaction every time, so it is good for you to find ways in which to be helpful to those directly impacted by the stressful events being reported in the news. For example, you can consider donating some money to help the people displaced by the war.
When you offer such help, your mental health will benefit because you will have done something (however little) to ease the suffering of those impacted by the ongoing conflict. You feel less helpless about the situation, and that gives your mental health a lift.
Furthermore, doing something to help switches your mind away from the negative and helps you focus on the positive. You are in control of your action steps in response to the disturbing news, and each time you take control you ease the mental strain upon you.
Tune out periodically
It is also helpful to tune out from the disturbing news cycle so that you can give your mind a break from all that stress. For example, instead of flipping through television channels as you duck away each time focus shifts to events in the war, why not watch some movies to relax? Or, you could turn off notifications from news outlets on your phone and instead read a book.
It is also helpful to set boundaries regarding how much time you will spend watching or reading about what is going on. For instance, keep your social media browsing to a maximum of half an hour each day. After all, you aren’t the president or a general who needs to make important decisions based on real-time data about the war! Give your mind a break, and your mental health will benefit.
Connect more with family and friends
You can also limit the mental health cost of a stressful news cycle by being more intentional about connecting with family and friends. Spend more time with those close to you and that support system will lift you emotionally, which will in turn boost your mental health.
If you can’t meet physically due to geographical barriers, you can leverage technology to connect with one another. Video calls and social media platforms like WhatsApp are some ways to connect and support each other.
The list of options of the things that you can do to protect your mental health during cycles of stressful news is nearly endless. However, we are all different and what may work for one person may have no effect for another person. It is therefore advisable for you to experiment with different techniques and zero in on what clicks for you. The approaches above are time-tested and they work, so give them a try and take it from there!
To Your Success,