It’s been a difficult couple of years. People are experiencing anxiety about macro events including everything from political stress, to social, racial, and justice battles, to a global pandemic — and now, we’re grappling with a war abroad. So, if you’re feeling a heightened sense of anxiety about war today, we can assure you, you’re not alone.
War anxiety could be expected any time great conflict occurs in the world, but given the fact that this war in particular is happening during one of the most collectively stressful times in recent history, it makes sense if you feel like you’re struggling a bit more lately. Whether you’re scared about the Ukraine conflict or the idea of a World War III, your distress, fear, and anxiety are valid.
With the right tools and information, however, it is possible for you to learn coping techniques to deal with anxiety. The tips below can be useful if you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious about the looming uncertainty and fear that often comes with war.
Keep reading to learn more on how to deal with anxiety about war.
1. Limit Social Media
Social media can be a great way to keep in contact with family and friends. It can all but eliminate the long-distance barrier relationships once suffered from. Like everything else in life, though, too much of anything can have a negative impact.
If you’re like most people out there, you probably have a morning routine that includes checking your social accounts within seconds of your eyes opening. While this might be a habit that’s difficult to break, be careful about what you’re allowing yourself to be inundated with on social media.
Misinformation, negativity, and abusive discourse have unfortunately become the norm across virtually every major social platform. Overexposure can result in major anxiety and stress, even about specific topics like war. If you’re finding that your social media usage is negatively impacting you, consider limiting how much time you spend scrolling each day. Look for ways to reduce your social media intake.
- Commit to a time period (IE: 30 minutes a day, or 15 minutes per session)
- Set a definitive number of click-throughs you allow yourself (IE: 5 articles, or 3 sites)
- Limit the sites you connect with
- Delete apps or platforms you find most stressful
- Mute or unfollow profiles that add to your anxiety about war
2. Be Mindful About Over Consumption of News
We all want to be informed, but with the 24-hour news cycle, it can be easy to get lost in bad news, especially about the war. Smartphones alert you via notifications and pop-ups about each recent traumatic event. You have 10+ news channels pushing out constant programming, literally any time of the day or night. Newsletter emails are delivered on the hour, around the clock. “Breaking” news is available any time you want to find it.
“Find ways that work for you to stay informed about the war and current events that don’t also trigger your anxiety symptoms so much and make you feel overwhelmed (ie: perhaps turn off your news notifications, and then instead, check the news when it feels right for you).”
Be mindful of how much you allow yourself to become sucked into the news each day. Setting limits on how much you’re exposed to can be helpful, particularly if you have anxiety about war-related information.
- Give yourself a time limit on how much news you’re getting each day
- Pick programs you trust and record them
- Mute alerts during your workday so you’re not receiving constant interruptions
- Delete apps that give you anxiety or increase your fear
- Take a break from any news sites that you find distressing
“If, however, you’re living with someone who wants to have the news on all the time, and you know that increases your anxiety, consider communicating your needs. Find a solution that helps you both to stay informed while also allowing you to stay as mentally well as you can at this time.”
3. Fact Check
Digital access makes finding information simple. Fortunately, it also allows you to fact-check sources and information. While this can be a slippery slope, and it can be easy to go down that proverbial rabbit hole, a quick fact check on alarming or concerning information can be a great way to keep your anxiety in check.
Be aware of clickbait (shocking or catchy headlines that are used to entice you to click on an article). Take the time to ensure quotes are in context, facts aren’t being embellished, and headlines aren’t intentionally misleading. You’ll find this is a useful skill even when it’s not a time of war.
- Check and verify credentials
- Assess bias
- Check dates
- Read “About Us” sections
- Analyze URLS — .edu and .org domains are typically valid, but if there’s a “lo” or a “.co” at the end, you should be leery
- Trust your gut — if something sounds sensational or unbelievable, it might be worth doing a little digging
- Use authoritative and trustworthy fact checking sites like:
- Use a browser extension for alerts and notifications on suspicions sites and organizations:
- Look for manipulated videos — Washington Post has a great video on how to spot altered video content
4. Practice Self Care
Self-care is essential and beneficial all the time, but it’s even more critical if you’re experiencing recent war anxiety. You can learn how to calm your mind and relieve major stress about the things you have no control over by using some very easy-to-follow techniques that encourage peace and structure in your life.
Deep breathing and relaxation exercises can help decrease anxiety symptoms. Deep belly breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system response, helping to bring our bodies and minds out of that anxiety ‘fight or flight’ response and into a more relaxed ‘rest and digest’ response. It signals to your body and mind that you are safe. To practice this exercise, try taking three deep breaths, making your exhales a little longer than your inhales. Even if it only helps turn the ‘volume’ of your anxiety down from a 10 to a 9, taking small actions like this can support you in doing the next right thing, so that your anxiety is not the decision-maker, but rather, you are.
There’s a reason flight attendants instruct parents to put on their own oxygen mask first in the event of an in-flight emergency. Think of self-care like your oxygen — if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the time, energy, resources, or ability to take care of anyone who needs you.
- Learn how to meditate for anxiety
- Listen to calming music or sounds
- Diffuse essential oils
- Get outdoors
- Be mindful of your sleep schedule
- Eat well
- Stay hydrated
“Getting back to the basics is important when managing anxiety symptoms. Think about how you’re sleeping, if you’re drinking enough water, if you’re moving your body every day (if you’re able-bodied and can do so), eating well, etc. Sleep issues can often manifest as depression or anxiety symptoms. Making sure you can get a strong foundation for your mental health by taking care of your basic needs as best you can is a good line of prevention for mental health conditions. Regarding eating well, consider your caffeine intake. Experiment to see how your anxiety symptoms are with that cup of coffee, and see how your anxiety symptoms feel if you switch to caffeine-free or decaf for a while (you might notice a decrease in anxiety symptoms, but everyone is different).”
5. Learn Your Triggers
Knowing what triggers your anxiety is step one in learning to manage it. If you know that you get riled up when looking at Twitter, avoid it. If a certain person’s posts on Meta ( formerly known as Facebook) stresses you out, mute or unfollow them. If a specific news program is constantly keeping you up worried about the war, think about taking a break or canceling the DVR recording for a bit.
Learning your triggers is a powerful way to take control of your life and your anxiety or depression. This is true during isolated times of stress (like a war) as well as when struggling with the stressors from normal, everyday life.
- Take inventory of things that lead to severe anxiety about the war (and avoid them)
- Notice if a specific activity is triggering you — like scrolling on social media or watching a certain program
- Find things that give you a sense of control
- Mute or delete apps that are triggering your war anxiety
- Avoid conversations or spending time with people who add to your anxiety
6. Lean on Loved Ones
Having a support system can be incredibly important if you’re finding it difficult to know how to deal with anxiety about war. Surround yourself with people who understand you, support you, and want the best for you. Anxiety can result in feelings of isolation, and spending time with people who love and care about you can be helpful.
Remember that you don’t need to only surround yourself with people who are like-minded. That said, realizing who you’re comfortable with might make it easier for you to share your feelings. Getting into combative conversations with people probably isn’t going to be the best for coping with war anxiety.
- Surround yourself with people you can trust
- Don’t be afraid to open up and share your anxiety
- Be honest if you want conversations to remain confidential
- Don’t feel the need to label your feelings
“If you’re a parent or guardian and caring for children or loved ones who are also feeling anxious, find age-appropriate ways of talking with them and supporting them through this. Then you’re not only coping with your war anxiety, but your entire home and community is also getting healthy ways to cope with this anxiety as well.”
7. Focus on the Positives
The power of positive thinking has been proven in scientific research and studies. Particularly if you already struggle with anxiety, or if you’ve been previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, reminding yourself of the good things in life can be a powerful way to combat war anxiety.
Simple acts that focus on the positives can help you manage anxiety about war stress that’s interfering with your daily functioning. One great way to manage anxiety can be to give back or find volunteer opportunities to donate your time and resources to.
“If you’re feeling helpless, but think doing something to help support victims of war might help your anxiety symptoms, look into ways that you can help that feel right for you. No effort is too small. See if doing something for others helps mitigate your anxiety in any way.”
Rosenblatt offers the following ideas:
- Make a monetary donation to an organization doing great work
- Organize a food and clothing drive for your community that you can share with organizations delivering food and basic needs
- Join a solidarity march or movement in your community
- Talk with your kids about offering age-appropriate support to victims (for example, with younger children, you can ask if they want to draw pictures or write letters to people in war-torn communities)
Giving back can make you feel good in times of hopelessness, but there are also several other ways to re-focus your mind on the positives.
- Physically list the people you care about and are grateful for
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Take the time to get outdoors and go for a walk
- Set a time each day to recognize, enjoy, and appreciate the little things you might normally take for granted
8. Come to Terms with Uncertainty
The unfortunate reality is there’s a lot of uncertainty in our world right now. Coming to terms with that, and accepting it, might help you get through your days.
Of course you want to know what tomorrow holds — we all do. That feeling can be wildly amplified if you’re worried for the people who are directly affected by war and concerned about what the ultimate, final outcome might be. However, the simple truth is this: you’re not in control of any of these things. Allowing yourself to accept this idea can be game-changing.
- Make your health a priority
- Take a break from news and negativity
- Acknowledge and accept your emotions, but don’t let them take hold of your mental state
9. Consider Therapy
Therapy can be an invaluable tool when you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear. If you find yourself feeling more anxious than usually because of war anxiety, feel free to ask your therapist for more weekly sessions or more support if that feels helpful.
Let your therapist know how you’re feeling, and ask them for coping skills and ideas to help prevent and manage your anxiety symptoms. In therapy, you learn that you don’t have to believe everything you think, especially anxiety thoughts that can be the worst-case scenario type or automatic negative thoughts.
Learning skills to identify these thoughts and ways to cope with them can be key to managing war anxiety. If you’re prescribed medications for anxiety, make sure you have enough and you’re taking them as directed.
- Take the time to find a therapist you’re comfortable with
- Be willing to put in the work — therapy isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding when you’re committed
- Be patient — therapy doesn’t fix things overnight
“Research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that if you’re feeling anxious, you can try an emotion regulation technique called ‘cognitive distancing’ to start feeling better. Cognitive distancing works by creating some separation between yourself and your feelings. One way to do this is when you’re feeling anxious, talk to yourself in the third person instead of first person. For example, instead of asking yourself “Why did I do that?” ask yourself “Why did <your name> do that?” Self talk matters for managing anxiety symptoms, and therapy by messaging seems to help with that.”
If you feel that your war anxiety is increasing or becoming something you can’t manage on your own, reach out for help with your mental health. You can talk to your doctor or find an online therapist with Talkspace to help you find ways to deal with your anxiety. It’s normal to experience anxiety about war, but you don’t have to go through it alone.
1. “Fake News” & Misinformation – How to Fact Check. Utopia.ut.edu. https://utopia.ut.edu/FakeNews/factcheck#s-lg-box-13625239. Published 2022. Accessed March 4, 2022.
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3. Eagleson C, Hayes S, Mathews A, Perman G, Hirsch C. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Behav Res Ther. 2016;78:13-18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4760272/ Accessed March 4, 2022.