Published On: March 8, 2022
Reviewed On: April 8, 2022
Updated On: October 31, 2023
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.
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.
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.
Expert Insight“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.
Expert Insight“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.”
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.
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.
Expert Insight“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).”
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.
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.
Expert Insight“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.”
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.
Expert Insight“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:
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.
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.
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.
Expert Insight“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 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.
How to Fact Check. Utopia.ut.edu. Published 2022. Accessed March 4, 2022.
Fang, Hong et al. Journal of cellular and molecular medicine vol. 23,4 (2019): 2324-2332. doi:10.1111/jcmm.14170. Accessed March 4, 2022.
Eagleson, Claire et al. Behaviour research and therapy vol. 78 (2016): 13-8. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017. Accessed March 4, 2022.
Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC, was the Senior Clinical Manager at Talkspace until 2022, and is a clinical therapist licensed in CT and NY. A member of the American Psychological Association (APA), Kate completed her Master's degree in Counseling Psychology at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She has over 10 years of experience working with adults on a variety of issues, specializing in eating disorders and working with people going through life stressors such as finding your purpose, career changes, and connecting with your intuition.