Dealing with anxious thoughts during an ongoing crisis

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Does the war in Ukraine affect you? Simply reacting is the normal reaction to difficult events, changes and news. Anxiety, stress, and outrage are common reactions and it is not only those who are directly exposed to war who are affected. Even when you are not exposed to physical danger and instead receive news of war, you can still be deeply affected by hearing about it. This reaction is similar to a stress reaction. This can be used as motivation, which for many is translated into helping people on the run, reviewing our own crisis preparedness, or donating money to fundraisers. Fear and anxiety are obviously difficult and uncomfortable feelings to have, and they consume our energy. No matter how natural they are, we need to take care of ourselves.

Basic advice for mental wellbeing

When you are involved in a crisis, whether it is personal or affect our society at large, there are still things you can do. Here is some advice that can lay the foundation for your mental well-being, especially during a crisis.

Prioritize your circadian rhythm:

It is important to have a decent rhythm for sleep, being active (whether it is related to work or if you are unemployed/on sick leave/parental leave), when you are off the clock, when you eat etcetera. Structure and routine doesn't have to be boring - think of it as the rhythm of your life. Having a rhythm in your life is like dancing to great music, and sometimes go off on a great guitar solo, but then return to the rhythm. Pretty much everyone feel worse if their days and nights are turned upside down.

Stay active and busy:

We don't feel good when we are passive and act without purpose, and often it leads to anxiety and depression. What do you like to do? Do you like working, going for walks, socializing, making puzzles, exercising, solving crossword puzzles, bird-watching, reading novels, tending to the garden, taking photos, baking bread, listening to music, volunteering or collecting stamps? Keeping busy with everyday activities can be difficult, but in the end helpful, especially during times of crisis.

Stay in touch with other people: 

Talking about what you are experiencing can be helpful, and it can feel supporting hearing what other people are going through. In part it can be about not feeling alone, but it can also feel nice to be able to talk about other things. Have dinner with family and friends. Invite a friend over for coffee. Pick up the phone and call someone. Give support to someone else. Look for activities in church, at the gym, the library or in the community.

Take care of yourself physically: 

Make sure that you eat properly, stay active and get some daylight. These things also play a big role in our mental well-being. It has been proven that exercise is effective in counteracting anxiety, stress, and depression, and at least 30 minutes of daylight every day helps us, among other things, to feel more alert and happier.

How do I deal with anxious thoughts?

You should expect that your anxious thoughts will keep spinning while you do other things - that's what thoughts do. But there are good strategies for dealing with thoughts. Note that this is about managing the thoughts you have, rather than getting rid of them. It seldom works to try to stop thinking about something - instead the thoughts come even more often.

Make a plan for your news intake 

Do you constantly check the news? News about war and crises is worrying, and it is neither good to avoid them nor to constantly take in everything. Help yourself by planning your news intake, tailored to your situation: which news sources do you check, and when? For example: I read about 15 minutes on a news site in the morning, and then I watch the news in the evening.

Make room for your thoughts 

Imagine your thoughts transmitting on an inner radio. You can listen to them with more or less attention. You can also choose to just let you’re anxious thoughts be Instead of answering them and thinking about them all the time. There might be worrying things and problems to solve, so make a plan for when you intend to work on these things, so you can spend the rest of your time not worrying. You can practice this with several different exercises. If you have downloaded the NudgeLabs app you can find tools for managing your thoughts. You can also listen to the audio book “Råd till dig som är stressad och trött”, which is available on streaming services like Storytel and Bookbeat. In this book there is a chapter with exercises about managing thoughts (Advice 4).

A great life hack for crisis stress 

Some people feel like the advice given above is too simple to work, and start looking for other tips and tricks. In fact, following this advice is a really smart life hack. Rhythm that benefits sleep, work, your social life, eating right, planning your news intake and make room for your thoughts. If your foundation is solid you can also help yourself with relaxation exercises to help your body and soul relax. You can find exercises in the NudgeLabs app, and there are also some basic exercises at 1177.

More support

The Red Cross has gathered 10 tips for managing anxiety in regards to the situation in the world.

The Red Cross is one of many organizations that are on location, helping people in Ukraine. You can send your support via Swish to 900 80 79, or give some of your time.

If you are feeling down in a way where it affects your life, please contact your health center.

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About the Author

MSc in Psychology from Uppsala University, PhD from University of Oxford in workplace stress. Author of five books. Previously researcher at Karolinska Institutet, and Head of Clinic, deputy CEO and director of the board at Stressmottagningen.

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