War in Ukraine: How to safeguard your mental health during a time of crisis
Tips & tricks by Olivia Lewis
Tapping into her experience housing mother and daughter refugees from Ukraine, Olivia Lewis offers her tips on how to protect your mental health during a time of global crisis.
I will never forget 24th February 2022. It was my birthday, but more significantly the day Russia launched an unprovoked attack on the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Before that date, many people had little idea of what Ukraine was like, so I suppose I was unusual having spent months there during my PhD (which was about subjective well-being in Ukraine). That day in February, I, like many others, was glued to the news in horror as I watched events unfold. I had an immense feeling of helplessness, combined with an urgent desire to do something useful. And it felt wretched.
The thing is, for most of human history, we have lived in small communities of between 10 and 100 people, so our brains really aren’t designed (or adapted) to take in the amount of news and information we currently do. It can feel overwhelming and negatively impact our mental health. Known as ‘doomscrolling’, it is easy for us to get caught in the trap of constantly consuming bad news online about events over which we have absolutely no control. This has been the case with Ukraine, with the news ebbing and flowing as significant events take place, but a steady flow of horror being readily available to us nonetheless.
In the case of me and my family, we are now five months into hosting a mother and daughter who fled Kyiv as soon as they had sponsors. It’s a bit of a squash but we’ve made it work, although they have had to leave other family behind which remains a huge source of worry for them both. However, with their arrival, I reduced my news consumption and instead focused on the practicalities of hosting – helping them find a school, work, and access the NHS.
What I realised during this process was that, while I can’t influence the path of the war, I can help two people find safety and there is real value in that. It is a tangible thing that I can do which makes a difference and trying to focus on that definitely helps my mental health when the wider situation feels overwhelming.
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How to safeguard your mental health during a time of crisis
I realised that my anxiety levels were creeping up, along with my feelings of helplessness, which wasn’t good for me or in fact having any positive impact on a situation far beyond my control. So, I decided to make some changes in how I was engaging with the situation which I found helped me.
So here are some suggestions on how you can protect your mental health whilst staying engaged and making a difference to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine:
Limit your news consumption – if you feel signs of stress creeping up on you, it might be time to step back from your phone for a while. Whilst it can feel important to be informed and bear witness to things happening in the world, making yourself more stressed about things beyond your control doesn’t help anyone.
Choose your news sources to try and remain accurately informed when you do consume news, such as the BBC and broadsheets. Reading unfounded news or conspiracy theories will not help your mental health and may leave you feeling more confused and concerned.
Amplify Ukrainian voices where you can. For example, on Instagram you could follow @tetyanawrites/@tetyanadenford, @oliahercules, @vinokcollective; @yulia_tymosha, @razom.for.ukraine, @ukrainianspaces, @withukraine, @oksana_par, or @paperplanes_ua to name but a few.
You can donate money or raise funds through an activity in your community for organisations helping on the ground in Ukraine – www.gov.uk gives guidance on how to identify where to donate (Ukraine: what you can do to help).
If you have the resources, you could consider being a sponsor and hosting a Ukrainian refugee. For more information, see Homes for Ukraine: record your interest - GOV.UK. This is obviously a big commitment and needless to say not possible for everyone – but you may also be able to help other hosts locally with clothing donations.
Focus on what you can control
When big world events are happening, it is really important for us to all remember what is and is not within our control. Whilst we can stay aware and bear witness to terrible things, we also need to care for our own mental and physical health. Hopefully the ideas above will give you some ideas about how you can engage with the war in Ukraine in a way that helps you contribute positively whilst staying well.