Sunday, August 14, 2022

Russia and Ukraine war: Therapists share how to look after your mental health

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With worrying case numbers, news of new Covid mutations and lockdowns over the past two years, it’s safe to say recent times have left many struggling with their mental health.

And, while the government decided to end the majority of Covid restrictions, fresh worries were sparked after Russia devastatingly invaded Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, 2022.

Fears of a European war have undoubtedly led to sleepless nights and an inability to switch off for many, as well as feelings of helplessness, anger and shock.

You may be struggling with your mental health amid the Russia and Ukraine war


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While there are no official guidelines stating exactly how to cope if a war breaks out, we’ve spoken to two psychologists who have shared actionable tips that can help you to protect your mental health.

Whether you chose to implement one, two or all six methods in your day-to-day life, it’s also important to remember to be kind to yourself. You won’t be the only one struggling to focus in meetings or to face a dip in productivity, so try not to be too hard on yourself.

Six expert tips to help you protect your mental health amid war anxiety

Control the volume of news you consume daily

Avoid the temptation to check the news multiple times an hour


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When news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine broke, some may have chosen to immerse themselves in the news as it was unfolding.

However, others may have chosen to protect themselves from the details of brutality and inhumanity unfolding in the region by avoiding the news entirely.

While the latter may be tempting and completely detaching from the news on days when you’re anxiety is at an all-time high would be ideal, Senior Therapist at Working On the Body Sally Baker tells The Mirror why this isn’t a healthy coping technique.

She says: “When the news is this catastrophic and this big, everyone you meet wants to tell you it anyway. So, trying to stay completely out of the loop probably isn’t that effective for anxiety.

“What is more important is that you cherry-pick and decide when you’ll access the news. So, if you’re at home during the day, you may decide to turn on the news at 1pm. Make a decision about what news you’re going to pay attention to and keep to that.”

Dr Nilufar Ahmed, Psychologist at the University of Bristol and Psychotherapist, echoes this and suggests: “Try and minimise the content you are consuming. Limit your time scrolling to set times in the day – the news is relentless and you will catch up very quickly.

It’s important that you force yourself to answer the following question she poses honestly, too. Dr Ahmed says: “Think about the last few days – what developments were happening that you had to know immediately? Could you have found out the developments by checking in once or twice a day?

“If the answer is yes, then you can consider cutting back on how frequently you are engaging with it.”

Protecting your child’s mental health is crucial, too, with all the disruption they have also faced over the past few years.

When it comes to watching the news, Sally says: “They [children] can pick up on the distress, they can hear in the voice without even seeing the pictures. So, it’s really important not to have the news in the background all the time.

Avoid doomscrolling

We’ve all been there, a breaking news story drops and the next thing you know you’re in the dark depths of Twitter having watched every horrific video and seen every questionable take.

Sally Baker tells the Mirror: “Doomscrolling is incredibly addictive and time-consuming – especially on Twitter, as it’s updating every second. There’s just no end to it and it’s completely overwhelming.”

Of the current situation, Sally explains: “We’re trying to deal with it, we’re trying to make sense of it and what we need to realise is that we actually can’t make sense of it.

“It’s too huge and we don’t get clarity from being completely plugged into the minute-by-minute, bomb-by-bomb activity in Ukraine because it doesn’t make any sense.”

So, what can you do now that you’ve got some insight into exactly why we do this to ourselves?

Sally explains: “This is why you’ve really got to be very hot on your boundaries. For example, by saying ‘OK I’m just going to look at the news for 10 minutes, I’ll just turn it on as it starts and get the headlines rather than all the commentary’ or ‘I won’t doomscroll’.

“Doomscrolling always takes you down a spiral and there’s always more comment and links. It is an endless spiral down into more and more overwhelm.”

Dr Nilufar Ahmed says: “To minimise doomscrolling – don’t scroll first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Many people reach for the phone to scroll in bed. This will be a good habit to instil generally.

“Take a few minutes (or even 30 seconds) to close your eyes and take deep breaths in and out. This will immediately slow down and calm your system.”

Fix your phone addiction

This is the ‘golden moment’ to fix your phone addiction, according to therapist Sally Baker


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While smartphones are valuable for numerous reasons such as for seeking out knowledge and instant communication in troubling times, the way we use them can also vastly impact our mental health.

As Dr Nilufar Ahmed and Sally Baker have stated, starting and ending your day with scrolling is a habit to wean yourself out of now more than ever.

Sally says: “If you’ve been one of those die-hards who refuses to put their phone in another room at nighttime, this is your absolute golden moment to move your phone into the hallway or to another room.”

Our phones now allow us to set screen time limits as a whole or on an app-by-app basis. Utilise this by checking which apps you use the most and setting a strict limit on your usage of them.

Think about what you actually gain from checking Twitter three times an hour or Instagram for an hour every evening right before you sleep.

Assess your stress levels

Many of us will spend the day hunched over our desks, jaws clenched, shoulders tensed and rarely taking a deep breath.

While it’s easy to end the day and reflect on how stressful it was, Sally Baker suggests that we should be doing this throughout the day to check in with ourselves.

She explains how: “One of the things that immediately happens when we become stressed and overwhelmed is that the depth of our breathing becomes suppressed.

“Assess your breathing on a scale of 0, I’m dead, and 10, I’m breathing deeply, freely and fully.

“If you got people to take three intuitive breaths and score their breathing. Do this with an understanding that the more shallow their breathing, the more stressed they are. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were breathing at a two or a three.”

Check in with yourself to understand your stress levels throughout the day

If you find this to be the case when you pause and take three breaths, Sally says: “That is a sign that you need to get the hell away from the TV, turn off the radio and go out for a walk somewhere green.”

She adds: “Call a friend, and you’ll obviously do the five minutes of news and war recaps, but then say to each other ‘I want to move on from this and talk to you about other stuff’.”

Ground yourself with tapping techniques

While people often fidget when stressed, there are techniques you can adopt instead, which will help you to calm down and refocus.

Meridian Energy Techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping, involve tapping on the Meridian points of the body to help refocus your mind.

Sally Baker tells the Mirror: “There’s a Meridian energy technique where you tap on your collarbone, a place your hand often automatically goes to when you hear bad or shocking news.

“Tap around there [your collarbone] with all the fingers of one hand – like a soft fist – as you breathe. This technique helps to recentre you.”

Stuck in back-to-back meetings all day? She reveals an alternative method that she, herself, uses: “You can tap on the sides of your fingernails with your thumb.

“You just tap around your two hands and you can do it under your desk. Like worry beads, it helps you focus.”

Cut out the booze

It could be time to stop drinking alcohol


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While it can be tempting to lean on a glass or three of wine as coping mechanisms to escape the terrifying news and events the world is facing, this can do drastically more harm than good.

Not only are you bound to feel worse the next day with a groggy mind, headaches and even regrettable actions or behaviour, but alcohol also impacts your sleep.

Sally firmly advises cutting it out altogether if you’re feeling anxious or stressed out by current events, saying: “This isn’t nonsense, you need to watch your drinking because you need your REM sleep.

“Alcohol consumption cuts down the number of REM sleep sequences that you’ll have during the night.”

Follow the 20-minute rule

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, helpless and exhausted by the current situation in Ukraine, it can be tempting to spend your free time watching TV on the sofa or scrolling in your bed.

Though it may seem like the last thing you want to do, getting up and exercising is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

The best bit? You only need to do it for 20 minutes to start feeling the benefits.

Exercising for just 20 minutes can help boost your mood



Sally Baker explains: “To change how you’re feeling takes 20 minutes of some kind of constant activity before the serotonin and dopamine is released into your brain.

“If you’re going to go for a walk, don’t go for 15 minutes go for 20 minutes, the same goes for swimming and other activities. Allow your brain the time to release its feel-good hormones and you can do that through exercise or even dancing in your kitchen.”

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