Protecting your mental health when feeling fearful
How can we regulate our nervous system at such testing times? Read this blogpost to understand your emotional response to the war and for tips on how to regulate yourself.
Thankfully, most living Europeans haven't experienced war; and for many, even the thought of a war on European soil was absurd until a few weeks ago. With dread, we follow the news from Ukraine; and with care, we house refugees and make collections of money as well as clothing and toys to help the best we can from a distance.
Underlying these humanitarian actions, there might be a fear that the war will spread; and it can be difficult to go about one's everyday tasks if thoughts of catastrofic nature take the better of you.
Below, you will find a few pointers to look after your mental health during these times:
Acknowledge that fear is a survival mechanism
Ultimately, we are on Earth to survive and to ensure the survival of the species.
To protect us, our brains constantly scan our surroundings for life threatening dangers. Just as when covid broke, when we hear of the war, a fear response starts with the aim of enabling us to focus and prepare for fight or flight.
This is natural.
When you feel fearful, remind yourself that in Denmark, you are not in immediate danger, but that your brain has locked war as a potential danger - a natural response which is installed to help you.
Fear in itself is not dangerous, but if appropriate and utilised according to the situation, it's actually helpful.
You can read more about fear and anxiety in a blogpost I published in March 2020 around covid; much of the advice is also applicable in the current situation. Read the post here.
Be mindful of your news consumption
As with Covid, it's tempting to indulge on news reports, but it's advisable not to. Carefully, choose your sources and avoid the ones which have a tendency to stir up panic. Allocate yourself set time slots to check the news. If you find yourself upset or fearful afterwards and/or unable to sleep, set a "curfew" in the sense that you refrain from checking the news after dinner.
By talking with friends and family, you are likely to learn that you aren't the only one with fearful thougths. Many find support in sharing what they are scared of. Find ways of supporting each other without letting your fears take the better of you.
Remember to not burden you children with this. For advice on how to talk with children about the war, click here.
Go about your everyday life & shift your focus
Remind yourself that Denmark is not at war, and that you are in no emminent danger. Also, be mindful that emotions are nothing but emotions; in themselves they have no power to make things happen - regardless of the level of our fear.
Shift your focus: By returning to your daily tasks, your brain will pick up on not being in danger right now, and you will be able to calm your nervous system.
Many people find that they have an urge to help. This is part of our survival mechanism and again a way of regulating your nervous system. We are build to be strong when most needed.
Help however you can: house refugees, contribute to collections, and volunteer your time, but don't go in over your abilities. Respect your own boundaries and ressources: You won't be of help to anyone if you promise too much or volunteer for something you aren't skilled to do.
More on emotional regulation
Below, you will find a selection of advice from the above mentioned blogpost on fear from March 2020 when covid had just broken out in Europe - you might still find this advice useful:
It’s my clinical and personal experience that to manage our fear, we need to
Remember, that all emotions are temporary.
Acknowledge your emotions. Repressing them only fuels your emotions and make them worse.
By allowing yourself to just sit with your emotions, they will decrease in intensity.
Remember, that you feeling scared of something doesn’t mean that that something will happen.
Be careful not to stir up things! If you don’t fuel your emotions, they will decrease in intensity.
Remember, that all thoughts are transitory - like emotions, they come and go.
We can witness our thoughts, just like emotions.
If we pause, we can choose to engage with our thoughts if they are helpful - and to not engage with them if they are unhelpful.
It is possible to engage constructively with our thoughts rather than allowing them to hold us hostage
Breathe and pause before acting. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel your body lean against a wall, the chair you are sitting in or the sofa you are lying on. Breathe. Breathe heavier and heavier. Feel yourself settling, grounding.
Develop an awareness of how to best help yourself and others.
Acknowledge other people’s emotions and thoughts.
Talk openly about your thoughts, fears and other emotions! The likelihood is, you aren’t the only one feeling how you feel.