Anxiety caused by the world situation

Blog 28.2.2022

We woke up on 24 February 2022 with sad news. The war in Ukraine has begun. The war in Ukraine is, of course, a shocking thing in itself, and our thoughts are with people who are affected by the war. Some of us are personally affected by the war, for example, if your own relatives or close ones live in the war zone.

The war in Ukraine also raises other thoughts in the minds of Finns. Many of us are worried and concerned about our own safety. Could Finland face a war?

A state of war is always a demanding and frightening experience, but the situation in Ukraine is taking place at a time of extraordinary challenges in terms of mental health. For two years now, we have been living in an exceptional situation, which has shaken our basic sense of security.

The COVID-19 period has already been a tough experience for many. For a long time, the changed everyday life and increased worries about health have deprived us of our resources. Just as the situation began to recede towards something more normal, familiar and peaceful, the war broke out. The already accumulated mental stress can now bring painful and difficult thoughts and emotions to the surface even more strongly than normal. You might ask yourself, "What next?" Where will this lead us?

At Mehiläinen, we want to be there for you. We have compiled a list of tips and things to consider as well as information about the functioning of the mind in this challenging situation for the world.

1. Allow yourself to react

When the social situation is worrying, allow yourself to react. Situations related to war and the threat of war typically cause, for example, feelings of fear, uncertainty and anxiety. Feelings of irritation and anger are also common. This emergence of emotions is a human and normal reaction of the mind, which tells us that we are facing important and touching issues.

However, people are also individuals and react to things in different ways and with different degrees of intensity. You should try to understand your close ones and co-workers, even if the reactions and thoughts of the other people are very different from your own. For example, humour can stir strong emotions in times like these. For some, it is typical to approach difficult issues through humour, while for others, the same humour can appear offensive and unsuitable for the situation. In social interaction, we should place emphasis on listening and understanding ourselves and others. The situation affects all of us, but not in the same way.

2. Set limits

One major burden in situations of social crisis is the weakening of the sense of control. The sense of controlling one’s own life is an important part of our well-being, which is now being shaken by both the COVID-19 situation and the war in Ukraine. The world situation may appear chaotic and uncontrollable, which often increases the feeling of fear. The Internet and real-time news bring world events quickly close to our daily lives.

In a burdensome situation, it is good to remind ourselves of things that we can still influence. Especially in times of intense anxiety, it might be beneficial to consciously limit your own circle of life to your actual social circle. If following the news causes intense anxiety, it may be wise to limit the watching of the news to only once a day, for example. For your mental well-being, it is good to remind yourself that right now you are safe and there is peace in Finland. This limiting does not mean that you are insensitive to the situation in Ukraine, but it is a sensible first aid for your mind if feelings of anxiety and fear start to intensify in a way that threatens your well-being.

3. Place special emphasis on your well-being

A difficult world situation consumes our resources and our ability to cope. At times like these, the importance of taking care of one's own well-being is emphasised. The mind and the body are strongly united. This means that, by taking care of your body's well-being, you will also take care of your ability to cope mentally. Sufficient rest, proper nutrition five times a day, exercise and outdoor activities maintain your well-being. Taking care of our well-being gives us the resources to cope with a difficult life situation and emotions.

For example, taking a walk alone or in good company is a great treatment for anxiety. Cold or hot showers, gentle touch, dancing, singing and, for example, swinging in a rocking chair are also good functional ways to calm the body and mind.

4. Seek company

The presence and company of other people are comforting. Talking about the worrying things together helps and reminds us that we are not experiencing this situation alone. Being around other people is usually reassuring. Keep in touch with your close ones and, if possible, seek the company of others. In the work community, more time should be reserved for talking to others. The company of pets often brings comfort and feelings of companionship.

5. Encourage children to speak

Children are masters at sensing things. They notice the changes in talk and expressions of adults, and may hear about the war from the news or their friends. Uncertainty often creates additional fear, which is why it is good to talk to children about war in a way suitable for their maturity level. If the child asks about the war or introduces war themes into their games for example, you should listen, encourage the child to express their worries and answer the questions based on the information you have.

The themes of safety and continuation of normal everyday life should be emphasised. Familiar routines and everyday activities bring a sense of safety to people of all ages and are especially important for children. You can tell the child that a war is a sad thing, but fortunately it is still far from Finland. It is also good to point out to the child that, no matter what happens, the parents are here to take care of them.

6. You can live with uncertainty

Although uncertainty is inherently frightening to the human mind, it is good to remind ourselves that uncertainty is literally what the word means. We do not know what will happen next and how the situation will proceed. Although the mind typically experiences this as a frightening thing, it is good to note that uncertainty also includes the possibility of everything going better than expected. When we do not know what will happen next, it is good to consciously focus on hope. Somehow, hopefully soon, everything will be fine.

The human mind also has an incredible tendency to get used to situations and cope. After the initial shock, we will start to find ways to continue our everyday lives and make room for other things in our minds. Remember that, even in difficult situations, feelings of joy and happiness are also allowed and bring important resources to help people cope.

If you or your work community might benefit from additional support in relation to this topic, please contact your occupational health nurse. Together, we can find the best possible support measures for you.

The author is Mehiläinen's occupational psychologist Milla-Maaria Kansanoja