The War in Ukraine & Your Mental Health

Updated: Mar 12

For many people seeing the events associated with the act of war against Ukraine is deeply upsetting. It's a natural emotion to feel disturbed when seeing one's fellow humans being brutalized. It can invoke a wide range of feelings from helplessness to anger. In short, you are not alone in how troubled you may feel about these events.


War has a catastrophic effect on the physical and mental health health of nations. Studies have shown that such conflict situations cause more mortality and disability than any major disease. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children, adults and soldiers no matter the outcome of the conflict. There simply are no winners. Death as a result of war is simply the tip of the iceberg. The mental health effects of war can linger for years or even lifetimes.


To learn more see, "Mental health consequences of war: a brief review of research findings", https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472271/.


With that harsh reality in mind, the question turns to, "What can you do to deal with these upsetting emotions?"

First, recognize that these are tragic events and that it’s completely natural for you to feel such emotions. And that everyone experiences such situations differently. If your experience is more intense than someone else’s, it doesn’t mean your experience is wrong.

Also, recognize the timing of this conflict. For the past two years you’ve been living with the challenges of a historic pandemic. This takes its toll and can make subsequent events even more challenging.

There are things you can do. Invest extra energy into your nutrition and sleep. When you experience increased stress your body and mind need additional help that sleep and nutrition can provide. Be careful about using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.


Be aware of cognitive distortions. When extreme situations happen it’s easy to jump to distortions like catastrophizing, all or nothing thinking, or fortune telling. Be conscious of thinking that contains words like always, never, should or must.

Be aware of guilt. It’s easy to see horrific images and to feel guilty that you have a roof over your head and a warm meal to eat while others are fleeing a war zone. However, mentally punishing yourself isn't helpful to you or those in the war zone. Try to shift your focus from guilt to gratitude. There's a big difference in feeling grateful for a roof over your head versus feeling guilty about it. Gratitude puts you in a better place, and when you're in a better place you're more able to help others.


Be willing to be vulnerable and to talk to others about how you’re feeling. Hearing yourself express your feelings can be especially helpful. Particularly if you’re used to keeping things bottled up inside. You may also realize that others share your feelings.


It's easy to over consume stories of a conflict in an attempt to have a sense of control. However, this can be counterproductive. Instead try to limit your exposure to the stories about the conflict. It can be helpful to set a fixed time and duration each day when you can check in regarding the conflict, e.g. evenings at 7pm for 15 minutes. When that time ends go back to your day knowing you can return to the stories at the next scheduled time. This can also apply to social media. When our emotions are intense we can be more reactive and susceptible to fake news and disinformation.


Spend conscious time to counterbalance the stories of the conflict with uplifting content. This may be the time to read light fiction or watch funny movies. It's not easy because we think thoughts like, "How can I read fiction when people are suffering in a war zone?" But again, you are better able to help other people when you take care of yourself.


Do something proactive. Give blood, prepare care packages, write letters of support, attend a protest, or donate money. Even post on social media a show of support for those affected. (But be careful about getting sucked into reactive interactions.)

Be aware of particularly troubling thoughts or feelings. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Talk with a trusted relative, friend or spiritual advisor. If needed reach out to a professional. You can find resources on our website, https://www.getmoodfit.com/mental-health-resources.


In summary, these are stressful times. You are not alone in feeling their impact. Try to limit your exposure, take extra care of you, put your energy into things you can control like your sleep and nutrition, and be conscious of how much news of the conflict you are consuming.


If you'd like to help the Ukrainian refugees, please go to the Charity Navigator.