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Managing Your Stress During Troubling Global Times

People across the world – and Western New York – may be struggling with heightened stress levels due to the military action in Eastern Europe.  Many may worry about loved ones in the Ukraine, some may wonder if it could reach US soil. Often when we experience these large worldwide events, we worry about negative outcomes close to our hearts or our homes, particularly when we over-indulge in non-stop news cycles, including social media.

While it’s important to be aware and well-informed, processing negative news can be overwhelming. Here are some tips and techniques for managing our personal stress while we reflect on the devasting news coming from Ukraine.

Action, Engagement and Advocacy.  Feeling helpless can often make it difficult to manage feelings of anxiety.  This is especially true when it comes to a political event of this magnitude. The bigger the event, the more helpless we can feel.  What can we do to help?  Some people will attend peaceful rallies to advocate for those who are directly affected by the war.  Some are posting pictures of a sunflower – the national flower of Ukraine – on their social media pages to show their support.  There are many organizations collecting resources and funds to ship medical supplies and humanitarian aid for wounded Ukrainian soldiers and refugees.  The City of Buffalo has raised the Ukrainian flag in Niagara Square to show its collective stance in solidarity, many Buffalonians have done so at their own homes. The Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center website and Facebook page are good places to stay current with local advocacy and support efforts.

Prioritize rest.  It is easy to get immersed in to consuming current events. 24 hour news channels and the endless streams on social media bombard us with an abundance of information. Create limits for yourself. Set a reasonable bedtime each night and follow the same bedtime routine nightly. Turn off devices well before bedtime, read a book, enjoy a hobby or put together a puzzle prior to bedtime.

Eat healthy and have a meal routine.  Taking care of our physical health helps us take care of our mental health.  Eat healthy meals and snacks throughout the day.  Stay hydrated, avoid prepackaged snack foods if possible and make sure you eat a balanced meal.  Avoid salty foods that can increase your blood pressure or sugary foods that leave you lethargic.

Exercise daily.  Moving more is a great way to relieve stress.  It’s easy to get stuck scrolling on our phones.  Exercise has physiological benefits for stress relief as well as provide a great distraction from the topics that heighten our stress levels.

Practice mindfulness.  Anything that seems out of our control can cause anxiety, having to deal with these massive world events one after another lessens our sense of predictability.  Set an intention at the beginning of each day.  Each morning write down a work goal or a personal goal you’d like to focus on.  Put it on a note and stick it to your computer or on your kitchen cabinet.  It will prompt you to check in with yourself and be mindful of behaviors you can change. Live in the moment.

Reach out to your support system.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to the ones you love.  Reaching out to others can improve our ability to cope with stressful situations.  It provides us comfort when we know others are there for us.  If you don’t have a formal support network, have a quick chat with a neighbor, visit a house of worship, or do some volunteer work to help connect you with others.

Avoid “catastrophizing.” Try not to focus on the what if’s.  This can be easy to do when we see others suffering or fleeing precarious situations.  A person who catastrophizes usually sees a negative outcome to an event.  They then decide if this outcome happens it will result in a disaster for themselves or others.  Catastrophizing can lead to anxiety and depression because a person magnifies the problem to seem immediately worse than it is. If you find yourself doing this acknowledge the bad thing that happened, say “stop!”, don’t allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole.  Think of another outcome and then offer yourself a positive affirmation.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out for professional help.  Escalated anxiety during these times is normal and a valid reaction. Professional support can provide you with the tools you need to manage your anxiety symptoms or see how they are impacting your life. Talk to a professional.  Our counselors here at Spectrum Health are here for you.

Lisa Ardovini

Clinical Director

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