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How to manage your own emotions, and still care about Ukraine (or other events like it)

Feb 27, 2022

Social media and news outlets (including LinkedIn) are saturated with content, updates, articles, views and opinions about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

If you have family or friends in and around Ukraine or Russia, then kia kaha ōku ngā hoa – be strong my friends. This article may not be for you. But, even if you don’t have family or friends there, it is quite normal if you are feeling anxious, worried, powerless, upset, angry or just finding it hard to make meaning of what you are seeing and hearing. Maybe you find yourself ‘doomscrolling’ where you can’t stop consuming ‘bad news’ from social media and news feeds, even though it’s disheartening and depressing. Social media is a terrible trigger for this, and we have learned first-hand during the COVID pandemic the impact such news and scrolling can have on your sleep, mood, mental health and overall wellbeing.

For the records, I too feel angry and saddened for what the soldiers and civilians are having to suffer. I spent 18 years in the military. That doesn’t make me an expert in world politics, but I can’t help but notice the same trends – politicians make decisions, soldiers have to execute orders, and civilians pay the price for years to come. But that is not why I am writing this, nor is this a political option piece. It’s quite the opposite.  

So, if you are feeling anxious, worried, powerless, upset, angry or just plain emotional about what you are seeing and hearing about Ukraine or Russia, then consider these are six things to help maintain your own emotions and mental wellbeing, whilst continuing to care and empathise about the people that are being impacted by the conflict.

1) Acknowledge that not everything is going to make sense right now, no matter how much you want it to. Your mind is designed to want to seek out more information to cope with the uncertainty and create a narrative to help you gain a sense of “control” over what you are seeing and hearing. Your narrative will likely have a hero, a villain, a victim and a journey towards moral triumph. But not every situation needs or fits a perfect moral narrative, and that can feel uncomfortable.

2) Know what you can control and influence. That’s all you can do. unless you are in a position where you can actually influence what’s happening in Eastern Europe. But there is always something you can do that’s within your sphere of control, whether it’s reaching out to someone who has been impacted or making a donation to one of the many funds set up for Ukraine. Do something that’s meaningful to you and those whom you are trying to help. Outraging on social media may not be the most constructive option, although I can understand and empathise with the reason some people do it.

3) Limit your consumption of social media and news, as much as you can and need to. Easier said than done in this day and age of instant notifications. Do what you must to create boundaries, by turning off your screens, notification, feeds or devices. If a particular issue or story has triggered you, give it some time and come back to it when you have created the necessary emotional distance and perspective.

4) Broaden your scope of thinking. This is a big one, especially when it comes to political matters. Something I learned early in my career and it has served me well as a leader and an individual. Widen your scope of thinking by deliberately seeking our opposing views that challenge your opinions, rather than simply consuming content that serves as ‘conformation bias’ for your own narrative. Be critical and watch out for bias and hidden agendas in mainstream and social media, before you like or reshare the content.  

5) As a leader, think about those in your team or company, who could be directly or indirectly impacted. You may also have people from broader Eastern Europe who may have close ties to the two Russia or Ukraine or Kiwis who have close friends there. Watch for real or perceived divisive tendencies which tend to emerge in such situations, and extend your support where you can. Not everyone will actively reach out for support, not everyone will need an ‘intervention’. Sometimes just listening and acknowledging can go a long way.

6) Be mindful about the ‘cost of caring’ with all the emotionally charged stories and pictures circulating in the media right now. This is linked with compassion fatigue, which happens when we care so much about others, that we reach a point where our capacity to empathise starts to diminish. It’s more prominent in professionals who are regularly exposed to trauma. But a similar effect has been found from the consumption of social media content that exposes us to similar emotions. Be mindful of the impact of such emotional content on your own mental health and capacity to empathise.

Finally, this article is not meant to underestimate or undermine what’s happening in Ukraine at the moment.

Rather, it is intended to help those who may be feeling anxious, worried, powerless, upset and emotional. The social media content right now may only fuelling your fire, so I hope you find these tips helpful so you can manage your own emotions, and continue to care and do what you can for those impacted in Ukraine and Russia.

Image Credit: Flipsnack on Unsplash