When the threat of war shocks the mind – instructions on how to regulate stress reactions 

On Thursday, February 24, 2022, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine. War naturally shocks people's sense of basic security. It is natural and normal reaction to this abnormal situation that war is.

At first, the reaction might have been disbelief. It's been hard to believe what has happened. The disbelief of the beginning may have been followed by various psychological and physical symptoms. Emotions can vary from side to side. There is sadness, paralysis, anger, anxiety and even a sense of guilt. The body can go into overdrive, it is difficult to concentrate and sleep can be disturbed. When the sense of security is shaken, it is natural that a stress reaction is triggered in the body. 

The strongest reactions often relieve themselves in a few days or weeks. It's a good sign if you can sometimes focus on other, everyday things and get joy from everyday events. While the world situation worries you, you're allowed to enjoy your own life here and now. Your primary task is to take care of your own well-being so that you remain functional in your own life. 

It is important to be sympathetic to your own emotional reactions. There is no right or wrong way to react to the situation. It may also be that events do not provoke big emotional reactions in yourself. When it comes to emotions, you can practice facing and accepting them. Emotion is just a feeling, it rises and also gradually passes without actually having to do anything about the feeling. Sense where in the body the feeling is felt and name it. After that, you can pay attention to your breathing and, if necessary, deepen it if the breathing is superficial and agitated.  

It is also natural if your mind begins to wander into the future. Disaster thoughts come to mind. You might think all the worst case scenarios that could happen. That kind of reaction is normal. The mind tries to solve the situation by thinking. However, it is good to pay attention to what can and cannot be influenced by yourself. A single person doesn´t really have much influence on what is happening in the bigger picture but the person can influence how they react to their own feelings and thoughts.  

It is good to treat thoughts as the output of one's own mind, not as facts. If you find yourself worried, you can practice noticing your thoughts simply as a product of your mind and practice letting go of it. There are no need to reject or avoid thoughts. Instead, it's good to just notice the thought and let it go. You can then draw attention to the present moment and what you are doing at that particular moment. Narrowing the time perspective can make it easier to cope. Where am I right now and what do I hear, see, smell and feel in my surroundings? What things are good in your life right now? In the end, our lives are happening here and now, in the present moment and not in the future. 

A stress reaction can also be decompressed through the body. If you are having a difficult situation in life, it´s very important to use constructive stress coping skills. Constructive stress coping skills include those habits that help trigger the body's parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body. When the parasympathetic nervous system is running, the feeling is safe and calm. 

  Constructive stress coping skills are for example, the following: 

  • Breathing exercises such as deep breathing 
  • Body relaxation exercises, yoga 
  • Mindfulness skills exercises  
  • Spending time with close people, friends and family 
  • Petting a pet 
  • Moving around in nature (already 20 min. is enough) 
  • Exercise (not too heavy exercise) 
  • Maintaining everyday routines (e.g. participation in teaching) 
  • Healthy and regular diet 
  • Adequate sleep and regular sleep rhythm 
  • Meaningful hobbies 
  • Hand-making like handicrafts 
  • Listening to inspiring music 

It is also a good idea to ensure that you do not maintain a stress reaction through your own actions. Identify situations that increase your anxiety or concern. 

Doomscrolling, or the constant browsing of news and clips related to the war in Ukraine. Limit the time it takes to read the news, just read reliable sources, and don't expose yourself unnecessarily to the war images. Constantly reading the news brings a momentary sense of control, but can increase ill-feeling in the long run. 

Ruminating things alone or constantly talking about war with others. Agree on where, when and how to talk about it and when not to. You can set limits, because worrying doesn't make you feel better. 

Substance use does not help regulate emotions, but adversely affects mood. 

Isolation, passivity and giving up the daily rhythm lower the mood. 

Keeping yourself busy without breaks, rest and recovery time. Excessive over-tuning and loading can lead to exhaustion. 

Gradually, as a person begins to adapt to the changed situation, the strongest emotional reactions begin to decrease and the ability to function is restored. Of course, war and the threat of war feel bad, but thinking of war is not constant and it does not hinder everyday life. One's own thoughts are starting to focus more on action, for example, in providing help to those who need it. Every act that creates hope is important. Helping others creates a sense of meaning in life. There are many ways to help, and help can be targeted at war victims or e.g. your own loved ones. The most important thing is that good can be used to create good. 

If you are unable to detach yourself from war-related thoughts even through constructive stress coping skills, or if you feel that you need help dealing with the situation, it is important to contact the person providing crisis work or the emergency department, who can offer help quickly: 


More guides to dealing with the emotions of the threat of war: 





Last updated: 17.3.2022