Let’s just say it: These past few years have been challenging. From a deadly pandemic that has shattered our concept of “normal life.” To a racial reckoning that exposed (to those who weren’t already aware) how systemic racism is in our country.
The Russian war on Ukraine — the largest conventional military attack on a country since World War II — is only adding to people’s anxiety levels. Whether you have loved ones in Ukraine who are trying to get to safety or you’re doomscrolling through your feed to get caught up on the latest, it’s…a lot to process. And there’s no right way to respond. But there are ways to acknowledge how you feel while also finding methods to cope and improve your mental state. So we asked psychologist Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein for some advice.
What should I do if I feel like I’ve run out of emotions?
If your reaction to the Ukraine news is a non-reaction, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a “bad person,” Dr. Rubenstein says, adding that you’re likely just burned out.
“I think a lot of us are in compassion-fatigue mode at this moment. And even witnessing something like this, we maybe don’t feel the way that we might’ve two years ago, because we are so worn down,” says Dr. Rubenstein. “We're humans. We’re not built to chronically be in a state of panic and it's OK to recognize that.”
If you’re feeling a bit numb, it might be wise in this case to focus on self-compassion, Dr. Rubenstein says.
“Look for something to soothe your nervous system to calm down. Figure out what helps you take care of yourself,” she says. And then make a real point to do those destress activities as if they’re another must-attend meeting on your calendar.
And if you’re going through personal challenges right now, here’s a reminder that “multiple struggles and suffering can go on at the same time and it doesn't invalidate your pain,” Dr. Rubenstein says.
What if it’s hard to stop doomscrolling?
Dr. Rubenstein says that constantly consuming lots of negative news about a single topic can lead to what one therapist has coined headline stress disorder. Aka feeling anxiety and stress from reading too much news. And once you start scrolling, it can be hard to stop. After all, Dr. Rubenstein says “headlines are emotionally charged and they are meant to pull you in and make you feel.”
For many people, headline stress disorder might have become a regular part of everyday life, Dr. Rubenstein says. Because after going through a pandemic, she says “we’ve had those headlines now for so long." She suggests figuring out how much information is just enough to stay current.
“We all have different tolerances for this kind of information,” Dr. Rubenstein says. “And figuring out the motivation behind your urge to keep reading is important.”
Finding a balance that works for you can help with your mental health and sleep.
What can I do if I’m feeling overwhelmed by the news?
You might want to start by talking to a friend, family member, or therapist about how the news is making you feel. It’s about “checking in with someone else and connecting over it versus disconnecting,” Dr. Rubenstein says. “When we’re feeling scared, that can be really helpful.”
It’s also a good opportunity to reach out to your own loved ones and remind them that you care.
If you think you’ll feel better by doing something “tangible,” Dr. Rubenstein suggests donating money. It could go toward a number of the verified organizations we Skimm’d that are helping Ukrainian refugees and those still on the ground — like the Ukrainian Red Cross and Save the Children.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that it’s true to your values (and not performative activism).
It’s important to stay aware of what’s going on in the world around you. But it’s understandable if the current headlines are causing you concern, compassion fatigue, or something in between. Acknowledge your feelings, be intentional about your limits, and reach out to your network when you need additional support.