• War, even for those on the sidelines, can trigger high levels of stress and anxiety, mostly fueled by a sense of powerlessness.
  • News updates, while keeping us informed, play a role in creating this anxiety and an escalated perception of negative events. 
  • Limiting your consumption of content related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict could help you find the balance between staying up to date and getting overwhelmed with negative information. 
  • If thoughts and feelings related to war anxiety become a persistent, disruptive part of your daily life, consider talking to a therapist or counselor about what you’re experiencing. 

The Russia-Ukraine conflict — one of the biggest news stories of the year thus far — continues on without an end in sight. As a result, some difficult changes are occurring here in the US, including the cost of living, our diplomatic relationships with other countries, and (most personally), our mental health. 

War anxiety can spark intense feelings of hopelessness and fear even for those on the sidelines as we wonder what the outcome of the conflict may be. Though it is important to stay informed and involved in current events, we have the ability to receive and process more information than ever before — and the internet offers a tantalizing opportunity to jump down a doom-scrolling rabbit hole. 

Do You Have War Anxiety?

War anxiety occurs as a response to armed conflict, regardless of where it’s occurring. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a prime example of a global event that might spark widespread war anxiety, for those in and outside of Ukraine, but for very different reasons. When Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of his willingness to use nuclear weapons, this also provoked existential concerns from many around the world as well. While any war is undoubtedly brutal, the threat of nuclear force adds a completely different layer of fear to the situation. 

War anxiety is triggered by a fear of armed conflict and might manifest in the following ways: 

  • Doomscrolling: An obsessive need to read as much content as possible related to the conflict or reports of potential fighting 
  • Persistent fears related to the outcome of the war, which may entail fears that your country will become involved, or even attacked 
  • Chronic stress related to the economic effects of war on aspects of everyday life, including gas prices, the cost of food, and the stock market
  • Concern for children and family members whom you want to keep safe

For those in proximity to the conflict itself, war anxiety becomes a very visceral experience, one with a heavier, more visual impact on everyday life and psychological functioning. 

Validating War Anxiety

Like many other forms of anxiety, war anxiety revolves around legitimate concerns that may create valid fear responses. In other words, you’re not “wrong” or “sensitive” for being worried about war — especially one where nuclear weapons have been discussed. And by now, we know that the Russia-Ukraine conflict will have a large impact on the US economy, which has already been beleaguered by COVID-19, protests by manufacturing workers, and supply chain delays. 

But despite all of these very complicated, very real concerns and considerations, the stress that war anxiety can easily provoke has to get shut off at a certain point. Part of the process starts with acknowledging that you may be obsessing over the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a way of learning as much as possible, which is your brain’s way of trying to keep you safe. The more information we can gather about a potential threat, the more comfortable we’ll feel about the decisions we may be forced to make in future situations. 

This is all to say that feelings and emotions that arise from war anxiety are valid; they make sense, and you have every reason to be worried. The next step is learning to manage those thoughts so that the negative emotions they evoke don’t guide your daily behaviors and interactions. 

5 Tips for Coping with War Anxiety

It’s easy to forget that without most of our technology, we’d have no idea there was even a war occurring along the Russia-Ukraine border. One of the best ways to manage war anxiety is to control the source — this is most likely your phone, laptop, or a news station. Doomscrolling is an easy trap to fall into, but whatever information you’re absorbing off the screen is likely not going to become a situation that makes its way to your front doorstep. 

Some ways to manage your war anxiety include: 

  • Silencing media alerts on your devices, minimizing screen time, and keeping your usage to a maximum of 1 hr per day or less. Stay in the loop, but don’t make yourself dizzy.
  • Reaching out to those who are affected by the conflict. One of the most powerful tools the human brain has is its ability to reward us for altruistic behavior toward one another, fighting back against stress and anxiety. Send care packages, find a Ukrainian pen pal or charitable organization which can empower you to directly provide relief and assistance.
  • Talking with those closest to you about the Russia-Ukraine conflict—they may be feeling anxious, confused, or even angry. Just remember that misery loves company; lift your friends and family up. What seems like an off-hand, dark humor remark, such as, “Well, I guess it’s time to start building our bomb shelter,” may be taken poorly by children or even other adults, who are already stressed out enough.
  • Meditating: Many mindfulness-based eastern traditions maintain that it’s impossible to fully resolve feelings of fear until they’ve completely manifested. Therefore, the thought of war may be a subject to sit with and process. With an emphasis on breathwork, acceptance, and compassion, meditation could offer those with war anxiety a respite.
  • Lastly, talk to a mental health professional about your war anxiety. Your mountain of what-ifs connected to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to be mostly made of hypothetical scenarios. A therapist or counselor will help you strengthen your coping skills and assist you as you learn to minimize and control negative thoughts and emotions with confidence. 

War is a horrible event, one that causes pain and suffering not only for those in harm’s way but for people across the globe who feel its effects and consequences, too. We’re living through turbulent times, but there’s only one way we can go, and that’s forward. With some awareness and a good understanding of how to control the emotions war anxiety creates, stress related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict can be successfully managed.