How do we deal with the terrible war in Ukraine?

These are challenging times.

After a two-year global pandemic, with the fear and loss of COVID-19 still by our side, we watch a war unfold. Every day there is bad news – Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, are pouring through Europe with only their clothes on their backs. Russian bombs destroy houses, hospitals and apartments. People die. It seems so unnecessary. Russia is attacking a country of 40 million people for no reason any of us can understand. In light of the global pandemic, this is a time when the world should work together for the good of all.

Every night the television news brings us images of disaster and human suffering. I can only watch so much. It’s too much to bear.

Added to this misery is the fear of nuclear war. Russia has an arsenal of nuclear weapons. We ask ourselves – is Putin out of joint? Will he start World War III? We don’t know what endgame the Russian leader has in mind. We fear for the safety of ourselves, our families and the world.

This war is far enough from our homes that it seems removed from our everyday lives. We still work, play, shop and plan vacations. Most of our pain is at the pump when gas prices go up.

This European war is comparable to our experience of 9/11 when our country was attacked. It is comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis, another terrible moment in our history. During the Cold War, we wondered if nuclear war would destroy the world. The end of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall heralded a less frightening time. But now who knows?

How are these world events affecting us? How can we react to that?

Our nervous system is ignited. Our autonomic nervous system monitors our internal and external environment for potential threats. War, conflict or potential danger put our nervous system on high alert. It can activate our sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight mechanism. We can feel jittery, our heart rate increases, and we can feel tense or irritable. Our sleep can be disturbed. Pre-existing sensitivities such as headaches, back pain or gastrointestinal disorders can be aggravated.

Some adults and children may worry more about other things – school, work, health, family members, or finances. The war in Ukraine is adding oil to the already existing fires in the nervous system.

Our body doesn’t like prolonged stress. And we are still two years behind us of COVID-19 and its impact on our lives. With war so far away, we must not attribute our present physical and mental condition to world events. But believe me, we are all affected by world events.

Acknowledge your fears. Sometimes I want to bury my head in the sand, turn off the TV news and unsubscribe from the internet news. I want to focus on what I can control and take a break from my worries. But at the same time, it’s important to admit that I’m deeply concerned about what’s going on in Europe. I have to acknowledge my fears.

Breathe. Stroll. Pray. Contribute. I am powerless to do anything about world affairs other than contribute money to help displaced refugees. I can exercise regularly, take a deep breath and pray for the many who are suffering. I try to focus on the beautiful – the cherry trees in bloom, my dear grandchildren and the coming of spring. I can only hope for a better day.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at the Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/healthwellness-library.html.

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