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Dealing with Stress & Depression Symptoms During International Crisis: The War in Ukraine

After the pandemic of the past 2 years, it’s common to feel stress and depression symptoms about world events.

Some people have faced heightened stress recently as tensions rise between Russia and Ukraine.

Signs of depression: loss of interest in activities, trouble sleeping, appetite or weight changes, fatigue or decreased energy, difficulty thinking clearly.

On February 24th, the Russian military attacked Ukraine and a war between the two countries has been ongoing ever since. Many Russian citizens have risked imprisonment by speaking out against the conflict, while Ukrainian civilians flee for refuge and defend their country.

It’s natural to feel stress and depression symptoms during a conflict like this. Empathy for the victims of war, worry about rising prices, and fear of wider international conflict have all contributed to this stress.

Younger millennials and gen Z teenagers don’t have a recollection of similar events during the Cold War or the Chechen wars of the 90s. Older generations might have a bigger toolbox for dealing with this unique stress, but the present conflict might bring back unpleasant memories from those tough times.

The Importance of Managing Mental Health

Mental health matters more than usual during times of crisis. Behavior changes, lifestyle management, meditation, and humanitarian involvement are examples of the many ways you can reduce stress and strengthen your mental resilience during crises like the war Ukraine.

These practical strategies can help during trying times.

In this article, you will learn about small habits you can adopt that will support your mental health during stressful world events which cause depression symptoms.

Feel empowered to take control of your mental health.

woman stressed looking at computer

Disconnect from the News Cycle

Research shows that daily news can have a negative effect on your emotions, especially if the news is personally connected to you. If you have family or friends in Ukraine, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the troubling stories and images on the news. Your personal connection might take the shape of Ukrainian ancestry, or a relationship with another military conflict and refugee crisis.

Consuming significant amounts of news about a traumatic event can create a similar stress response to being at the site of the traumatic event in person, as research about the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrates. The news may trigger a fight or flight response, engaging the acute stress system. How can you reduce the stress of daily news? Set yourself a time limit for daily news, and schedule some days off where you don’t consume news at all.

man sitting in park reading a newspaper

If you aren’t watching TV news, you should still be careful about your media intake. Social media can increase anxiety and depression. Social media algorithms are designed to keep people engaging with content, and unfortunately, negative content drives more engagement. Even if you aren’t looking at content related to the war, you might feel envious if you are watching creators carry on with normal life during a time when you’re having difficulty doing the same.

Stay Active and Sleep Well

Exercise reduces psychological stress, anxiety and depression symptoms. Exercise increases your heart rate, which can train your mind and body to react less negatively if your heart rate increases later due to anxiety or stress.

woman sleeping with white sheets

Physical activities like yoga include a repetitive breathing component which can have a similar effect to meditation. Outdoor exercise provides visual distractions that prevent your mind from focusing on a negative thought as well as the physical strain that brings your focus to your body.

As any athlete knows, it’s important to balance physical activity with high-quality rest. Sleeping is a chance for your brain to restore and heal. Psychological stress can make it more challenging to fall and stay asleep. Exercise will help your body prepare for sleep because you will be more physically tired. Getting sunlight during the day will set your circadian rhythm so your body is expecting nighttime.

Maintaining a regular nighttime routine may help you fall asleep more easily. Avoid using bright electronic like phones and laptops an hour before bed. The blue light from these devices registers like sunlight, keeping you awake. Try reading a book, doing a breathing exercise, or taking a warm bath instead of scrolling on your smartphone.

Eat Stress-Reducing Foods and Stay Hydrated

Most people know what it’s like to change eating habits due to stress. It’s easy to reach for a bag of junk food, but consider adopting a diet that can help reduce stress rather than increase it. Your diet can be a tool to support your mental health.

Cortisol is a hormone commonly known as the stress hormone. A short burst of cortisol, like you might get while competing in a sporting event, can be a positive thing. However, long-term spikes in your cortisol levels reflect chronic stress that can lead to negative physical outcomes. Nutrition focused on managing cortisol levels can reduce the health risk of chronic stress.

Caffeine and alcohol can both increase the cortisol in your body. Caffeine and alcohol in moderation are safe to consume, but being mindful of overconsumption is key in cortisol management. Stick to 4 cups of coffee per day and stop drinking caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Drink alcohol in moderation, 1 to 2 drinks per day at maximum, and avoid consuming alcohol when you’re highly stressed.

Eating complete meals (including a fat, protein, and carbohydrate source) at regular times can help your body manage stress. Think about it this way- when your hunter-gatherer ancestor skipped meals, it was a signal that there wasn’t enough food around. This meant your ancestor needed a burst of energy to find the next meal, which is why your body will increase cortisol levels if you eat irregularly. Your body has an internal clock that is clued into when you eat.

Dehydration can negatively affect your mood. When your mind is preoccupied with stress, you might forget to tend to your own hydration needs. Put a water bottle at your desk as a visual cue to stay hydrated. Try an electrolyte powder or sports beverage, since low electrolyte levels can cause cortisol levels to rise. Using strategies to meet your nutrition and hydration needs will reduce the burden of stress from current events in Ukraine on your physical and mental wellbeing.

Depression Symptoms: Train Your Mind with Mindfulness and Meditation

When you are fixated on a negative thought, it feels like you are not in control of your mind. Using strategies to control and redirect your thoughts can help reduce anxiety, stress and depression symptoms. You might find your worries about Ukraine repeating over and over in your brain. This is when it’s useful to try techniques that can help you rein in your thoughts.

Mindfulness is a meditative practice of being fully present in your thoughts and surroundings, focusing on only the current moment and not the past or present. Mindfulness is an effective treatment for reducing stress and anxiety. To practice mindfulness, take a seat and set a timer. Notice how your body feels in the seat and the rhythm of your breathing. If you notice your thoughts wandering, return your attention to your breath. Like any other practice, mindfulness takes time to learn. Be gentle with yourself if you find it challenging at first.

Get Involved in Humanitarian Efforts

One of the worst things you can feel is helplessness. While it’s true that most individuals can’t single-handedly stop the Ukrainian war, that doesn’t mean there is no way to contribute. You might find that humanitarian action is a great way to redirect your stress into a positive opportunity to help others by donating your time or resources.

group of people packing boxes

Volunteering has a stress-buffering effect, which means that you are better equipped to handle the stress of life if you volunteer regularly. See if any international refugee resource centers in your area need help. Even if you aren’t working with Ukrainian refugees directly, you’ll feel better knowing that your time is being used to relieve the negative effects of international conflict.

You might be able to help with English as a second language (ESL) tutoring, childcare, meal preparation, or organizing supplies at a refugee center. The International Rescue Committee and Refugee Council USA are 2 nationwide charities that organize volunteer opportunities.

You might also look into contributing financially. Charitable giving has a positive effect on mental wellbeing. People who donate to charity regularly report higher levels of happiness and personal agency. Finding a relief fund to donate to can help you feel that you’re making a difference. Save the Children has a Ukrainian Crisis Relief Fund to help families afford basic needs. The World Health Organization is organizing emergency medical aid which extends to hospitals in the surrounding countries that are admitting Ukrainian refugees. Donating to a relief fund is a positive way to relieve stress by practicing compassion.

How to Use These Strategies

Choose one area to focus on each week. If your exhaustion is affecting you the most, start by getting quality sleep. If the lack of control is what you find most stressful, get involved in volunteering first. This article is a toolbox to support your mental health.

Don’t feel pressure to try each strategy in one day. If you find one of these habits useful, tell a friend or family member. That act of sharing resources can help you feel closer to your community, which is key to wellness during traumatic times.

Lifestyle changes, community involvement, humanitarian efforts, and meditation techniques will help you manage stress and depression symptoms related to the war in Ukraine.



Military attack of Ukraine- https://news.yahoo.com/putin-declares-special-military-operation-030427422.html

Social media mental health- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7364393/

Daily news and mental health- https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bjop.12389

News and stress- https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/11/lowest-point

Is reading the news bad for you? https://time.com/5125894/is-reading-news-bad-for-you/

Boston bombing news effects https://www.pnas.org/doi/suppl/10.1073/pnas.1316265110

Diet and mental health- https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety/

Mediterranean diet, fight or flight, and stress https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/11/Mediterranean-Diet-Helps-Reduce-Effects-of-Stress-in-Animal-Model

Caffeine and cortisol- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16631247/

Alcohol and cortisol- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266962/

Exercise and anxiety- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/

Psychological stress and sleep- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4266573/

How much caffeine- https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678

Alcohol consumption dietary guidelines- https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

Hydration and mood- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6603652/

Electrolytes and cortisol- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5575371/pdf/main.pdf

Mindfulness stress reduction- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18387018/

Definition of mindfulness- https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

How to practice mindfulness- https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-how-to-do-it/

Meditative therapies- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3718554/

Stress buffering effects of volunteering on mental health https://www.psychreg.org/volunteering-mental-health/

Charitable giving and mental wellbeing https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ageing-and-society/article/abs/effect-of-time-volunteering-and-charitable-donations-in-later-life-on-psychological-wellbeing/FD56C48FD2F8F68C642B29867B99CFA1

Charitable giving and personal agency https://www.nature.com/articles/nn1833

Emotional benefits of prosocial spending https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0031578Ukrainian relief funds- verified https://www.today.com/news/news/5-verified-charities-working-help-ukrainians-invasion-rcna17590