COVID AND THE UKRAINE CONFLICT: Understanding uncertainty with Dr. Judi Malone and Brandi GRRRR>>>

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Uncertainty & Psychological Health

Why do we seek answers for situations that don’t have an answer?

MALONE

Weare typically creatures of habit. Changes in life can feel uncertain and trigger feelings of anxiety and stress. It is common for people impacted by significant stressors to experience strong emotions. But, tolerance of change or uncertainty differs for most people but the less tolerant we are the more stress – and out of control — we may feel. That sparks in us a desire to regain a sense of control. 

We are inundated with news, particularly now that it is part of social media, and especially when there is global crisis. People have various reactions to news and events and that is based on publicity and the potential implications for us as people and for our work. When there are several sides to an issue, or values could be in conflict, people can feel polarized in their views on the subject. When people are polarized about a major event, this can really heighten concerns and frustrations. Even worse is when that leads us to become frustrated with those who do not share our views. It is dangerous when we cannot see ourselves in each other. 

GRR

1. We are constantly wanting to predict what will happen next in our lives. We like to be able to prepare for and to control for negative outcomes. We seek information that will help us achieve this. 

On a more existential level, we search for meaning when bad things happen that are out of our control. We look for the why to help us make sense of events that don’t intuitively make sense. 

What does it to our mental health worrying about two situations such as COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine ?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating military assaults on the Ukraine are the kind of global events that challenge the way people cope. Understanding normal responses to these abnormal events can aid us to cope effectively with our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors as we learn to cope. 

In the worst cases this causes anxiety, unrealistic fears, and can even spur racism. Shock & denial are typical responses to such global events – and these are normal protective reactions. Other common responses include: intense or unpredictable feelings, changes to thoughts & behavior patterns, sensitivity to environmental factors, strained interpersonal relationships, & stress-related physical symptoms. Fortunately, most people are resilient and, over time, bounce back from major stressors. 

There are times when its best to seek professional help. If someone feels overwhelming nervousness or lingering sadness that adversely affects their career or educational performance and negatively impacts our close relationships. If there are persistent feelings of distress or hopelessness or feelings as though a person can barely through your daily responsibilities and activities. Then reach out for professional help. Psychologists are trained to help people address emotional reactions to disasters such as disbelief, stress, anxiety, grief, and make a plan for moving forward. 

What can we do to stay calm, and rational?

Key is to stay in charge of the situation. Limit media consumption to just enough to stay informed. Avoid getting into those discussions if you predict they will end in conflict. Instead of stressing about the future, take action on issues you care about in the present. Keep in mind that life will go on – avoid catastrophizing and maintain a balanced perspective.

And if you are feeling anxious., actively engage with the stress. Step back — clarify what you stand for, stay true to our values, and model civility and hope for the future. Recommit to promoting health and well-being for all people, especially during times of stress and concern. A stressful time is also a time for compassion and healing, a time to promote our inherent resilience. 

If discussions are divisive, try uniting with those who seem to oppose your views. If we work for what each of us believes to be good and true, we then provide hope to our diverse communities and we can, in many cases, find common ground. We know that we must listen not only to those who agree with us but also to those who do not, and we need to work to understand each other more fully.

Any advice for folks in those situations

There are simple steps that can help each of us to better face life’s uncertainties. Top Tips

  • Be kind to yourself. It can take time to build up a tolerance for stress and uncertainty.
  • Reflect on Success. Give yourself credit for successfully handling past stressors 
  • New Skills. Try new things and take safe risks to develop your confidence.
  • Limit News Exposure. Compulsively checking the news adds to stress. 
  • Avoid Dwelling. If something is out of your control, don’t spend energy on worrying. 
  • Take your own Advice. Imaging your situation from the perspective of a friend.
  • Self-care. Keep healthy routines and eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. 
  • Seek support. Isolation is not healthy. Reach out to family and friends.
  • Control what you can. Set up some routines – structure is comforting.
  • Ask for help. Especially when you are struggling to manage stress and coping. 

Plan your reaction to stress to bring some control to situations that feel uncertain, filling our psychological “toolboxes” with strategies to make life easier and more rewarding. 

The answer … to the question I should have asked?

Maybe that question would be, “what makes is easier to deal with these kinds of stressors?” Humour! And that may mean seeking out beneficial social media. Recent psychological research has shown that viewing pandemic memes improves people’s moods and helps manage stress. 

Funny (appropriate and non-divisive) memes may help people cope with what can otherwise feel like insurmountable stressors – and remind us that we are all in this together. Looking at funny members were found to make viewers feel calmer and more content and increased people’s confidence in their ability to deal with the pandemic. Using the pandemic as an example. researchers found that people who viewed funny and cute memes reported higher levels of humor, more positive emotions, and a decrease in stress about the COVID-19 pandemic. That was when compared to viewing other types of media. Participants even reported a greater sense of control over how the pandemic was affecting their lives!

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