If you are like me, you may be both appalled and interested about what is happening with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For me, my anxiety over this situation has been through the roof. Being glued to twitter and the news over this has become, for me, akin to perseverating or ruminating over a stressful or anxiety producing situation of my own doing.
Several reflections come to my mind when I notice that I am too engaged with “the news” and I begin to stress about the situation. First, I notice that I become over-focused, stressed, worried, and preoccupied, etc. This list goes on. .And then, I tend to overthink and run these negative thoughts through my mind over and over again. Through my work as an ACT [Acceptance Commitment Therapy] adult and teen therapist in Washington, DC, I’ve learned to use these feelings and persistent thoughts to develop what is called attentional focus. In short, attentional focus is when we are explicit and very conscious about what we focus on, when and how. For example, the Ukraine crisis reinforces and brings new meaning to living my life in a conscious and intentional way, to being in the moment, trying to savor every moment, no matter how mundane. Lately, I have tried to see things in my life as more of a sunset rather than ignoring or not noticing. One example is obviously my time with my family. I try to be more present in those moments, to soak them up, even more so than before. I do this practice even with mundane/everyday occurrences. I stop, focus on the present, appreciate what is vibrant. My attention is fleeting–especially when stressed or worried–so I have to constantly reconnect with the present moment as my mind wanders~ as do all of our minds. It is normal. Once we notice this, we can choose to refocus our attention.
Another “mind exercise” I do is a take on the old adage, “change what you can change.” I saw a training video with the psychologist Chris McCurry where he talks about how his parents would ask him if a situation is a “problem” or a “condition.” A problem is something we can do something about whereas a condition is something we cannot do anything about. Identifying stressors as problems or conditions can be helpful to spur positive action. Such as, if I notice a stressful situation as a condition, it is not worth my time being “stuck” on it. Whereas, if it is a problem, I can think of what steps I can take to remediate the problem. Sometimes there may be problems within conditions. For example, one of my favorite metaphors involves the rain. Now, the rain is a condition, I cannot control the rain. Yelling at the rain or thinking my way out of the rain does not work to get the rain to stop. However, I can problem-solve not getting wet by utilizing an umbrella, a raincoat, and/or rain boots.
The crisis in Ukraine is a condition, however, that does not mean that I can’t help out in any way. Giving to charity to help support the refugees and people still in Ukraine can be a part of “problem-solving” what I can do.
Another problem-solving approach is to limit my intake of the news and/or limit my time on social media. I have noticed that the more time I spend watching the news of the Ukraine Crisis and the more time I spend on social media reading about it, the more stressed I become. I have had to purposely limit myself as this has not been workable for me.
These are just a few suggestions and obviously they do not replace speaking with a therapist. However, if you have noticed yourself stressed with the current situation in Ukraine, try these suggestions out and see how they land. They are skills and as such, the more you practice the better you may become. There are also many other “tips and tricks” for utilizing these suggestions such as how to shift your focus and not get “stuck” but that may be for another blog.