From a Pandemic to War: How to Cope With the Fear of Impending Doom

From the COVID pandemic to the Ukraine-Russia war: Experts tell us how to cope with the fear, and hopelessness.

6 min read
From a Pandemic to War: How to Cope With the Fear of Impending Doom

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In the last couple of years, the world has seen little respite from global crises.

To a backdrop of an unprecedented pandemic that stretched on for years, different parts of the world have seen violent turmoil, from Palestine, Afghanistan, to now Ukraine.

The fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair are worsened by the daily barrage of disturbing news and visuals of death, disease and destruction.

At a time like this, when there is suffering all around you, and the future seems bleak, how does one maintain a sense of stability in their own lives?


‘Abnormal Times Call For Abnormal Responses' 

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and a holocaust survivor, said something along these lines in his book, Man's Search for Meaning—a chronicle of his time as a prisoner in Nazi Concentration camps.

"I mean it's war. The connotation that this one word has is significant. We really thought that war was something that belonged in history books," says Mohana Baidya, a therapist based in Delhi.

You Are Not Overreacting

(Photo: FIT/Chetan Bhakuni)

“And this is an abnormal situation. The fact that what you’re feeling right now is normal— I think it’s important to reassure people of this again and again.”
Mohana Baidya

Dr Kamna Chhibber, a Clinical Psychologist and the Head of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, agrees.

Adding to this, Dr Chhibber says, "it's one thing when you don’t have a real situation, and you are feeling apprehensive about the possibility of something happening and then anxiety begins to manifest based on hypothetical situations.

But in this case, we do have a real situation with real possibilities of war before us. So feeling anxious and understanding the distress and concern of how to progress, I think, is very import to accept it."

Young people in Delhi protest outside the Russian embassy.

(Photo: IANS)


Fear, Uncertainty, Hopelessness: How do you Cope?

"Apart from asking why you’re accepting it, I think it's also important to ask yourself what is it that I can do in such a situation," says Dr Chhibber.

Different people can have different coping mechanisms that help, but here are some broad suggestions that the psychologists we spoke to gave us.

  • Identify the root cause of your anxiety

"Try to analyse the root cause of the way you are feeling. Is it that something else has been bothering you and the news came at that time?" says Dr Priya R. Nair, a psychiatrist based in Hyderabad.

"If you are a person who suffers from anxiety and this news worsens it, identifying that is very important. It’s better to seek professional help."
Dr Priya R. Nair
  • Don’t overconsume information

Don’t Overconsume Information

(Photo: FIT/Chetan Bhakuni)

When emotions run high and listlessness takes hold, a barrage of disturbing news can be more damaging than you'd think.

"First confirm that the news is coming from a genuine channel. Secondly, avoid graphic visuals of violence."
Dr Priya R. Nair

When it comes to, say, COVID news, for instance, don't fixate on grim data, advises Dr Nair.

"Don’t right way jump to the fatal data and the death toll, instead start with some positive news like how well the boosters are working."

"People that are exposed to violence that is happening in real time, they could end up developing a situation where they struggle to sleep, or keep having nightmares around it, or they may have some sort of persistent thoughts around it that are constantly running around your mind."
Dr Kamna Chhibber

"Keep abreast of the developments but don’t keep on going back to it at the cost of your routines and work," adds Dr Kamna Chhibber.

  • Look Outwards (focus on helping others)

According to Dr Nair, a bit of panic can be used to your advantage.

"It makes us cautious, and makes us think of what we’re going to do for our loved ones, and our family around us. You place yourself first and the best that you can do for those around you."
Dr Priya R. Nair

According to Dr Nair, "the best thing you can do from far away is start helping them in whatever way you can. Donate to genuine relief funds. Start self-help groups especially for students in medical colleges."

"Helping others can help calm us down and relieve our own anxiety too," she adds.

  • Turn to what you can control

Focus On Your Other Storylines

(Photo: FIT/Chetan Bhakuni)

Adding to this Dr Chhibber says, "try and make sure that you are healthily engaging with all the other aspects of your life and that you are taking care of your roles and your responsibilities."

  • Do things to ground yourself

“The first line of treatment would be to make you feel stabilised," says Mohana Baidya.

"So, if you are feeling down or low and are not wanting to go about your daily routine or be productive, the first step can be to identify small actions that you can do to make you feel active, and let your body and mind and brain start functioning," she adds.

Ground Yourself

(Photo: FIT/Chetan Bhakuni)

  • Taking refuge in literature

It is also comforting in some sense to acknowledge that although we might not have, the world has been in similar situations before.

There’s so much literature, music and movies throughout history by people who have lived through similar times and made it that are full of hope and comfort.

“We have touched base with this subject and reflected upon the various nuances of it," says Mohana.

She recommends reading Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

Talk! Talk! Talk!

Let It Out

(Photo: FIT/Chetan Bhakuni)

"Communicating can help you know how others are managing themselves and coping. This will also create a kind of reassurance cycle," says Dr Chhibber.

‘The Imprints of These Experiences Remain’: Mental Health Support for Home Coming Students

Trauma struck students will need mental health support.

(Photo: The Quint)

As hundreds of Indian students stuck in war-torn Ukraine slowly make their way home, they will need mental health support agree all the experts FIT spoke to.

"There is no doubt about it. Even if someone is not showing any kind of symptoms at thte moment, it is very important for them to share aht that experience was like to be able to process it and to be able to work through it to ensure that it doesn’t develop into something significant later on as well."
Dr Kamna Chhibber

"For kids who are coming back from war zones, something to look out for is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)," says Dr Nair.

"As soon as they get back, first we must check on their physiological responses. First it must begin with setting their basics of food, sleep, water right. Give them space, and let them talk about it when they’re ready. It doesn’t have to be right away," she adds.

“The duration is very important here. They have to be watched for months, atleast three months, for signs of depression and PTSD. If they still having these symptoms after 6 months then you might need a specialist’s help.”
Dr Priya R. Nair

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Topics:  Mental Health   coronavirus   COVID 

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