How to cope when the world feels frightening

Tips for managing uncertainty.

The world is a scary place right now. A worsening climate crisis, a seemingly never-ending pandemic and now a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has left many of us feeling powerless and demoralised. Things feel sad, uncertain and out of control.

If you feel like your problems are small in the context of everything that’s going on in the world, remember that everything is relative. Neuroscience research suggests that witnessing the pain of others can have powerful empathetic effects on our own brains, and the impact of a world in disarray on our minds is not to be underestimated.

If you’d like to take meaningful action, here is an excellent list of resources for supporting Ukraine. At the same time, it’s important you also take care of your mental health. Here are some tips to help you do that.

How to manage uncertainty

1. Be informed, not overloaded

Of course, it’s important to stay informed about what’s happening in the world around us, and alert to the ways in which we can help to make a positive impact.

But there’s a difference between being informed and being overloaded. There are limits to the control we have over external events and our capacity to take in so much distressing information.

If things feel overwhelming, avoid doomscrolling. Set boundaries on your news intake (maybe checking once or twice a day), and spend time away from your phone.

2. Stay connected

You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world right now. And while your instinct might be to isolate or keep your worries to yourself - talking about how we feel always helps. The world feels much more bearable (and a lot less lonely) when we share our experience of it with the people we love.

3. Focus on what you can control

When external events feel out of your control, it can be helpful to shift your focus onto the areas of your life in which you are an active agent, and to create stability in the form of routines and rituals that help you feel safe. Getting up at the same time each day and sticking to your morning and evening habits will help to bring some order into your week, while setting small, achievable goals that you can accomplish throughout the day will help you feel more in control.

4. Take positive action

Research shows that doing altruistic acts for others makes us feel better. If you feel helpless in the face of everything going on in the world right now, focus on a small act of kindness that you can do for your family or community.

5. Be kind to yourself

There’s one thing the world needs right now: and that’s a lot more kindness. Kindness for each other, and kindness for ourselves. When the external world feels precarious, prioritising self-care and practising self-compassion is more important than ever. Take regular breaks. Go to bed on time. Eat well and enough. Speak kindly to yourself and others.


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