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How to improve your mental resilience during difficult times?

Due to the recent war in Ukraine, we have come to be ruled by anxiety and fear. The Peaasi.ee team has gathered a few ideas that could help us boost our mental resilience. 

When we perceive threats, our brain activates the fight or flight response. It allows us to make quick decisions on matters related to retreating or attacking, but it does not allow us to think analytically or plan ahead well. It is a necessary reaction common to all animals that has also allowed us to survive as a species. Humans are special, because the same process also activates for us in situations where we try to imagine threats or where it is foreseeable in the future. Our brain may not be able to differentiate, whether the threat is present right here and now, or whether we are trying to predict the future. If there is another situation, where we do not immediately need to run or defend ourselves, then it would be wise to calm ourselves down a bit so that we can think clearly and plan ahead. Usually, we need to calm our bodies down, think about something else and use the support of our friends and family. Then, it would be good to ask ourselves – what can I do? What can I do now, tomorrow, in the coming weeks? Who can I do it with? What kind of resources do I need for it? When do I know that the goal has been achieved? For example, if I decide that I could look for more information on the real scope of the threat, then when do I know that I have surfed through enough news sites? Maybe half an hour a day is enough? Anxiety and fear are useful feelings that help us survive. They give us the energy to act. We should use that energy for beneficial worrying, that is, for making realistic plans and following these plans. If we can maintain our mental health balance, then we can also be more helpful for others.

It would be fitting now to remind ourselves of how we managed nearly two years ago when the coronavirus crisis hit us. Although the threat was different, we may feel a similar helplessness, loss of control or fear of the future to come. Sure, we should be prepared for the bad scenarios as well, but we should not get stuck on them, as that could weaken our mental fortitude, which we need for overcoming difficult times. It’s good to keep ourselves busy with everyday routines and activities. We should knowingly use techniques that help us calm down (for example, take a walk in the park, listen to music, do relaxing exercises or enjoy sports). See if your mental health vitamins are in balance and get tips on how to boost them. Most of all, it is important to stay in touch with our friends and family and share our burdens with others. Being active in a stressful situation gives us a feeling of control and helps us direct nervous energy, as well as energise those who are becoming more unwilling to act. In other words, we should do what we can, be it cleaning our surroundings, or seeing whether we could do something for our Ukrainian friends like donating. We should limit our access to news or have someone tell us when there is something important enough that we should also know right away. 

 

It is especially important to provide our children with a sense of emotional security that we can sustain by spending time with them, doing something fun together or by maintaining your daily routine. It would also be good to ask them what we could do to improve our own lives or the lives of others. Children often have fun and creative ideas. We should definitely discuss what’s happening in the world with children. We should ask them what they have heard and be ready to answer their questions.  We should talk with them about specific facts in an age-appropriate manner and not share our future predictions or scariest fantasies with them. It is important for children to know that despite difficult times, we can manage when we stick together. For example, we can tell them that we do not need to be so afraid, because Estonia has friends in NATO who stand up for us and won’t let us down, just like we stand for our friends and protect them from bullies. The friend analogy can be used to tell them to imagine that we have a good friend who is threatened by a serious illness. That does not mean that we are ill ourselves or that we will get ill. We could be there for our friend by supporting them and thinking of them. We and our friends’ rulers and diplomats are working hard to keep us from falling ill.

We should also discuss the situation with older children, who actively seek information or watch the news themselves, so that they would not become overwhelmed by the information feed. 

In difficult times like these, it is normal to feel anxious, find it difficult to concentrate or to fall asleep. It is also normal to ask for help from your friends and family or specialists.