Shelling is exhausting: how to help yourself when plans fall apart and you feel mentally drained
The war and constant shelling are significantly exhausting for Ukrainians. Over time, we are overtaken by psychological consequences: chronic fatigue, anxiety, irritation. In such a period, a person needs psychological support or self-help. How to calm yourself down? Psychologist’s advice varies, and the first of them is to take care of yourself, get enough sleep and eat. It is also important to know how to ask for help. As part of the Dovidka.info project, psychologist Anna Shiychuk gave advice on how to protect your psyche and relieve stress when Russia is bringing so much chaos into our lives.
How do attacks on Ukraine’s energy system affect people’s psyche? Can it be called psychological terror?
It can, it certainly can, it’s the reality that exists around us. How exactly do they influence? They provoke a state of uncertainty, and in the depths of uncertainty there is fear. So we naturally start to be afraid and experience the tension of this uncertainty. How long will this last, how will we live on – this is what produces a lot of uncertainty and tension.
Another reaction is defence. After fear, we become more irritable and sad: we start to get annoyed by small things. At best, we’ll say, “I wish they’d all die” – at worst, this anger will accumulate and be taken out on those around us. And we also feel sad as a reaction to loss, because we have lost our usual rhythm of life, the basic comfort that we had. Electricity is something that affects everyday life, the way we look after our children, the way we take care of elderly relatives, the way we live every day, the way we organise our work, the way we take care of our health. So it’s something that affects the body on a daily basis.
I believe that this is really terror, because this is the activity that creates the illusion of their almightiness. It makes us afraid, or at least they want us to be afraid and experience their almightiness.
How do power outages affect the person’s condition?
Darkness affects our psyche. Chronic fatigue is so strong that you don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t want to do some basic things: you don’t want to take care of yourself, cook, do basic sports, or arrange basic comfort. You just want to wrap yourself in a blanket, lie down and do nothing else. Not to get up when there is an air raid alert, not to worry about power banks or any other things that can improve this comfort. We are very, very tired, and we become indifferent to ourselves. It’s not that we become truly indifferent to ourselves – we are just so tired that we don’t care about anything anymore. This fatigue is very natural, it doesn’t need to be taken away somewhere, somehow turned off, because it won’t work. Because all that Ukrainians have been through, we have to process it somehow. We have to be tired.
It’s amazing, but when we allow ourselves to lie down and do nothing, we think that this fatigue will drag us down for months or years, and we will never get out of it. But from my experience and the experience of my clients and my colleagues, it goes away in an hour or two, maybe half a day, maybe a day, but definitely much faster than we think. The moment we consciously allow our fatigue to manifest itself and give ourselves room for imperfection, for recklessness, for fatigue, it wraps us up, but it also unwraps us.
The second feeling that arises is irritation. The level of aggression is very high, and it is very natural, because a nation that is fighting for its independence and its autonomy and kicking out occupiers from its territory can’t be very friendly. It has to have a lot of energy accumulated inside it and a lot of anger to defend itself. At the same time, if we have no direct outlet, this anger is often taken out on others, including ourselves. We begin to criticise ourselves fiercely for the way we live: relationships can break down, the level of conflict is very high, and it seems to us that it will be much easier without them, although it is not. But at that moment, that’s how it seems to us, and it’s also natural, and we just have to understand that we are more irritable now. And if this is your way of coping with stress, then it is important at least for yourself to admit that you are becoming more irritable, and to understand without criticising yourself that this is your peculiarity. And then look for other constructive ways, at least to remind yourself who the real enemy is, who we are really angry at, who is the source of our suffering. It’s not the energy workers or my neighbour, who turns out to have electricity while I don’t. It is Russia, the country that invaded our territory. And it is very important to speak about this out loud.
Constant Russian attacks are psychologically exhausting. How to help yourself?
To support yourself, you need to be more careful about yourself, your feelings, your worries, your states. You need to be more caring to those around you. To show this love and care in simple things and, in particular, in indulgence towards yourself and others: when I don’t demand to be a perfect employee, a perfect mother, wife, sister or anything else, I don’t demand that my family be perfect, to cope with everything, to always be in good shape, to always be life-affirming, to always believe in victory. We all need to learn to be flexible.
And I would like to remind you to eat, sleep and have any leisure time in the format that is important to you.
Habitual plans for the day are ruined by the shelling. How do you maintain order in your thoughts amidst the chaos?
You need to allow yourself a small measure of madness when plans break down, when you can’t plan everything to the minute and have expectations of yourself that everything will be so, when you need to reserve time for various troubles. Be sure to schedule situations that you will take care of and deal with during the week. Because they will definitely happen. You will schedule time to deal with them, and if they are absent, you will have a nice bonus and a few hours. And if you don’t schedule it, they will suddenly come into your life. And you’ll feel out of control again, so schedule time slots for different things. Just leave hours in your schedule during the week for different things, and those things will come up.
Come up with alternatives: think about how you will behave if you can’t do this or that. Nurture relationships with those around you and discuss alternatives. Be supportive and helpful to those around you, and give yourself the right to ask for help or support when you need it.
I think we all have to learn to be imperfect and give up being all-powerful. Allow yourself to come to another person and voice what is happening to you: maybe you will see a miracle, and this person will respond, and you will solve your problem in 10 minutes instead of spending 2 days or longer on it.