Survey. Covid-19, the war in Ukraine… How to deal with your anxiety in the face of current events?

Young people are particularly affected by anxiety during these turbulent times. (©physics/Adobe Stock)

Ukrainian news has added uncertainty to a daily life already complicated by two years of a pandemic and a health crisis. Antoine Pelissolo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Paris Est Créteil and Head of Psychiatry at CHU Henri-Mondor, explains how to deal with the anxiety that can arise in this difficult situation.

What are the implications of the current situation for the mental health of the population?

Antoine Pelissolo: The uncertainty and stress resulting from the health situation, as well as the perception of a potential threat to health and the future, contributed to an increase in the level of general anxiety, which remains high today.

Most of us are able to deal with this type of context by developing a form of habituation or even resilience. But, 10 to 15% of people have a high initial sensitivity to stress, against the background of pre-existing pathologies and 25 to 30% of others end up weakening in these situations. when they last. This is expressed in anxiety attacks, sleep disturbances, exhaustion.

While not always particularly severe damage, these conditions can cause significant distress that needs to be considered. Moreover, about one in five people can develop a real depressive state due to predispositions and / or stressors of this type.

Are some people more affected than others?

Antoine Pelissolo: consultations the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 is growing.. This is due to several factors. This is the age group in which we have more psychological weaknesses. This situation is compounded by the difficulties associated with the pandemic. The closure of universities, in particular, has increased the difficulty for some in getting the school year right or even putting an end to it.

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But for an 18-year-old young man who has something to build, the year does not have the same value as for a 50-year-old man. This can lead to a change in the trajectory of life and a form of despair.

This could be exacerbated by the loss of social orientation due to isolation, curfews, closure of places of communication (theaters, cinemas, gyms, etc.), remoteness from loved ones, etc. These difficult situations were added to generation issues on the future of the world, the state of the planet, the professional future… This combination means that some find themselves weakened, with the impression that they have nothing to hold on to anymore. What’s worrying is that we’ve also seen young people whose entourage was present also end up breaking down.

The problem is that at present it is very difficult to get access to consultations, the psychological and psychiatric offer is far below the needs.

The outbreak of war in Ukraine must not have improved the situation…

PA: It’s still a little early to compare with her, but she can only aggravate the situation, be the cause of decompensation.

We don’t all have the same concerns: the addition of an additional cause for concern can widen the circle of people who suffer from anxiety. People who have been little affected by the news so far may feel more affected due to personal variables.

How to protect yourself?

PA: The first tip, and the most obvious one, is not to constantly expose yourself to such sources of anxiety, such as continuous news channels or social networks. The risk is indeed to reinforce the perception of threat and the feeling of powerlessness.

In the face of often overwhelming fears, it is important to create a form of rationality: for example, to remember that, however dramatic the situation in Ukraine may be, we ourselves are not at war on our soil and therefore not in imminent danger.

The main concern is uncertainty, especially considering the long-term future. Some people tend to “prepare for the worst” as if it were a way to avoid it. In doing so, they try to anticipate events that will never happen, at the cost of considerable anxiety, and ultimately can no longer assess the situation in terms of risk and severity.

In general, the idea is rather to cope with the day to day, to anchor yourself in the present moment. This is not about denial, but about taking small steps as we move forward: keeping in mind that you may have to face bigger challenges when the day comes, but staying focused on the elements of the present that we can act.

Are there practices that help you deal with stress better?

PA: The remedies commonly used to deal with stress and anxiety, whatever the cause, obviously also work in this situation: relaxation, breathing exercises, sports, yoga, walking, meditation, art… So many remedies that some have already used in time of health crisis. . These approaches, when possible in contact with nature, reduce average stress levels and generate positive emotions that promote well-being.

It is also important to establish a rhythm of life that a person at least partially controls: to allocate time for a break or distraction that is not dictated only by current events and necessity.

Finally, socialization is also effective for managing stress: communicating with other people, sharing your feelings can be a source of well-being.

Investing in actions of mutual aid, solidarity also allows you to fight your feelings of powerlessness. But you have to find the right degree, not everyone necessarily has that ability, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t. Just like you shouldn’t feel guilty if you feel a great need to take care of yourself. By doing what it takes to feel good, you also help open up to others.

It is important to be able to direct your feelings in the right direction: you need to avoid emotional overflow, excess, both positive and negative. Redirect the flow to more manageable spaces. Meditation can help transform feelings of helplessness into, for example, compassion and altruism.

How to calm children’s anxiety?

PA: First of all, you should not hesitate to answer all their questions and start a dialogue, regardless of their age, if they ask for it. Even among the smallest: from the age of 4 or 5, they already perceive a lot. You must tell them things as they are, while, of course, adapting your language so that it is understandable and does not cause anxiety.

It is especially important to provide them with elements of reassurance: to explain to them that we have no direct relationship in France, that the war is taking place in another country… Children are always afraid of what might happen to them, or what might happen to their parents.

As for adults, it is important to provide them with moments of distraction, participate in activities with them, help them relax, especially before bed.Talk

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