Fear of War

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Fear of war when there isn’t one going on, or it is in a country far away, is one thing. Fear of war when one is waging in your own continent, or involves friends and family, can feel at an all new level.

How can you navigate fear of war if it’s leaving your frozen and unable to function well? And why is it you take it so hard when others around you seem to just continue on like normal?

You are not alone in your fear of war

It can feel lonely if people around you seem less affected by the horrific news that you are blown away by. You might even feel frustrated and angry that nobody seems to care as much as you do.

But fear of war is common, particularly amongst young people. A survey by the World Economic forum over over 16,000 millennials, for example, found that 54 per cent fear WWIII in their lifetime. And that was in 2020, the number is surely much higher now war has started in Ukraine.

But why do I seem more afraid than my friends?

Some of us seem born with a personality trait of sensitivity. We naturally take things more seriously than others.

But often, if we have a very strong fear reaction, it comes from previous experiences that have left us with a sensitive ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response.

This can come from things like childhood neglect or trauma, such as abuse. Or it can come from more recent trauma, like being the victim of a crime or an assault.

PTSD and complex trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can mean anything you perceive as stressful (and a war would certainly count) leaves you on a cortisol high, unable to think straight. You might be edgy and unsettled, or completely dissociated and numb.

And if it was several childhood experiences that traumatised you, you might have what is now referred to as ‘complex trauma’ or ‘c-PTSD’. This means you have similar symptoms to PTSD, and have for a very long time. You might be so used to living with high anxiety you think it’s normal, but the war is that nudge into a state even you can't navigate.

How can I navigate my war fear?

1. Deal with feelings of powerlessness.

For some, the best way to help the feeling of powerless is by taking what actions you actually can. This can look like:

  • praying or meditating
  • sending donations, signing petitions, protesting
  • connecting with others around you and helping others
  • keeping busy doing things that make you feel valuable.

2. Notice what else you feel beyond fear.

Don't tend to find jumping into action helps? Try the opposite. Sit very still and spend time noticing your feelings of fear and powerlessness and questioning what else might be going on for you.

A model of powerlessness suggest it tends to consist of four emotions. As well as fear there is anticipation and sadness. So facing up to what you are secretly anticipating through something like journalling, or having a good cry, might help.

And the fourth emotion was found to be acceptance.

Imagine yourself connected to all the other people also feeling fear and powerlessness around the world, and know you are not alone. Nor are you a bad person for being powerless. It's part of the human experience and it's okay to accept that.

3. Watch your media consumption.

Checking the news every five minutes or having alerts for all media outlets is like self-torture if you are an anxiety sufferer. Ask a friend who doesn’t have fear of war or anxiety to text you if something big happens. Otherwise be strict on yourself with how many times a day you check in.

4. Practice diaphragmatic breathing.

Cortisol is released by the brain as part of our body's fear 'cocktail', and drives our feeling of great stress. And research now shows that consistent sessions of deep breathing, where we breathe all the way into our diaphragm, significantly lowers cortisol and anxiety.

5. Use mindfulness.

Fear is a future-based emotion. It is connected to worries about what might happen. When we are fully in the present dealing with what is right in front of us our brain has less room for anxiety.

Mindfulness is a simple technique of pulling your attention into the present that can really help. A research overview of 39 studies concluded it was a reasonable intervention for anxiety.

Aren't I a bad person if I let myself feel okay?

If we don't check the news every five minutes and feel terrible, then aren't we selfish? Non caring?

There is a difference between suffering terribly for things we can't control and having empathy.

And fear is not a helpful emotion. It leaves us so distracted we can't then use our skills to help others. See taking steps to not be so fearful as a way to become a more, and not less, useful citizen.

Is your fear of war out of control? Spending your days frozen and unable to cope? Use our easy booking tool now to find a therapist who is available in the next 24 hours.

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