It can feel self indulgent to be speaking of the impact of images of war on ourselves, when we watch safely from our comfortable lives, but the psychological impact of witnessing traumatic events is very real and you may need to take some steps to mind your mental health during this time.
Be aware of your own history!
Witnessing others in crisis situations can trigger and reactivate your own traumas ,even if you’re already aware of them and even if you feel that you have dealt with them. This is because trauma stays in our system, like a dormant virus that can be awakened in the right conditions – watching our besieged Ukrainians suffer, fear and flee for their lives can be those very conditions.
The link that causes the trigger can be superficial – a sound or smell or the look in someone’s eye. Once reminded, our bodies and minds begin to re-experience earlier fear and anxiety.
Stay informed but not immersed! – There is a natural drive to stay informed at a time of crisis – information gives us a sense of control. But you can stay informed without incessant watching and scrolling- the constant stoking of your emotional reaction can drain your energy. So consider limiting your exposure.
Check your stress level?
Because stress is cumulative, we clinicians always look to stress levels over the previous six to twelve months. Two years of a pandemic compounds the trauma potential for everyone. You and only you know what this has been like for you. So step back and watch your anxiety levels, your sleep pattern and note your mood and irritability levels- these are your indicators that your system is being stressed.
Minding your mental health is not self indulgent, it’s vital, even when the suffering of others is so great that you feel it’s selfish to think about yourself.