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Managing Our Minds Through Uncertain Times

The conflict in Ukraine is one of the main things on my mind right now.

I wonder how you are navigating this complex time.

I live in Poland, which borders with Ukraine on the east. Thoughts and images of what is happening are whirling around and making it hard to go about life as normal.

Over the last few days I received many lovely messages from so many of you who wanted to know if we're ok. Yes, we are ok, I am privileged to go to sleep feeling safe each night. It is painful to know that the world looks very different a mere 200 miles away from my hometown.

I wasn't sure whether I should write about any of this. I'm not qualified to comment on what is happening. I'm Polish, not Ukrainian. Who am I to have a voice in this? But writing about anything else doesn't feel right at this moment.

So let me write to you about something that I often cover in my coaching work.

Many of my clients mentioned feeling anxious and unsettled at this uncertain time. Nobody knows what waits ahead. Our nervous systems, not yet fully recovered from the strain of the pandemic, have this new threat to process too.

While I can't do anything to make this pointless war go away, I wanted to share my experience and knowledge of how we can manage our minds.

Here are a few themes from conversations I've had with clients and ways in which I'm looking after myself and my dear ones in this difficult time.

Perhaps some of those might be useful to you as you start your week? Let me know!

Focus on what you can do

No amount of anger, fear or yelling at the TV will make this war go away. But we can focus on how we respond. In times like this, the Stoic philosophy is the one I keep front of mind. One of its core teachings is about knowing the difference between what we can have influence over and what we can not.

We can reach out and support our Ukrainian friends, colleagues and neighbours.

I'm preparing care items for those fleeing their country. One my neighbours is driving to the border tomorrow to deliver them and to pick up families to be delivered to safety. I've chosen to donate to Care (The Ukraine Crisis Fund) and to the fund of the National Bank of Ukraine to support Ukraine's army.

Being mindful of how your emotions shift

Countless studies show how negative watching emotional content of news can be on our mood. It makes us more prone to catastrophise.

As humans we create narratives all the time, especially when we lack information. When faced with an uncertain outcome, we fill the gaps using our innate ability to come up with stories.

Notice when this becomes more of a challenge for you. Is it when you're on social media? Talking to certain people? Watching the news? What changes can you make in how you go about your day to turn the volume down on these?

It makes me think of this paradox: we want to reach out, to feel connected and informed, maybe get a glimpse of hope from the news. But we might also get a truck load of anxiety in return so it pays off to choose our sources wisely. Are there any boundaries worth creating? Which leads me to my next point.

The News Diet

As I mentioned I want to feel informed. At the same time, watching too much news and listening to the radio impacts my mental health. So the first step is to choose my information diet plan and clear boundaries.

For example, getting facts only once per day, at a specific time. Around midday works best for me - so it's not the first thing I wake up to and not the last thing on my mind at night. I find it takes a lot of restraint to stick to this rule! It can be so easy to get pulled into excessive scrolling on social media. But it's worth it.

I'm also intentional in how I choose media sources. Written text from a reputable and balanced source might be better when anxiety is high. I often choose the Economist for this reason. I also watch the BBC's Newsround. That's right - news for kids and teenagers! At least I can be sure that I won't be served an image that will haunt me for days. And where positive news, however small, is always part of the daily programme.

Regulate the nervous system

It's really hard to get "back to business" in times like this. But as a mother, daughter, an owner of a coaching practice – my responsibilities don't stop.

When emotions run high and there is nothing we can do, it's often about small things we can do to regulate our nervous system. It's back to those everyday decisions: prioritising physical movement every day. Spending mindful time with your pet. Focussing on nurturing your most important relationships. Meditation or going for a walk - whatever your favourite ways are.

I took my dog for a walk this morning and stopped to take in the sounds of the birds singing. Spring is coming. There is something wonderful about stopping to appreciate the predictability of seasons changing.

Whenever things are emotionally difficult, one of the first things I look after is nutrition. Nothing fancy though - I want to make sure my body has everything it needs but I keep things simple at the same time. Cooking a batch of healthy soup. Drinking my water. Reducing sugar. Not forgetting my Vitamin D supplement - its deficit can cause fatigue or low mood.

This is not a time for your body and mind to be struggling with anything you can easily provide.

Supporting the children in your life

Managing our mental health is one thing, but children in our lives need our support more than ever. Conversations we have with them now matter so much. I have a lot of empathy for my 12-year old who brings home stories of anxiety and fear. "Poland will be next. We're all going to die" - wrote his classmate on a WhatsApp group. "Hunting Putin" has been the game that some of the boys came up with during a day camp.

It's important for me that my son gets the facts from me and not in the school playground. We watch Newsround together, collect items to be delivered to those in need. I want to be receptive to his emotions and available when he needs my support, but not smothering and asking excessive questions. Creating space for conversations and putting all the emotions that come up on the table. I'm being extra mindful of what I say to other people when he's in earshot. What we say to our kids is one thing, but they are so alert to what we say when we don't think they're listening.

This can be a tough balance to reach.

But, as always, putting our oxygen masks first before supporting others.



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