Dealing with Increased Anxiety Due to the War
Many people may be experiencing intense feelings as the war against Iraq has begun. Many of us within our University of Florida community may be feeling anxiety, fear, hope, shame, pride, anger, loss of control, outrage, disillusionment, grief, lack of safety, concern for others, and powerlessness.
Some of these emotions may be particularly strong because of feelings leftover from past experiences. For example, recent losses may sensitize you to the potential losses that will be incurred by a war. In addition, concern about family members being deployed to the Gulf region, human life loss, and/or increased nation-wide terror alert levels may be adding to your emotional stress.
The current situation may pose troubling dilemmas. Because the United States is a diverse country, and embraces the right to free speech, many differing opinions are being expressed through the media and by individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Some people may support the leadership of our country, and feel frustrated that others are not in agreement and might view them as unpatriotic or not supportive of the men and women in our military. Others might feel frustrated and powerless about how to individually impact national decisions with which they do not agree. These kinds of personal experiences and conflicts can add to increased anxiety and stress. We encourage an atmosphere of tolerance and openness to dialogue about these difficult issues.
Be assured that it is normal to be experiencing a wide range of emotions at this very stressful time in our country and in other countries of the world. We encourage you to be aware that such intense feelings can and often do cause additional physical and mental strain. You may feel more fatigued and be having difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and eating normally. Many of you may find yourselves crying or getting angry more easily. In fact, you may direct irritation or aggression at people or things that usually would not bother you.
Some of you may have noticed some or all of these things happening to you, but you may have just been attributing these feelings or experiences totally toward the rigors of being a student, or the responsibilities of being a staff or faculty member. Maybe after reading this, you may make the connection that your increased anxiety might be connected to the world situation. Just remember, that stressful times require us to be easier on ourselves. It is very important to be extra caring of ourselves at this time.
Some effective ways of coping with stress and war-related emotions might include:
Managing Our Emotions
Recognize what you can and cannot control. We may not have much control over the war activities, but we can control many things in our daily lives. One way people try to gain a sense of control is by gathering information about the war. Unfortunately, sometimes having more information can increase stress. It is wise to monitor whether media exposure has a positive or negative impact on you and how much is right for you. And for those of you who do not want to hear about the war, listening to the radio or watching T.V. may involuntarily expose you to frequent updates, therefore you may want to engage in other activities for entertainment. Other ways to gain control over your life are:
- create a schedule of study and recreation and stick to it
- reach out to family and friends
- talk about your feelings, but avoid talking solely with persons who are only negative and pessimistic
- express your opinions
- pray or meditate
- recognize that thoughtful people of goodwill may come to very different conclusions from yours
- seek out religious or spiritual communities
- express yourself creatively (singing, dancing, cooking)
- do something fun; laughing at serious times is OK
- escape in healthy ways (video games, movies, walking, NOT overeating or abusing drugs or alcohol)
Managing Sleep Difficulties
- Try to avoid watching TV (and especially news broadcasts) just prior to bedtime. Bombarding your mind with these images can keep you from "winding down" at the end of a day
- Generally speaking, it is a good idea to avoid naps. Try to maintain a regular sleeping routine of when you go to sleep and when you wake up (i.e., go to bed at the same time every night).
- Try to avoid drinking caffeine for several hours before bedtime.
- Exercise is a great stress reliever, and we know that some form of moderate exercise (brisk walking, swimming or jogging) in the late afternoon can help to promote sleep by evening. However, try to avoid exercise just prior to bedtime, when it can cause your body to become too "revved up" to relax.
- Find something relaxing to do in the evening. Some people like to take hot baths, curl up with a good book, light a few candles in their bedroom, or listen to soothing music.
- In the event that you find yourself tossing and turning, you may want to try getting out of bed and doing another activity (i.e., some light reading, writing letters, or doing another quiet activity) until you feel drowsy again.
- If you find yourself concentrating on things you have to do or want to remember while you are trying to fall asleep, keep a pad of paper and pencil next to your bed to jot these down as they happen- then forget about it. This will help you to avoid lying awake and continuing to worry.
- Remember that alcohol may help you feel drowsy, but it will actually interfere with your ability to get a good night's rest. Alcohol typically results in more disturbed and shallow sleep, and also tends to cause people to awake fairly early.
Asking For Help
- At a stressful time, asking for help can be very difficult for some people. Sometimes, it is not an easy step. People often do not like to ask others for help or to involve outsiders with these kinds of difficulties unless there is considerable distress and unhappiness and until after they have tried everything else. Just because it is hard to do, however, doesn't make it any less sensible. Trying to scrape by without enough help may be an invitation to disaster. It takes sound judgment to know when additional help is needed and courage to ask for it.
- So don't be afraid to ask for help. If it is hard for you, learn how to ask comfortably, knowing that you have the need, the right, and the inborn ability to do it. Much more often than you think, other people-friends, family and professionals-are more than willing to help, once they know just what it is you want. But they can't read your mind, nor should they, even if they love you. It is your responsibility to let them know, specifically and directly-by asking for the help you need.
Create and Connect with a Caring Community
- Actively find ways to not be alone: Spending time with friends, family, colleagues, or social groups who are willing/able to listen to your fear or to share their fear reactions with you can be extremely helpful. Even if you do not feel like talking, being with others who are experiencing the same feelings and talking about them can be comforting.
- Participate in campus counseling support services: Many support services are available to provide you with a safe space to share concerns, worries, fears, and/or anxiety with a professional counselor. Individual counseling by appointment and emergency support is offered here at the CWC.
- Pay attention to race or ethnicity concerns if relevant: This current world situation may result in a heightened sense of awareness of your racial/ethnic identities. Talking over your concerns with people who share your same race or ethnicity or others who are of a different race or ethnicity in a safe, comfortable environment could be very helpful.
- Encourage open dialogue with people of cultures different from your own in an attempt to gather understanding and sensitivity to how they may be impacted by the war. Good communication is the key to reducing anxiety and misunderstandings.
- Turn to your spiritual and religious faiths: If you belong to a spiritual or religious community, gathering together for worship, prayer, discussion, a meal or other forms of religious or spiritual expression, can strengthen the bonds of human connections and be a force of comfort in your life and the lives of others around the world.
In summary, please remember that these are very stressful times for all of us, and it is important that we take extra care of ourselves and each other.
We encourage you to contact the CWC at (352) 392-1575 or stop by 3190 Radio Road, if you think talking with a professional counselor would help increase your strategies of managing through this difficult time. Our multiculturally sensitive and aware staff members are here to listen and to help.
NOTE: This material was edited by Counseling Center staff, and adapted by permission from Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Michigan, the American Psychological Association, and from Iowa State University Student Counseling Service.