Five ways to foster self-care during times of societal crisis

Apr 23, 2022 — Gareth Yorke
Five ways to foster self-care during times of societal crisis

It has been two months since the invasion of Ukraine began. The rest of the world has looked on in horror at the destruction and disregard for human life. The Kremlin’s war against Ukraine has brought an end to decades of relative peace in Europe. For outside observers, it has been difficult to watch, and for those directly impacted it has been devastating. For Ukrainians, their lives have been turned upside down. Millions have been forced to flee their own homes and hundreds of thousands are fighting on the frontline. Families have been torn apart, homes have been destroyed, and thousands of people have been killed. The unfolding carnage has caused widespread fear, anxiety, and grief.

Beyond Ukraine, there is the underlying fear that war could spread further into Europe. No one is sure of Putin’s longer-term plans, but there are concerns that he might look to push further into other ex-Soviet Union countries. Any incursion into NATO territory could trigger a world war. Putin has already threatened the West with nuclear attack, and has even placed Russia’s nuclear force on high alert.

At times like this, feelings of stress and anxiety can become our default setting. When our way of life is challenged it can be extremely upsetting and we can enter an almost constant state of worry and tension. These emotions can become overwhelming, and it can feel difficult to cope. Whether you’re watching in horror from a safe distance, or you have been directly caught up in the conflict, it’s never been so important to take time to look after your wellbeing. The first thing to remember is that your feelings are completely natural - it's only human to feel like this during times like these. It's important to not only bring an attitude of mindfulness to these emotions, but also kindness and self-care.

Medito, the 100% free and nonprofit meditation app, has a pack of meditations specifically created to help you cope with societal crisis.

Here are five ways to foster self-care during times of societal crisis.

1. Be mindful of anxiety

Bringing a mindful curiosity to emotions that arise can help you develop the strength and resilience that will steer you through these difficult times. A good way to do this is to practice the labeling method. This is a useful tool to help manage stress and anxiety that can help us to develop a greater awareness of our thoughts and feelings. It's a simple technique - as you follow the sensations of breathing, notice any thoughts or emotions that appear. You can apply a generic label like "thinking" or "daydreaming", or you can be more specific by labeling emotions, like "stress" or "anxiety". Once you've chosen a label, just let it be free to fade away. You don't have to think about this for too long - just observe the thought very briefly, apply a label, and then return to the sensations of breathing.

This practice can help us realize that, although we might not be able to change the difficult situation we are in, we can change our relationship with our emotions, helping us to become stronger and more resilient. You can use this labeling technique to help deal with feelings of anxiety in day-to-day life, not just when you're sitting down to meditate.

2. Practice self-compassion

At times of crisis, it is more important than ever to make time for self-care. It's vital to treat ourselves well both physically and mentally - wherever possible we should try to eat well, stay active, and connect with loved ones. One thing that we can often forget to do during difficult times is to be kind to ourselves. Self-compassion is key to our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around us.

We can practice self-compassion using loving-kindness meditation. By intentionally directing warmth and kindness towards ourselves and others, we can cultivate a more compassionate and empathetic mindset, which has been shown to greatly improve mental wellbeing.

Try using affirmations to direct kindness towards yourself:
May I be safe and healthy.
May I find comfort and peace.
May I find joy in the positive things in life.

Self-care can often be at the bottom of our to-do list during challenging times, but if you can give it some focus, it could improve your wellbeing and transform your mindset.

3. Help the people around you

Even against a backdrop of deep societal divisions and conflict, we must not lose sight of our innate capacity for love and compassion. It can be easy to fall into a mindset of anger, defensiveness, and self-preservation when our worldview is challenged. But it is important to remember that deep down, beyond the ideas and situations that separate us, we are all human, and we all need help sometimes. One way to reconnect with our innate capacity for compassion is to help the people around us.

Helping others has been shown to be hugely beneficial for mental wellbeing, and acts of kindness can help us to get through the toughest of times. Seeing a crisis unfold around us can make us feel like we're losing control, but reaching out to those around us through kindness and generosity can help us return a sense of purpose and belonging.

When we foster feelings of goodwill and kindness towards others, it can have a profoundly positive impact on our own mental wellbeing, but also on the strength of our connections with other people. This can be hugely beneficial to our friends, family, and community as we try to stay strong during these turbulent times. By generating this kind of positivity, it influences other people to also act with more kindness and goodwill, spreading happiness into the world around us.

4. Ground yourself in the present moment

When facing a crisis, it's very easy to become overwhelmed. Dealing with difficult and unexpected situations can be a lot to absorb. Remember that it is completely natural to feel distressed during these challenging times. A good way to help cope with overwhelming emotions is to ground yourself in the present moment by practicing open awareness.

We practice this technique by sitting with a broad awareness of our experience in the present moment, noticing sights, sounds, and smells as well as physical and emotional feelings. We do this while allowing thoughts to come and go, but without engaging with them. This can help us to adjust our relationship with the difficult emotions that arise during these challenging times. Instead of getting overwhelmed by emotions, we can notice them mindfully, giving them space to dissipate, before they become all-consuming. In this way, we can allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, without getting overwhelmed by them. We might not be able to change the challenging situation we find ourselves in, but we can improve our response to it.

5. Avoid “doomscrolling”

During times of societal crisis, we're often exposed to a constant stream of new information keeping us up to date with the latest developments - 24-hour news, social media, and phone notifications. When we're in an uncertain situation, we can start to become addicted to our phones, as we search for clarity. This can lead to something known as "doomscrolling" - constantly checking the latest news articles and social media posts.

It's important to recognize that it's not always helpful to be constantly connected to this stream of information, especially when we're getting bad news. Try setting aside some dedicated time each day for staying up to date, and avoid checking for updates outside of this time. Make time for self-care and for connecting with loved ones instead. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the constant stream of negative news, try taking some time out with a safe-place visualization - picturing yourself in a safe, comforting place can help you to reset and find a few moments of calm amid chaos.

Medito, the 100% free and nonprofit meditation app, has a pack of meditations specifically created to help you cope with societal crisis.

Gareth Yorke

Gareth Yorke

Gareth is one of Medito’s co-founders and board members. He has a passion for meditation, mindfulness and community-based organizations. Gareth is currently studying for a master's degree in Mindfulness Studies at Aberdeen University. Twitter: @garethyorke