Psychological Resilience During Wartime

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Psychological Resilience During Wartime

«One who has a 'why' to live for can endure almost any 'how'» Victor E. Frankl

Feeling safe is a basic need in a person's life. It is the basis for a healthy psyche. In the context of the state of emergency due to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, this feeling has been eliminated. People suffer from physical threats, information attacks, and loss of homes and relatives. Children suffer the anxiety and fear over something many of them cannot even  understand.

When a person faces such stressful circumstances, their body goes into survival mode. All systems become tuned to deal with threats. No one knows in advance how they will behave and feel in these extreme conditions.

However, to one degree or another, everyone experiences the following symptoms:

  • Complete or partial loss of the ability to think logically and consistently
  • Difficulty to analyze and make informed decisions
  • Stupor or obsessive movements
  • Sharpened attention and reaction
  • Tense muscles that cannot be relaxed,
  • Loss of appetite, sometimes for a long time

There are three primitive reactions to stress: fight, flight, freeze.

If the stress is short-lived, it does not cause significant harm to physical or mental health. However, during wartime when we are collectively, severely, and constantly traumatized, it is very difficult to maintain our mental health. But it is crucial that we do! Therefore, personal psychological resilience is the goal.

Psychological resilience is someone’s ability to adapt in the face of trauma, threats, tragedy, or significant loads of stress. The ability to maintain or restore their integrity, balance, self-confidence, find a vital resource, and the will to do all the necessary things for living.

How to stay resilient during difficult times

Each of us, depending on the circumstances, experiences a range of negative emotions of varying intensity.

The first are fear and panic, particularly for those who find themselves in locations of active conflict. The situation is really dangerous and there is no psychological technique that would allow you to feel at ease in such circumstances. Do not try to stop being afraid. The more intensely you express your emotions, the faster they will recede. It's like a wave. At the peak of sensations, cry, shout, stamp your feet, jump, clench your fists, breathe deeply. As soon as it starts to let go - lie in the fetal position, hug your legs, and stay like that for a while. Drink water. These actions will help you to start to acting and thinking rationally again. After all, it is the adequacy of action that can save your life. Especially if there are children under your care. Follow the rule as in an airplane: "first put on a mask, only then help others." First, we deal with our panic, only then calm the children and make decisions. This is your direct parental responsibility!

How to calm a frightened child:

  • Hug them tightly, wash them if possible, and give a sip of water. 

Looking into the eyes of the child say the following:

  • Look at me
  • Breathe like me: inhale, exhale...
  • I'm close, I see you're scared, you were scared. You are safe now.
  • Take my hand, squeeze it.
  • I'm close. I love you. I protect you.

The second emotion is anxiety. Anxiety about your loved ones if they are in danger or out of touch, and you are powerless to help them. There may even be a state of stupor. In moments of despair, faith helps. Faith in God, in the Universe, the higher powers. Pray, recite mantras, meditate, practice positive affirmations. Repeat them aloud or about yourself. If possible, go to your temple, church, or place of worship and pray there.

Some people feel ashamed with survivor's guilt, for being safe or abroad. For not joining the defense of the country. That they are safe, unlike many. But you are not to blame for the military aggression. We are all victims of crimes against humanity. Every one of us. And everyone can express their involvement in different ways. The main thing, in this case, is not to shut yourself in, look for like-minded people with a similar situation and unite with them. You can take part in anti-war actions, you can volunteer, donate to the needs of the army or civilians, help refugees. These are also a very important actions during wartime. Caring is a very healing thing.

The third emotion is anger. Everyone feels deep hatred for the aggressor. This emotion cannot be expressed to the person who caused it. Because of this, we might express anger towards oved ones. We may show aggression towards strangers or random people nearby. But they do not deserve it. It is very important for our psyche not to restrain anger. This prevents severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Instead, try to release it through objects. Beat pillow, break a glass, tell someone, or write your angriest thoughts on a piece of paper, in detail and without censorship. Then, burn it or tear it to pieces.

Psychological resilience is the search for a resource in any available sources:

  • In unity and mutual support. Be together in these difficult times. A sense of belonging, devotion, and care gives life a deeper meaning. Become part of something bigger and more important than your own personal life. Both at the level of personal relationships and the level of the team, community or the whole nation. Communicate and help with your best possible contribution. Or just hug your loved ones in moments of despair.
  • In faith. It gives confidence that good will always win.
  • In allowing anxiety, fear, and despair to manifest themselves. Give yourself time to experience and deal with these feelings.
  • In the discipline to take care of yourself. Yes, it is in the determination to look after oneself, even in times of uncertainty. First of all, it's about rest and sleep. Be sure to keep your body warm. About food that will provide recovery and strength. Stop listening to the news, even for a day or two. The ability to quickly pay attention to the important things will provide energy for further endurance.
  • In small but confident steps to regain pieces of "normal life", engaging in peacetime activities familiar to you.
  • In a request for support and assistance. Remember that seeking help (including professional psychological help) is not a sign of weakness, it is a concern for our own physical and mental health, which we will need when it's all over.

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What not to do

  • Hide your feelings. Emotions do not go anywhere and tend to accumulate. By restraining yourself, you can reach their critical mass and enter into an uncontrollable affective state. This is dangerous for your mental health.
  • Make decisions at the peak of emotions. Most people regret such decisions. And in the current situation, this can be a very fatal mistake. Remember, we come to our senses first and then act!
  • Continuously analyze news and reports from various sources. Keep two or three reliable official sources of information. Do not try to elucidat possible future scenarios. Distract yourself with things you can control, things that physically surround you for example.
  • Drink alcohol or strong sedatives. These are substances that can dull your consciousness for a short time and reduce your sensitivity, but as soon as they begin to be excreted from the body, you will feel the exact opposite effect - even more anxiety and irritability.
  • Support fatalism. Thoughts like "this is the end", "everything is gone", "it will only get worse". Remember, as long as you’re alive, there is hope for a better tomorrow! The highest human value is life. Everything else is secondary.
"A person can be deprived of all but one thing: the last freedom of man - to choose their own attitude to any circumstances, to choose their own path" - Victor E. Frankl

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