How to Handle War Anxiety

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 13, 2024
3 min read

When breaking news and images about war, death, and destruction floods the media, it can be overwhelming and scary. For some, this may affect emotional health, triggering anxiety and stress.

It usually stems from worrying the same things may happen where you live. This is a common reaction. In fact, some experts have dubbed this phenomenon “ headline stress disorder,” “war anxiety,” or “nuclear anxiety.”

If you feel this way, here are some tips to recognize your emotions, manage stress, and get help if necessary.

News about warfare and its consequences -- the number of lives lost, people losing their homes, and lack of food and shelter -- can be jarring.

War anxiety can:

Trigger new emotions. Watching a global crisis like war unfold can stir up new feelings of uncertainty or stress that you’ve never felt before. The news may make you worry about how it could affect the economy, jobs, national security, or your loved ones. If this happens, talk to your close friends and family for a reality check. If the news is bothering your mental health too much, tell your doctor about it.

Increase the need for control. Staying glued to the TV for news updates or constantly scrolling through social media feeds to seek more information and stay informed can give you a false sense of control. While staying up to date can help you take precautions in certain instances, too much of it may disrupt your daily routine. Psychologists say this can backfire and increase anxiety in the long term.

Instead, experts recommend focusing on things you can control, such as your general well-being. Try to:

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Get enough sleep
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated
  • Check on your loved ones to stay connected

Worsen mental health. If you have a mental health condition like anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or depression, watching too much unpleasant news can worsen it. If this is the case, cut back on the screen time. Talk to your doctor or therapist if necessary.

It’s understandable that you want to closely follow news coverage about war and current events. But it’s important to pay attention to how it affects your physical and emotional health. Here are a few tips to avoid triggers and manage anxiety.

You should:

Mute triggering content. Avoid certain topics, words, or phrases that can trigger anxiety or stress. Cut back, pause, or step away from certain types of news coverage if the news affects you too much.

Limit time spent on consuming news on war. With smartphones, it’s easy to get daily updates, newsletters, notifications, and minute-by-minute alerts about breaking news. This can easily become too much information to handle. Turn off or delete certain news sites or apps, especially if they’re overwhelming you.

Be intentional with social media use. Besides mainstream news coverage, constantly refreshing or scrolling through social media apps for new angles on war coverage can cause information overload. You may also become exposed to fake news or misinformation.

Instead, be proactive about the type of content you consume. Be selective about what accounts you follow and stick to trusted news sources. Delete some of the apps if necessary.

Accept uncertainty. To deal with worry or stress war may cause, focus on what you can control. It’s completely normal to feel uncertain. To combat it, take care of your health, lessen exposure to negative news, and practice accepting your emotions.

Take care of yourself. Regularly exercise, eat well, and prioritize sleep. To take your mind off stress or worry, try doing activities that make you feel good. If you’re feeling lonely, check in with your friends and family.

If constant news coverage about war and destruction is affecting your quality of life, or you find it difficult to continue with your duties and responsibilities, tell your doctor about it.

If you can’t manage the stress, you may need to speak with a mental health professional like a counselor or therapist for help.