How to Cope with War Anxiety 2023

By Ashley Barnes, M.S.

War Anxiety

War anxiety, also known as nuclear anxiety, is a common reaction to the news and images about conflict. This has been extremely relevant in light of the devastation of the Israel-Hamas war.

Though research is still being conducted on the long-term effects of war anxiety, a Finnish study found that teens worried about a nuclear war were at increased risk for mental health disorders (ex: generalized anxiety disorder) five years later (Poikolainen et al., 2004). Research also indicates that media exposure to mass violence events can fuel a cycle of distress, and those more prone to anxiety are also more likely to seek out media coverage of crises (Thompson et al., 2019)


Symptoms of war anxiety are similar to many symptoms of anxiety disorders. Symptoms may be more cognitive, in the form of worries and anxiety thoughts. Symptoms can also be more physical, such as a racing heart, nausea, headache, or dizziness. You may also find yourself feeling more irritable, which is also a symptom of anxiety. Many people find themselves struggling to sleep, having nightmares, and feeling a general restlessness. Yet, others feel numb (which is also a common reaction).

These symptoms can culminate gradually or show up suddenly in response to a trigger (such as watching horrific news coverage of war). An article in Harvard Health encourages us to “keep in mind that anxiety is often an appropriate response to life stressors, and a small amount of anxiety is adaptive — it signals your body to take a threat seriously” (2022). 

Coping Methods

Here are some ways to cope with war anxiety:

Limit Media Exposure

A wealth of psychological research has found that emotionally intense news is more likely to sell, and negative news is more likely to be addictive. Our anxious brains may believe that if we keep obtaining more information, then we may have a sense of control. However, this just feeds the anxious cycle of worry.

Harvard Health explains that “breaking the habit of checking the news regularly may be the single most effective change in combating war anxiety. Attempt to limit your exposure (including social media) to less than 30 minutes daily, and try to avoid exposure before bed” (2019).

Lean on Your Support System

Connecting with our support system can enhance our mental health and well-being. Connecting with friends, family, and those in the community foster meaningful human connection and can make us feel good; research indicates that having perceived stronger and meaningful connections with others can help improve our mental health (Korb, 2015).

Practice Compassion

The immense weight of oppression and violence feels out of control, which can trigger anger.

An article in Harvard Health notes that “anger can be directed toward populations or ethnic groups, or it may be displaced onto family members or friends with a different view. In addition to interventions such as mindfulness, physical activity, and breathing exercises, anger can be effectively challenged with compassion. Start by paying more attention to kindness around you, attempt to limit your judgments, and try to appreciate other perspectives” (2022). 

Engage in Self-Care

Exercise has been researched and observed to have positive benefits on mental health. It increases endorphins in our bodies, which help us effectively cope with stress and pain. Further, when we exercise, studies show that this can in turn positively impact our sleep cycles, enhancing our quality of sleep (Korb, 2015). The higher intensity the exercise, the better for reducing anxiety.

Spend time in nature. Research suggests that as little as 15 minutes in nature can relieve stress and anxiety (Song, 2019).

Research also indicates that expressing gratitude can improve our general sense of well-being, especially pertaining to our mood (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). We can practice gratitude through a simple thought journal where we make an intention to note aspects of our life that we are thankful for. We can also express gratitude directly to other people. Gratitude helps us focus on the positive aspects of our lives in a way that makes those positive aspects more salient to us.

Mindfulness describes the practice of acknowledging what is happening in the present moment, both outside of yourself (the world around you) and with yourself (your emotions and bodily sensations) without judgment. “Research in mindfulness has identified a wide range of benefits in different areas of psychological health, such as helping to decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and emotional reactivity. Research has also shown mindfulness helps to increase well-being, positive affect, and concentration” (UCLA Health, 2023). 

Take Action

Acknowledge what is in and outside of your control; then, focus on taking committed action that aligns with your values. We can feel helpless and hopeless during times of global crises, even paralyzed as to what we can do. Our responses and actions are within our control, and while individually we may not be able to stop the violence and tragedy, we can make a difference that has a positive ripple effect. This can look like donating to causes we support, educating ourselves and others (even if it entails difficult conversations), participating in peaceful protests, signing petitions, contacting our representatives, or going to a march.

Seek Help

Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with other common mental health disorders like depression and can negatively impact one’s quality of life – if you or a loved one start to notice that anxiety or depression symptoms are negatively impacting relationships, tasks of daily living, work, school, and/or daily functioning, professional support may be needed.

Psychiatrists have extensive training in the area of assessment and will be able to best determine if what you are experiencing meets the criteria for a diagnosis like anxiety or depression. Collaboratively, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan which may involve medication management.

Psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy,” has also been studied to be extremely effective in the treatment of anxiety. Psychotherapy gives us the opportunity to work through our thoughts and feelings in an effective and healthy manner, all while receiving support from our therapists and developing coping strategies. 

Ketamine is an effective option for treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine, when administered by a mental health care professional at the clinically appropriate dose, targets neurons in a way that stimulates the activity of neurotransmitters in a way that combats depression symptoms. Emerging research is finding ketamine to be effective in combating other mental health diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP), a combination of psychotherapy and ketamine treatment, is another effective way to combat treatment-resistant depression. In KAP, a therapist guides the patient through the session, engaging the patient in sensitive and attentive psychotherapeutic work to process the experience. 

Please contact us at the Mental Health Center for sensitive, attentive mental health care. We look forward to supporting you!



Emmons, R.,  & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from 

Harvard Medical School (2022). War anxiety: how to cope.

Korb, A. (2015). The upward spiral: Using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression, one small change at a time. New Harbinger Publications.

Poikolainen, K., Aalto-Setälä, T., Tuulio-Henriksson, A., Marttunen, M., Lönnqvist, J. (2004). Fear of nuclear war increases the risk of common mental disorders among young adults: a five-year follow-up study. BMC Public Health. 2004 Sep 30;4:42. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-4-42. PMID: 15458568; PMCID: PMC526205.

Song, C., Ikei, H., Kagawa, T., Miyazaki, Y. (2019). Effects of Walking in a Forest on Young Women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Jan 15;16(2):229. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16020229. PMID: 30650572; PMCID: PMC6351942.

Thompson, R.R., Jones, N.M., Holman, E.A., Silver, R.C. (2019). Media exposure to mass violence events can fuel a cycle of distress. Sci Adv. 2019 Apr 17;5(4):eaav3502. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aav3502. PMID: 31001584; PMCID: PMC6469939.

UCLA Health System. (2023).