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S2 Ep5 — Coping with War and Helplessness featuring Dr. Stephanie Salcedo Rossitch

Psychologist Dr. Stephanie Salcedo Rossitch has experience helping veterans who suffer from PTSD and other mental health problems associated with war or military service. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine dominating news and discussion around the world, we wanted to bring her on to discuss how individuals can manage their own mental health in times of crisis.Disclaimer:The views expressed in this podcast episode are those of Dr. Rossitch, and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the United States Government or Department of Veterans Affairs.

Episode transcript

Coping with war and traumatic stress

When asked about the consequences of war on the human psyche, Dr. Rossitch explained that trauma manifests in a wide variety of ways. But what she wanted to emphasize before continuing was that it is absolutely normal to experience one or several of the many common symptoms of trauma: stress, panic, or anxiety. For people who live through crises or wars, these feelings are normal, and no person should be ashamed of their own emotional state.

In fact, her first piece of mental health advice for those suffering in war is to allow themselves space to grieve and feel their emotions. She said,

“Sometimes you need to push your emotions away just to get through the day, but you don’t want to hold onto them too long. I always describe emotions like an inflatable beach ball you push underwater. You can push it down for a little while, but eventually it’s going to shoot right back up with force.”

But it is also valuable to take breaks and take time away to yourself if you feel like that’s something you need.

Coping with helplessness

The conversation later shifted to helplessness. Helplessness has been a growing sentiment in the world for the past couple of years. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, and war, the problems of the world often feel too big for one person to deal with. Dr. Rossitch emphasized that in times of helplessness, it’s important to think about what you can and can’t control. Then, once you understand what you can control, focus your efforts towards the things that are within your power. She gave a few examples:

“Think about organizations that you want to get involved with, check in with your friends and family, ask how they’re doing, especially if you know anyone in Ukraine. Focus your energy on how you can help, because even helping one person—that’s still huge.”

Signs someone needs professional help

Again, Dr. Rossitch emphasized how normal it is to not feel your best in times of crisis. However, because it’s normal to feel panic, anxiety, or stress during these times, those are not automatic indicators that you need professional help. The biggest sign someone needs professional help is when their mental health is interfering with their day-to-day life. Examples include: losing sleep, being unable to work, feeling your personal relationships suffer, and feeling worthless.

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