Sleepless nights and fear-filled days are a given when you or a loved one is caught in a conflict zone. For the past fortnight, the attack from Gaza and the subsequent retaliation has held centre stage; last year, it was the war in Ukraine that gave sleepless nights to people living in areas that were under assault.
So how can people living in or around a conflict zone ensure that they catch some sleep and ease pressure on organs that get distressed due to lack of rest? Dr Neha Parashar, consultant clinical psychologist at Cadabams Mind Talk, Bengalore, offers some tips that can help ameliorate the situation to some extent. “Getting in touch with loved ones, family, friends, and peers proves helpful,” she says. Reducing consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants at least six hours before going to bed helps restore the sleep cycle.
Using ear plugs, dark rooms, using progressive muscle relaxation (it is a guided muscle relaxation by tensing and relaxing body parts from head to toe) methods or Yoga Nidra (also called non-sleep deep rest, something that Google CEO Sundar Pichai regularly practices) help you shut out the noise and the distress around you. Yoga Nidra helps your brain shift focus from distressing thoughts to something as rudimentary as, let’s say, the sound of a fan whirring.
How do emergency situations impact our sleep?
Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, sleep specialist, HOD of Pulmonology, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru says, “Anxiety, emotional distress, impending economic disasters, prolonged grief, acute grief and depression, uncertainty, all these factors ensure extreme degree of fragmentation of sleep.
“Sleep remains sustained for a brief length of time and is characterized by frequent awakenings. This generally is not restorative sleep,” added Dr Mysore. For all the organs to heal themselves and carry out everyday functions efficiently, you need 7-9 hours of sleep daily of which a large amount should be deep sleep.
Cutting down on distressing information
Getting to know about a loss of life or some other gut-wrenching update can be intensely distressing. This trauma can cause secondary traumatic stress leading to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or acute stress reaction, says Dr Parashar. Assuring yourself that this isn’t happening to you and creating a reality check is important, she says.
If possible, getting professional guidance to help navigate and process this traumatic experience would be beneficial, she adds.
Dealing with trauma, one step at a time
Dr Neha has some other tips that can help calm a distressed mind:
- Mindfulness can help regulate PTSD or secondary trauma response. It is a way of living in the moment (and not getting distracted by anything whatsoever) where the individual is fully aware of what is going on in and around him.
- Emotional and physical grounding by focusing on physical sensations and feelings. Acknowledge them rather than discounting or avoiding them.
- Distract yourself whenever there is a trigger. when the triggers are experienced and distracting yourself. Self-awareness reduces the impact of the triggers and hence understanding and regulating emotions becomes easier.
- For some, journaling and expressing emotions and thoughts by writing them down and purposely reflecting on them helps them analyse the situation logically and reduce anxiety.
- Distraction and behavioural activation (i.e., engaging in activities that help redirect the emotions and create new mental goals for the brain) help in reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms. This can be positively rewarding for the person. These can involve meeting friends, going for walks, playing board games or indulging in physical activities, or cooking a meal.
- Creating an environment of self-compassion and accepting it is alright to have these emotions and experiences.
- A cold shower or drinking ice-cold water can help calm an intensely anxious body and mind.
- High-intensity workout and yoga are also beneficial in regulating sleep and anxiety during difficult times.
- Support groups and community also help in building a sense of care and belongingness.
It’s a vicious cycle when you or someone dear to you is caught in a conflict zone — getting a good night’s sleep is the last thing on your mind because of the distress all around; and sleeping well is key to reducing anxiety. Some simple tips like coming to terms with the reality, deep breathing exercises (which are known to reset mind and body circuits), a cold shower or talking to your loved ones may help. If circumstances allow, reach out for professional help if you think you are unable to control the range of emotions erupting inside you. And remember – this too shall pass.