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When war hits your country: My mental health journey

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

"If you're going through hell, keep dancing."

This is my adaptation of the famous Winston Churchill quote. It's based on my experiences over the last five months, so let me start from the beginning, this past February.

I was in Malaysia, reconnecting with my parents-in-law and their loving family. I felt energized by them. The sun was shining, and I had recently participated in a free virtual Tony Robbins seminar. It helped me deal with limiting beliefs and empowered me to create the life of my dreams. I could not wait to come back home to Berlin and put all this inspiration into practice. Little did I know what would come next.

A mere 48 hours after our return, Russia began a full-scale invasion of my home country, Ukraine. And I lost it immediately.

My mother bundled her parents and their cat into her car, and began driving towards me. My grandmother was recovering from hip surgery, and my grandfather has early-onset dementia. One night the house where they found shelter caught fire and they barely survived.

My father chose to stay in Kyiv, to defend his homeland with his life, if that's what it would take. Based on his age however, he would have been free to leave the country.

For months, I lived in an odd state. On the one hand, I needed to attend to the practical needs of my own family in Berlin. On the other, I also needed to handle the news of Russian tanks on the outskirts of Kyiv. The atrocities committed by the Russians in Bucha and Mariupol were a bonus feature.

I felt increasingly disconnected from my international friends, I felt that they did not understand the severity. I began to grow distant from everything that brought me joy and excitement. Including my business idea, which I’ve obsessed over for years. Everything lost its meaning. I lost my routines, and drowned in a vast ocean of never ending to-do lists and heartbreaking news.


Today, the war is still ongoing, and my father is still not safe, but I am in a very different space. I have more energy, drive and motivation than ever.

I'd like to share what helped this transformation, in the hope that it can be helpful to others. It was not pills or therapy, but three things available to everyone, anytime, and for free:

  • Awareness and mindset work

  • Habits and surrounding

  • Movement and action

Let me elaborate a little bit on each point :

Awareness and mindset work.

You likely know this quote by a concentration camp survivor Victor Franks.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Contemplate on this idea. Understanding this simple truth gives you the power and the way out of any pain you may be going through. Remember: you have the power to choose a response that empowers you! You start by changing the questions you ask yourself. Choose questions that lead your mind on a positive journey. For example, instead of “Why did it happen to me?” ask yourself “What can I learn? How can it serve me? What is good about that? Who can help me on my path?”


Habits and surroundings.

Habits are often subconscious triggers that drive our daily behaviours, for better or worse.

People around us influence how we look at the world, spend our time and money and what we aspire to. Start by analyzing your habits and surroundings. Then, get rid of those that do not serve you. This will likely include unhealthy thinking patterns and negative people!

Surround yourself with people who support you, and will help with your growth. Introduce new habits and beliefs that serve you well. For example, stop going to bed late. Wake up early to have a few hours of deep work before the hustle and bustle of the day gets to you. If you've ever told yourself that "people don’t care and I am not good for that" then stop. Reframe your subconscious, and tell yourself in full faith “There are lots of people who care. I have all it takes to succeed in anything I set my mind and heart to”.


Movement and action.

Let me remind you of a big secret: How we choose to feel at any moment depends on our physical state. Physical movement has the power to change our body biochemistry, within minutes. Smile, dance to empowering music, breathe deeply, make yourself big, and take power poses. All these sound primitive, but they work! Movement will literally move you to a better mental place.

And last but not least: don’t forget to take action on things that matter to you. Try to channel pain into creativity. Or focus on future-oriented goals. These are excellent ways to heal.

If you feel no goal can excite you now, ask yourself “What and how would my life be in 5 years if I stay in this low-energy state?” The pain of this image should create a “Why” strong enough to start seeking your way out. (If not, please repeat the exercise :)

In my case, my way out was starting the Instagram project VoicesOfUkraine. I wanted to create a space where people of the world would hear pro-Ukrainian perspectives and learn how they can help (in the big hope of turning them all into active and vocal allies of Ukraine!).

I realized very soon that operating on the energies of despair, anger and exhaustion will not help me on my path. To get people on board to stand for Ukraine, I needed passion, courage and conviction. I needed to level up my energy game. Otherwise, I risked ending up broken and lonely, as I would not be able to bridge the gaps with people around me.

The turning point on this journey was participating in Tony Robbins signature program, "Unleash the Power Within," this July.

It inspired me to implement changes to my routines, which had a tremendous positive impact on how I'd feel.

There were a few more actions that worked for me, but here are my top seven game changers:

🔹 Read less news (did not equate to stopping my activism)

🔹 Wake up at 5 am (which meant going to bed at 10.30pm)

🔹 Start the day with a glass of lemon water, and a cold shower

🔹 Start the day with "Tony Robbins Priming Exercise" (find it on YouTube)

🔹 Have a celery smoothie on an empty stomach and more greens throughout the day

🔹 Find an accountability buddy. We keep each other accountable for our daily goals

🔹 Pick up on daily workouts and little dance breaks

I hope something from this list may serve you. Otherwise, remember about the interconnectedness between our physical, mental and emotional states. Find other ways that serve you. Focus on gratitude, and things within your control. Then add physical activity and daily action towards your goals. I guarantee you will begin to feel better!

Whatever “war” you may be going through, please take it seriously. My husband told me on the first day of the invasion, "It is not a sprint, it's a marathon." To endure and thrive, I needed to make this choice, and put in place a few actions.

Stay safe, stay sane, and don't forget to stand up for things that matter to you!

***

Julia Singh.

Curator of the Instagram Project “Voices of Ukraine”, host of Berlin conversation salons “Deep Talks” and a popular coach with growing companies for compassionate communication.

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