War changes us: the effects of prolonged stress on the body

Psychologist Marta Pyvovarenko, the emergency aid advocacy officer of the NGO "Community Self-Help", spoke about the symptoms, manifestations of depression, strategies for overcoming stress and the possibilities of coping with it.

What are the symptoms of stress-induced disorders?

As a national trainer and supervisor of the new WHO action program on mental health for lay people, I can confirm that wartime depression is one of the stress-induced disorders. The mhGap-HIG action program is designed specifically for humanitarian conditions, in particular war, and it is worth paying attention to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression and other conditions.

Signals about experienced violence or the transition of acute stress symptoms due to a potentially traumatic event into PTSD, depression are an important factor in preventing self-harm and suicide.

What are the signs of a deterioration in a person's usual functioning - a negative trend?

This can be isolation, reduced self-care, refusal to take a shower, reduced contact with previously loved ones, or non-productive coping, i.e. strategies to cope with stress through alcohol, drugs or other chemical substances - addictions.

In society, the opinion that psychological health is mythical is still relevant. Something like, if you get out of bed, everything will pass. Is it so?

Even mild depression is often combined with other health complaints and somatic pain. "Lump in the throat", pain in the heart, "acute stomach" may not show any physiological reasons at the time of diagnosis, but people suffer from painful sensations in the body for years.

Somatic practice helps to get rid of many of these symptoms and prevents the use of painkillers, which can also lead to addiction. Movement, change of movement strategy, visualization, breathing techniques are practically the basis of state stabilization in all psychotherapeutic approaches related to stress. I recommend that physical and psychological well-being be considered as inseparable. Psychological healing and physical healing lead to overall health improvement.

Almost 2/3 of people who have experienced a potentially traumatic event will experience sleep disturbances, PTSD will interfere with recovery from the injury, and if the person has chronic pain, the condition will worsen. Physical pain, like nothing else, can lead to a feeling of hopelessness, and one in eight is ready to say goodbye to life just to get rid of chronic suffering.

Is it possible to improve your condition, help yourself or others?

Yes, thanks to the coping strategy — the strategy for overcoming stress. They are essential for life, so during quarrels, our relatives wanted to "twist cucumbers" or wash dishes. In general, any fine motor activity will help some people, this includes knitting or other activities, but nothing beats breathing exercises, walking or swimming. Movement helps to relieve stress, make sure it is not too exciting, especially before going to bed.

Movement researcher Rudolph von Laban proposed the concept of changing movement strategies to improve recovery. Every job we do requires us to use certain movement strategies, and changing strategies while resting leads to relaxation.

Are people with psychological disorders at higher risk of cardiovascular and oncological diseases now?

Chronic stress affects diabetes risk because stress actually shuts down the immune system, diverting resources to fight it. We can see a very large number of chronic diseases and exacerbations, especially those that will affect the individual after the danger is over, when the weakened body relaxes. Thus, more people died from chronic diseases after the Second World War than from battles. Prevention of excessive psychological stress is the best way to prevent both somatic and psychological problems.

The short daylight hours, given the power outages, does that affect people's well-being?

It has been proven that in countries with long nights and gloomy weather, depression is a common problem, but it is not only because of the weather, but also because of vitamins B and D.

In general, stressful periods require people to spend more time outside, in warm periods of the year, "green hours" are critical for restoring normal functioning.

A minimum of 5 hours per week, for example, one day from the weekend or 15 minutes daily should be spent on "green hours" and this became evident during the covid period.

Spotting a problem is much easier when you know what to look for.

Understanding signals, trends can really save someone's life. A person is not always able to notice his condition and find the strength to improve it, that's why we need help from the environment and close people.