Amid the unpredictable nature of civil unrest, many individuals find themselves grappling with heightened emotions and stress. Such events, often fuelled by political, economic, or social disagreements, can have profound psychological effects.
In addition to the immediate emotional toll, the lingering psychological impact can manifest as chronic stress or even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for some. The collective emotional burden also has the potential to erode community well-being and fracture social bonds, creating an environment that is increasingly challenging to navigate. It’s crucial for both individuals and communities to seek strategies for emotional and psychological resilience in these trying times.
The psychological impact of civil unrest
The sudden and often violent nature of civil unrest can induce feelings of fear, anger, and confusion. These are natural reactions to perceived threats. Beyond the immediate shock, witnessing or experiencing violence can lead to longer-term psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety.
Furthermore, the uncertainty surrounding such events can lead to feelings of powerlessness. When regular routines are disrupted and safety is threatened, individuals might struggle with a sense of loss of control. This can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress.
The importance of self-awareness and acceptance
It’s crucial to recognise and accept our feelings without judgement. By being self-aware, individuals can understand their reactions and address them more effectively. Accepting that it’s okay to feel scared, angry, or even numb can be the first step towards healing.
Studies have shown that self-awareness and acceptance can foster resilience and enhance coping mechanisms during tumultuous times. By acknowledging and understanding our emotions, we can better navigate them.
Strategies to cope and regain balance
During times of civil unrest, it’s essential to prioritise self-care. This can be achieved in several ways:
- Limiting media exposure. While it’s important to stay informed, overexposure to distressing images and narratives can be overwhelming. Taking breaks from the news and limiting time spent on social media can help reduce anxiety.
- Engaging in relaxation techniques. Practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help alleviate stress. These techniques can help individuals ground themselves and find a sense of calm.
- Seeking support. Talking to friends, family, or a professional can provide a safe space to express feelings and gain perspective. Additionally, research suggests that community engagement can foster a sense of belonging and help individuals process their experiences.
- Spend time in nature and open spaces. Being outdoors, detached from electronics and the 24-hour news cycle, can provide perspective and boost mood. If possible, take breaks to walk outside or sit in a park.
- Focus on sleep, nutrition, and movement. Getting adequate rest, eating healthy foods, and staying active can all help manage stress. Maintain routines as much as possible.
- Explore professional mental health support if needed. Counsellors can help process emotions, grief, and trauma that may arise. Seeking help is a sign of strength in difficult times.
The role of community and solidarity
In the face of civil unrest, communities often come together, offering support and solidarity. By connecting with others and working towards a common goal, individuals can find strength and purpose.
Community initiatives such as neighbourhood watch groups, community dialogue sessions, and peace marches can foster unity and offer a platform for collective healing.
Activists and local leaders usually take the helm, guiding collective action through strategic planning and communication. Through these multi-faceted approaches, communities not only survive but often emerge stronger, their social fabric enriched by the trials they’ve overcome together.
Looking forward with hope
While the emotional toll of civil unrest can be profound, it’s essential to remember that emotions are transient. With time, understanding, and the right coping strategies, individuals can heal and move forward.
By prioritising self-care, seeking support, and engaging with the community, individuals can navigate the challenges of civil unrest and work towards a brighter, more harmonious future.
Lucas Bennett, PhD is a psychologist with over a decade of experience in trauma therapy and community engagement.