Coping in an Ongoing Political Crisis [A look at Ethiopia]

Civil conflict in a country can cause tension, fear and loss. Psychologist DIANA CHEPKOSGEI shares a number of ways you can cope during the ongoing political crisis in Ethiopia.

Tensions between the government of Ethiopia and the northern region of Tigray has escalated into a full-blown civil conflict resulting in a humanitarian crisis in the country.  Operating in the humanitarian space has been challenging with limited access to certain locations and a scarcity of information. In recent times, threats of taking the capital, Addis Ababa, have further destabilised the country’s governance and instilled fear and uncertainty into the collective psyche.

Armed conflict often leads to forced migration, displacement, loss of property destruction, loss of loved ones, overwhelming fear and uncertainty. There is an increase of people needing emergency medical assistance, food and water. Staff of humanitarian organisations will have increased and time-sensitive operations to manage, while also dealing with how the conflict is affecting them and their families personally.

This leaves many staff battling a sense of sadness, despair, and uncertainty. Working in an unstable environment takes a toll and often leaves painful images and memories. In this ongoing conflict, there remain many questions about the security of loved ones and how this will effect future plans of the family.  

But how can one cope in an ongoing political crisis?

It might sound challenging to think of coping or managing your wellbeing in a political crisis. Well, it is possible to keep yourself and the community grounded as you hope for stability. It is a matter of perspective and choice.

A million thoughts might be racing in your minds, with thoughts of “What if this” or
What if that?”.  You may be blaming different political opinions and wondering what the future will look like.

But what can we do as we wait? What can we do today to help us get to sleep tonight? Realise what works for you might not work for another. Remember  that what worked in a previous similar situation might not work for you today.

Here are a few suggestions:   

Be aware: Individuals respond in different ways when caught up in a crisis; be it a health crisis, political crisis, humanitarian crisis or economic crisis. It is important to be aware of your emotional and physical responses in order to understand how best to cope or manage.

Talk about it:   Sometimes it is helpful to vent to someone you know and trust about what you are feeling.  Just saying it out loud can be freeing.  However, please be mindful that the other person may not have the capacity to support or might be sharing different views in regards to the ongoing political and ethnic conflict.

Balanced media consumption: The television news and social media are important sources of information but may be fuelling a sense of fear and worry. It’s okay to tune out once in a while. This will help you balance the kind of information you are feeding on. It’s still very important to be posted about the ongoing situation.

Create boundaries: Well-meaning colleagues or friends might be interested to speak about the ongoing political challenges.  Politely but firmly tell them if you prefer not to discuss it right now/at work/at all.

Healthy distractions:  Try shifting your focus onto concrete tasks.  The tasks need not be heroic but something that would cause a bit of a healthy distraction.

Security awareness:  So much of what is happening feels out of your control.  Take back some control and make a plan for you and your family should things go awry.  This might look like being aware of an exit plan in your location, having emergency phone numbers memorised or written down.

Spiritual Health: For many, spiritual health takes the form of religious observance, prayer, meditation or a belief in a higher power. For others, it can be found in nature, music, art or a secular community. Spiritual health is different for everyone. This kind of practice will help you find peace through releasing control to a higher power and focusing on what is within your control. Releasing control can also look like sharing the burden of tough times with trusted family, friends and religious community.  

Be mindful of your physical health:  If possible, try to eat healthy and exercise within your location. This will be important to calm your body and elevate your mood. 

Seek professional help: Explore opportunities for psychosocial assistance within your organisation when you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope at work or at home. Professional psychosocial support will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of self and explore personal resources to cope and build resilience. 

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