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Images of high-rise buildings with their faces blown off, exposing half-eaten dinners on kitchen tables. Homesteads reduced to rubbles. These are distressing images to our generation of Singaporeans who have been so fortunate to enjoy uninterrupted peace and security all our life.

Nearer home, there have been spats and threats across the Taiwan Strait.

The thought of war coming to Singapore have flitted through many minds. For those of us who are more prone to panic and anxiety, we ruminate about the possibility of war coming to our shores.

In some cases, the Ukrainian war not only provoked anticipatory fears, it has resurrected ghosts of past family traumas. Stories heard as a child from old folks about invasion and occupation during World War II, about hiding in the jungle, sampan rides as refugees when enemy planes dropped bombs overhead, internment, tortures and rape by invaders.

What is to be done?

Government leaders have sounded alarm about the economic and political challenges we face. Some have termed the convergence of geopolitical tensions, international financial instability, and natural disasters the perfect storm.

People react differently to such messages and news. Some are upset with potential interference of the rhythm of life we are accustomed to. Others, worried and anxious about a string of “what ifs”.

If you find yourself reacting emotionally to international tensions, first take a step back, to recognise what is in your control and what is not within your control. Geopolitical struggles and its impact on Singapore are beyond the control of us individuals.

So instead focus on doing what you can control.

What is in our control?

Is there anything within our control?

For a start, if we know of friends and family exhibiting distress and anxiety about the prospect of strife and war, or about trauma, as described above, encourage them to seek professional help. We want everyone to be in as best a state of emotional and mental wellbeing as possible to deal with potential negative events on the horizon.

For the rest of us, it is back to basic including:

  • Keep our bodies healthy: eat nutritiously, sleep well, exercise regularly
  • Acknowledge our negative emotions, and learn ways to manage them
  • Be judicious in our media consumption; if need be, go on an occasional media fast
  • Treasure our loved ones. Hug them often and say “I love you” right out loud. Do what we can to love and support each other.
  • Put our financial affairs in order. Political conflicts inevitably affect savings and investments. There are confusing and conflicting views, so take financial advice when necessary.

Seek helpful information such as this article.

Toxic noises, disinformation

As the tension between big powers rises, propaganda on all sides becomes shrill. It is therefore important we learn how to approach news and information with a calm and clear mind.

The propaganda machinery wants you to take a simplistic black-and-white position: you are either for us, or you are against us. But the issues at hand are multi-layered, oftentimes opaque, and too complex to be squeezed into a binary approach.

Be aware that the contest of narratives and opinions is dividing family, friends, and setting citizens against citizens. Take care not to trade family bond and friendship for political stance. Above all, do not sacrifice your humanity for the sake of politics.

Refrain from impulsive and reactive response.
Take a step back.
Evaluate and verify information.
Be aware that conspiracy theories and misrepresentations are in abundance.

Date check, because a favourite ploy is to replay old speeches and writings of well-known figures as though they are commenting on current conflicts.

Learn to think slow (see Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow, a talk at Google).

Think consciously, deliberately.
Be contemplative and rational.
Consider different perspectives and ideas.

Cultivating mind, nourishing the heart, staying grounded

However, we also know that it is very hard for our mind to think slow without reining in the instantaneous and unconscious reactivity of fight, flight or freeze. We need to first soothe our emotions and calm our mind.

To achieve that, we look to contemplative practice to help us ground and centre: prayers, chanting, mindfulness, meditation, breath work.
Do what works for you. Start with baby steps.

Contemplative practice helps us to progressively cultivate clarity and wisdom in our minds, compassion and peace in our hearts. These qualities place us in a state of equanimity and balance, which are valuable in times of chaos.

We can then observe the happenings around us with detachment and clarity, helping us to make better judgment and decisions.

If you are so inclined, read your holy scriptures and texts for comfort, direction and inspiration.
Or you may wish to revisit the Desiderata to experience a sense of serenity and perspective.

Above all, count our blessings.
At the fundamental level: we still have our loved ones, a roof over our heads, food on the table, comfortable beds to rest our heads at night……

May you journey well.
May peace and security always be with you.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing anxiety or suffering from any traumatic memories mentioned in this article, do connect with us today.