Fighting the feeling of helplessness during conflicts and crises

In a time where the COVID-19 global pandemic is still ongoing and a new conflict has surged in Ukraine, it becomes quite common to develop a feeling of powerlessness towards the current events. While it is a natural reaction to crisis situations, it generally comprises a mix of unpleasant emotions including, to various degrees, paralysis, intense sadness and apathy or resignation. 

Date 2022-05-23 Author Czech Safer Internet Centre Section awareness, helplines Topic media literacy/education, potentially harmful content Audience children and young people, parents and carers, teachers, educators and professionals
A sad child consoled by his mother

Be conscious of your feelings  

The word powerlessness refers to a state of feeling like not having any power. It implies, to various extents, a certain withdrawal and vulnerability. At first, we may want to suppress such feelings, but that comes with a risk of developing psychosomatic reactions impacting both the mental and physical health. Headaches, stomach-aches, or sleep disturbances are some of the most common symptoms.  

Prolonged exposure to stress, which we can experience to various degrees, can lead to apathy, indifference and resignation. These feelings can weaken the natural defence mechanisms of the human body. Instead of finding constructive solutions, there can be a tendency to just passively survive. More serious psychological struggles such as forms of depression or severe anxiety may also be experienced. 

Some healthy actions and habits that can be established to counteract the negativity are breathing exercises, guided or walking meditation, or journaling to explore your feelings or write down positive affirmations or thoughts of gratitude. 

Providing help and support is beneficial to all  

While the current conflict in Ukraine is complex and frightening, it is important to remember that individuals are not completely helpless. The political situation cannot be changed by individuals alone - it is indeed self-preserving to be aware of the limits of one's own actions – but everyone can still somehow positively contribute. 

Help and support can be provided in several different ways: verbal, financial, material, spiritual, physical, and more. Providing support is beneficial to both the person needing help and the person giving it, as it effectively reduces the sense of helplessness.  

What can I do? 

Different kinds of support will suit different individuals. The first questions you should ask yourself to fight the feeling of helplessness are the following: 

  • What do I/you need the most right now? 
  • What would help me/you the most right now? 
  • What can I do for myself/you? 

During challenging situations, people have to continue with their normal lives, while at the same time wanting to be supportive of those heavily affected by the war. Everyone has different strategies to manage stress and tackle fear or grief. Here are some suggestions on what you can do to be able to effectively support those around you. 

Talk to your children about the war 

Don't be afraid to bring up the topic of war and conflict with your children. Be honest, adapt your explanations to the age of the child and allow them to ask questions. Remember that children can get information through different media outlets anyway, and it is therefore important to help them navigate through the information and to only rely on verified and trustworthy sources to avoid disinformation and unnecessary panic. 

Get involved  

There are many opportunities for you and your children to get involved and help those heavily affected by the war. For example, you can get involved by volunteering in your local community, by setting aside practical items (such as blankets, sleeping bags, toys and more) with your children and taking them to collection points or other humanitarian organisations that will then give them to incoming refugees, by donating money to crowdfunding and charity collection platforms (e.g. Donio in the Czech Republic), by offering free car rides to people in need, if you have a car. Are you a therapist, doctor or craftsman? Your professional skills could also be helpful. 

Share your feelings 

Don't keep your feelings to yourself, it will only increase the sense of hopelessness. Talk about what you are experiencing and thinking with friends, partners, parents, teachers or colleagues. Ask them how they are also feeling and share tips on what might help them when they feel helpless. Share these tips with your children too. Listen to what they are experiencing and create a safe space for them. 

Ask experts for support 

Consulting an expert that could contribute with another, neutral perspective is not a sign of weakness or failure. Various organisations and helplines are available that offer help and support to both adults and young people. Discover what services are available in your own country

Therapeutic and psychological services can be offered both online (through a phone or a video call) or in person by professionals. Given the situation, some might offer their services free of charge. If you are based in the Czech Republic, you can find a useful list at These specialists can also provide guidance if you are not sure how to explain or discuss current events with your children, or how to process the related emotional responses. 

Useful resources and organisations 

While the resources referenced in this article originate from the Czech Republic, similar sources exist in your own country language. If you’re not based in the Czech Republic, your national helpline can provide guidance and support. To discover what services are available in your country, refer to your national Safer Internet Centre

In the current situation, characterised by its suddenness and uncertainty, it is natural to feel sadness, anger and hopelessness. There are however people who can help you (and viceversa), techniques and strategies to relieve the sense of helplessness. 

Find out more about the work of the Czech Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.   

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