Following on from my previous post, I've been keeping a diary of events to try and help my mental health. This has generally been very helpful. As the war enters its second month, I'm in a vastly better place than I was a few weeks ago. My fears about imminent nuclear brinkmanship have come to nothing. While I would hardly say everything is tickety-boo, I'm more convinced than ever (at a deep, gut level) that WWIII is at worst a remote possibility. I'm not having more than the occasional brief moment of worry any more. Most of the time, I can go about my day as normal.
So let's take a look back at the month. At the end I'll try and summarise my thinking and what's helped keep me calm. Most of this is taken directly from my notes, lightly edited. Remarks added later are in square brackets.
Day 8 of the invasion and day 4 after Putin's nuclear remarks, and I'd largely succeeded in talking myself down into a state of lower-level dread. Pretty much all intelligence experts agree that this was not a specific threat or indicative of intent. Thinking it over, nuclear weapons are only ever a deterrent. There is absolutely no point in a "surprise" launch (which is basically impossible) because the attacker would themselves be destroyed. So you use them to threaten people, making them think you're mad and bad enough to actually do it. Which means you issue ultimatums - if you don't, you're wasting your strongest message. So for the Kremlin to say the remarks were in response to comments about fighting NATO troops [and - for heaven's sake, Liz Truss (!)] means nothing much at all, really - it is status quo that a Russia/NATO war risks becoming a nuclear conflict. All Putin did was send a signal to reinforce that; and again, intelligence experts say there's been no actual changes on the ground whatsoever. Moreover, if Russia actually wanted WWIII, it would already have started it. Far more likely, Putin wants Ukraine as a symbol of strength and achievement. This message is "keep out NATO", not, "I want to watch the world burn".
Men are not as weak as he supposed; there is courage still, strength enough perhaps to challenge him. Sauron fears this. He will not risk the peoples of Middle-Earth uniting under one banner.
- Heavy news detox. Remove more sensationalist sources from feeds, remove live feed sources entirely, asking a trusted source for regular summaries to sate curiosity. The latter is very important. Often, the article is nowhere near as scary as the headline, which is why it's better to avoid the sensationalism entirely. The positive benefits of reading the article as massively outweighed by information overload, which leads to wild, unbridled speculation. With less, but more pertinent, information, speculation is reduced to a healthy level and kept infinitely more plausible.
- Social media is a mixed bag. On the one hand you get things which aren't covered elsewhere, like this phenomenally accurate Twitter thread by an Estonian analyst. Everything predicted here has come to pass. Of course on the other hand you get idiotic comments as well, and the cynicism among some is so high I don't understand how such people don't die of shame. As with the regular media, best used sparingly.
- When I encounter something scary, I try not to hide from it. It's best to minimise the information intake, but not reduce it to zero. When this means I come across something worrying, so far I've found it invariably better to read the full article (or in extreme cases I get Shirley to summarise it for me) as the actual content is a) far less awful than the headline and b) far less awful than letting my imagination run wild.
- Regular walks. These greatly help me stay rational and calm my nerves. I allow myself free reign to my thoughts and then think it through as rationally as I can. Invariably I come out in a better place than when I started.
- Drinking a calming herbal tea. This really takes the edge off things, though it doesn't quash the lower-level anxiety.
- Getting away for a while. Being in the middle of absolutely nowhere helped a lot. With nothing much to do except read books and work on an art project, and realising that it took just ten hours by train to get there, I realised that escaping Prague is not at all difficult. And it helped to be among people who all seemed to be far less concerned about the situation than certain work colleagues.
- Talking when anxious. This is essential. It's no good keeping things bottled up. Releasing fears is a bit like grieving, or popping a blister - if you don't do it, it will only get worse. Contrary to folk wisdom, it won't get better if you don't pick at it.
- Metadata. Don't just read the article, but also consider context (e.g. timing, relation to other events), who said what, who thinks it's significant, how many sources pick up on it. And compare interpretations - some sources are much more pessimistic than others. Reading the raw version (e.g. the text of an original speech) is often highly beneficial compared to the summaries.
- Sensationalism. Understanding the metadata is vital in understanding whether a story is really significant or just trying to make a sale. For example, when the Metro ran a story about the use of a thermobaric weapon, they felt the need to labour the point that it wasn't a nuclear device. Since the two are nothing alike, there was no need for this except scaring people. Note that even the most reputable sources cannot avoid this entirely, as the authors are only human.
- Rhetoric. Watch for patterns. In politics things are only rarely meant literally. Things are often said not because they are true, but because saying them has consequences. Essentially : cui bono, but more generalised. Trying to understand the true intent behind making a statement is often more important than the statement itself.
- Uncertainty and bias. Nothing can be ascertained with certainty, and nothing can be ascertained without bias. By necessity, we must take some sources to be more trustworthy than others. But trust and distrust nothing absolutely - nobody lies the whole time.
- No-one is a wizard. Recall sensationalist doom-mongering about how Trump would inevitably win despite all the evidence showing that he wouldn't. Putin is contemptible, but he is not a force of unmitigated malevolence, whatever anyone might say. If he were, we'd all be dead by now.
- Big picture thinking. Getting bogged down in minutiae is enormously unhelpful, both for analysing the situation and for anxiety. Even hearing what leaders say is nowhere near as important as watching what they do. This relates to sensationalism, wherein every minor development is viewed as inevitably changing the entire outcome of a situation. Even more so than with Brexit, with a war this simply isn't the case. If you listen to every piece of information, you'll understand nothing. Look for patterns and trends. Without doing this, it's easy to go off on wild, unbridled, ultra-cynical speculations about every minor development, virtually all of which will turn out to be wrong.