Emotions start looking for a target, says the psychiatrist. The wave of refugees will be a challenge for our morale

More than fourteen days have passed since the Russian attack on Ukraine. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the democratic country to the nearest neighboring countries, including the Czech Republic, because of grenades and bullets, and more are on the way.

The wave of solidarity caused by the Russian aggression has already brought nearly two billion crowns in aid to Ukraine. But she also aroused a number of emotions in people, even negative ones. “I’m afraid that as the conflict continues, these emotions begin to seek purpose,” says renowned Czech psychiatrist Tomáš Rektor.

Even if the war is not taking place directly in our country, it affects us all. How does this affect us?

This affects us very significantly. The war is not far from us, in fact on the borders of the former Czechoslovakia. And we already know how the psyche can react thanks to a pandemic. It is a huge stress when we are not directly in mortal danger, but when our sense of security is suddenly shattered. The psyche at first refuses to accept it whole, some people say it feels like a haze, out of reality, a bit like a dream.

But if we look at the previous pandemic episode, we also started with a huge hectic activity, which then turned into anxiety, depression. But in the meantime we have seen the denial that any covid exists, the pride in not believing in the disease. These were the individual defense mechanisms that the psyche was activating, and it is very likely to be happening now.

And, of course, our anxieties from the past will go into all of this – that people aren’t doing well economically. Now, moreover, the situation will get worse – expensive fuels, an influx of refugees, will be mixed with misinformation, which will undoubtedly ride the wave.

And can’t the covid experience help us? Do we already know how our psyche reacts to such a burden?

It can help us and it can hurt us, it will be individual. It can hurt us that we are exhausted that our mental, physical and financial reserves are actually lower than two years ago.

It can help that we have learned to manage our own helplessness, anxiety, fear, that we have learned to take care of ourselves, that we have learned to play sports and that we can now use the skills we have learned during containment. We just have to remember that.

But how do we fight against the feeling of powerlessness that some of us feel today? Many ask, how is it possible that no one stops the Russian aggression?

It is important to realize that we have such a feeling of helplessness, because we often try to fight it through various unconscious mechanisms, such as intense activity or by arguing with those around us. These great pains are often difficult to think about and to evoke, we prefer to argue with our partner rather than worry about what is happening.

And how to deal with it? Being aware of feelings, not blaming them, realizing that we should now be rightly angry, angry, sometimes euphoric. Our emotionality is fragmented and emotions will often jump to extremes. Therefore, try not to keep them in these extremes.

When I feel like I’m expending too much energy because I have to take care of everyone, try consciously slowing down. At the time when I feel very upset, try not to stay in it too long, not to drown in it too much. We are now treated to a lot of negative emotions, and I’m afraid of the only thing that as the conflict continues, the emotions seek their purpose.

And with that comes my next question. When do you think the wave of solidarity will end?

It starts. We are starting to hear more and more information about Ukrainians coming back to where they came from and that they don’t really have any big problems. Such a reaction is absolutely expected. At first, people go into a defensive mode in which they are euphoric. But the energy of this euphoria is exhausted and people fall a little. And we’ll see how much they drop, if they go into a milder depression, or if waves of conflict of any kind develop again, we’ll see what happens to that.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala also stressed that people do not come here from Ukraine for a better life, but run away from anyone who wants to destroy it. It must be emphasized that they are the victims, that it is difficult for them. They had to leave their home, their loved ones, divide the family…

You really have to try to reflect on the situation of those who flee their country. Try to say how I would behave in their place. See that these are people who have gone through and are going through hardships.

At the same time, realizing that the defense mechanisms are different in each culture, that is, for Ukrainians, taking care of themselves and the outside is one of the mechanisms of basic defense. Our image that the woman should come without treatment, which is most often heard by some people now, is completely wrong.


And she better come in ripped sweatpants and have a push-button phone. At the same time, you have to realize that these people lived a normal life before, had a well-paid job, a nice house, went on vacation, went to school, bought nice clothes…

Yes, first and second, it is their duty to look good. The Ukrainian woman knows that if she has to take care of the family, find a job, housing, she should look representative. So that’s what he’s going to do. And for us, it’s a detail you need to know. It will be a huge challenge to our own morality about envy. It is absolutely absurd to envy someone who has fled war, but envy in society is already rampant.


For some people in need, refugees are such undesirable brothers. They argue that the state should support its people, so why is it giving it to strangers. We are in heightened emotions now, but they will subside in a few weeks, and then there may be other heightened emotions. Look at the covid crisis, when the hatred in society was enormous.

On the contrary, which can be the most difficult thing for people who come to us from Ukraine. How can we facilitate their stay here?

I don’t have much experience with them now, but I guess passivity will be difficult for them. It is difficult for people fleeing conflict to do nothing. So it’s a very wrong image that these people come here to parasitize our social system, no, these people want to get involved, they want to work, they want the children to go to school.

Imagine fleeing to France before the war. What would you like to do? You will want to earn money so you can send them home, prepare a space for your children. It will therefore be good for these people to allow them and offer them an activity and at the same time not to take them by the hand in this care. Provide them with basic information, ask them what they need, but the more they manage, the more confident they will be, the more valuable they will feel.

You see, and that’s another one of the voices that’s getting louder and louder in society now. That we will finally have cheap labor.

Unfortunately, these are views on how we can use it to parasitize on the fact that their country has been brought to war. We therefore see cheap labor arriving or also many beautiful young women who will be happy to be with us instead of our wives who always want something from us. Even such opinions are expressed. But it probably won’t be that simple.

Is there a recipe for dealing with all the chilling news of war coming from all sides?

When the conflict started, people fell into two modes. Some tried to cut themselves off from the information, while others swallowed it. In general, neither extreme is good. There are people in whom this causes extreme panic, so they do not follow the news often enough and perhaps agree with a partner that they will interpret what is happening in Ukraine. And I recommend not to go to the extreme, to see the big picture, but not to be there all the time.

You need to sleep well in a crisis, which means it’s ideal not to watch the news on your cell phone in bed and read the news two hours before you go to bed. First, we loop in this bed, and then the news is not neutral. If I read the story about the hospital attack five minutes before bed, I probably won’t sleep well.

Many people at this time tend to blame themselves for making themselves happy. It makes no sense for them to choose a vacation or even go there and show pictures of the sea, for example. What would you advise them?

Certainly not to blame when I’m happy, or when I go on vacation. Just because if I want to get involved in what’s going on, I have to endure not two more weeks, but six months. So, on the contrary, it is important to consciously take care of yourself, to do well.

When we are stressed, we tend to be more neglected because we have to take care of others. But this is a mistake, on the contrary, they need to take care of themselves even more, but in a healthy way. So consciously try to eliminate the bad habits that I relieve myself – usually sweets, alcohol, cigarettes – and focus on the healthy ones, like playing sports or meeting friends. Do more good than usual.

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