Stress and War

Unsurprisingly, war is stressful—even media about war can negatively affect our mental health. It also changes how we look at others.

Exposure to war is a traumatic experience that has lasting effects on those involved. Military conflicts are associated with the loss of human lives, personal injuries, health challenges, financial and family struggles, stigma, psychosocial-adjustment issues, changes in decision-making processes, and several other problems all over the world. Just as significantly, violent conflicts involve dehumanization of the enemy and desensitization to the hurt and suffering of other people, both of which are theorized to be led by moral disengagement.

In their study, Timmer et al. (2022) looked at why moral attitudes may erode over the course of violent conflicts and the factors that can explain how it happens. Their study addressed a key detrimental consequence of war exposure—the erosion of moral beliefs among civilians taking place amid the present war in Ukraine (p. 9). Making use of a random sample of civilians in Ukraine, they examined the consequences of exposure to a long-term war. Specifically, the authors evaluated the relationship between vicarious war exposure (e.g., watching war-related news and hearing about war) and moral beliefs concerning violence, noting the significance of daily stressors and depressive symptoms in those affected.

Psychological research shows that major traumatic events and victimization can have substantial effects on several aspects of morality. For instance, in war, many are more likely to accept violence as the norm and to believe that destructive actions serve moral purposes. The indiscriminate and persistent violence faced in wartime might promote lasting changes in moral values not only in veterans but also in civilians (Timmer et al., 2022). As violence becomes acceptable, it is more challenging to establish peace, encourage good health, and recover from war trauma (p. 2). As such, understanding and addressing the complex processes that change people’s moral beliefs around violence are important for developing improved policies and peacemaking strategies in war and post-war contexts.

Additionally, wars and violent conflicts also change society’s structure by creating more female-headed families, poor intergenerational circumstances, and social inequalities. Exposure to violent conflicts has also been seen to boost behavioral problems in children and violent and aggressive behaviors in adult civilians and combatants. Finally, several collateral consequences exist for violent conflicts. For example, children whose parents have experienced war or violent conflict are likely to suffer from various mental health problems (Timmer et al., 2022, p. 2).

Do you have family living in Ukraine? Have you been negatively affected by war or news of war? If you’d like someone to talk to, consider booking a free consultation today. You can send me an email at

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Timmer, A., Johnson, R. J., Antonaccio, O., & Botchkovar, E. V. (2022). Stress and depression as pathways between violent conflict exposure and moral beliefs: Why people sometimes condone “bad” things. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 28(2), 184–200.