When World Anxiety is at a Heartbreaking High, This is What I Do

by | Feb 25, 2022 | Anxiety | 35 comments

I will send out my regularly planned post on Sunday, but when the world is wailing and an innocent country is being set on fire, I need to write. So here I am on Friday night, thinking about you all, grateful for this space where I can try to shape some of my aching heart into words in the hopes that something I say might help you feel a bit more grounded and a bit less alone during this tumultuous, terrifying time.

When we sat down tonight for our weekly Shabbat dinner, I thought about the thousands of Jewish Ukrainians who wouldn’t be having their customary Shabbat dinner.

I thought about the likelihood that we have relatives in Ukraine, wondering where they’re spending this harrowing night.

I thought about readers who follow my blog and people in Ukraine who have taken my courses. Where are they tonight? Are they safe?

I thought about the children separated from fathers; terrified mothers trying to usher their little ones across borders to safety; men of all ages staying to fight for their country’s freedom. I looked at our 17 1/2 year old son and knew what he was thinking: “If I was there, I would fight.” I wept for the mothers of those sons, the unimaginable grief and terror they must be feeling at this very moment.

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t sing our ritual prayers. My husband took over, and I let the tears roll down my cheeks, just as I do now as I write these words to you.

Everest asked, “What part is making you most sad?” He’s been following this situation for weeks, reading the news every morning before school to keep his finger on the pulse.

“All of it,” I replied, still crying. My three sweet males looked at me with such tenderness. Asher leaned his head against my shoulder. My husband found my feet under the table. And their love only made me cry harder, not for myself but for the families in Ukraine who won’t be sitting together around a table tonight and for an unknown number of nights to come.

There are times when the pain of the world feels like too much. I don’t pretend to understand the vicissitudes of this situation as I’m not an expert on foreign policy, but I know what my heart knows. I know that what’s happening is wrong. I know that countless numbers of innocent people are suffering. And I know that in our global earth family, their suffering is our suffering. The mothers in Ukraine are me. The Jews in Ukraine are me. The sons in Ukraine are my sons. The husbands/fathers are my husband, the father of my sons.

Feeling helpless as he looked across the table at me my husband said, “Should I go fight?” Like his father before him who signed up for WWII on the day he turned 18 and flew to France to fight for justice, the warrior archetype runs in his blood. If this were happening on our soil, I would be home tonight with only one young son.

I don’t know what it is to have your city taken over by tanks, a city that just three days ago was a modern, democratic place where people enjoyed what people enjoy in cities. I can’t even really imagine it, but I can feel it in my bones. The horror. The heartbreak. The terror.

And yet there’s something that lives in my genetic/ancestral code that does remember. I don’t “remember” Kristellnacht (or Night of the Broken Glass) of 1938, but I feel as if I do. Maybe it’s because I’ve read and seen enough about WWII, or maybe it’s something else. I don’t remember the pogroms across Russia that caused my great-grandmother to board a ship at age 12 and come to America, but some part of me does. Maybe when trauma of this level happens we all remember something of our ancestral lineage that endured a similar horror, some time in our genetic past that remembers being overtaken by despots and colonizers.

What do we do with our broken, aching, wailing hearts?

There isn’t a formula, of course, but I’d like to share what I do:

I cry. A lot. I feel lucky that I have access to tears. I feel grateful for the release of my shuddering chest and wet face. Once the storm of grief passes through, I feel ground again.

I write. I write to make sense of my own experience but I mostly write to offer a lifeline to just one person, for words can do that: they can reach across vast distances and hold out a hand. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. These words are my hands reaching out to you, holding you and loving you in the sometimes unbearable pain of being human.

I give. These are the organizations that I’ve been giving to:

I pray. I know prayer is a charged word for many people, and while I do pray for certain outcomes, mostly I pray in a non-outcome focused way. The Ho’oponopono Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness that my friend Carrie taught me many years ago seems to naturally spring to my lips during times like this: I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Over and over again. I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. l love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

I allow myself to shift my focus. I’m staying informed, but I also know when it’s time to step away from the news. I go outside. I watch my son sledding in the snow. I listen to music. The more we can come back to ground and anchor, the more we can step into the current and show up however we can.

I connect to gratitude. I watch how guilt wants to sidle in and I remember that connecting to gratitude helps elevate us, and the more we elevate the more we can serve as a lighthouse for others. Connecting to gratitude isn’t selfish; it’s noble, and it aligns our compass to the dial of giving.

That’s about all I can share for now. I hope something here is helpful. Sending much love and deep prayers for peace.



  1. Thank you Sheryl. I’m in tears as I read this. The tears help me to process my feelings but I am sad that they don’t help the people in Ukraine. Thank you for the practical suggestions on what we can do to navigate our feelings in this sad, sad situation. Blessings to you and the dear men in your family and blessings to the people in the Ukraine.

    • Thank you, Claire. We’re all in this together. ❤️

    • This comment expresses everything I felt as well, and I finally got to cry it out reading Sheryl’s words too. It’s been building. I will use Sheryl’s practical advice as well. Thank you, Sheryl 🙏

  2. Thank you for sharing with us tonight. I know it’s been really hard. For all of us who are sensitive souls, we feel it. I have felt meh. My fiance has felt meh. My friends have felt meh. How do we hold all the pain when we simply can’t? We are lucky that we can write about this and aren’t experiencing it. I hope and I pray for the people in Ukraine and for our world to learn compassion, at the very least, from such a tragic situation.

  3. It is people like you who renew my faith in humanity. You are a reminder to me that “all will be well” because of your tremendous heart. Thank you for taking the time to send out this post. It is a prayer. 💓

    • Thank you, beautiful Sarah. You, too, are a beacon of light to so many. ❤️

  4. Thank you for helping my tears release too. For guiding us sensitive souls all over the would thought this life in the very best way you can. With love.

    • The last point is so hard. The guilt I feel is real. Why do I get to live in a safe place and others don’t?

  5. I love you. Thank you. Thank you for the reminder of this prayer.

    • Thank you for this. Your words helped. It is impossible for me to make sense of this. My heart is breaking watching these images of people hiding in metro stations and nicu babies in basements… I can’t imagine their helplessness and the trauma they are enduring.

      I am so grateful for your words, suggestions and holding space for all
      of us and all of our soul sisters and brothers in Ukraine.

  6. Hi Sheryl, Iʻm so happy to read your blog post! Got out of bed to reply on my computer. I was up until 2am last night unable to sleep thinking about Ukraine, reading news articles and social media clips. I was so, so sad and full of despair. Even though it’s small, I came across a nice animated graphic to stand with Ukraine (I donʻt know the artist, the post didn’t give any credit) and reposted it with a short note expressing my sadness and prayed. I felt better afterward just doing something! Even though itʻs a small act, prayers matter a lot. My maternal grandparents were held at Tule Lake internment camp and I also have relatives from Hiroshima on my paternal side. I have always felt a strong ancestral connection to those experiences like you describe, like some kind of DNA memory even though I lived a fairly comfortable life. I have visited Hiroshima several times because I felt spiritually connected to that place and it felt like a “coming home” experience. So I hate seeing what’s happening in Ukraine and totally breaks my heart. In fact, now that I think about it, I bought a short book about survivors of Hiroshima a few weeks ago at a library book sale for $1. Maybe I’ll read it again for solace tonight.

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Sheryl. I live in Germany and the German language has the most fitting word for this kind of pain: Weltschmerz, or “world pain.” I’m grateful to know that others are feeling this, too. I’ve cried every morning since the invasion began and sometimes feel so alone. I’m currently pregnant and when I saw a photo of a small Ukrainian family taking shelter in a metro station I couldn’t help but cry. I know many people here who come from Eastern Europe and are deeply affected at a personal level. It’s hard to witness their pain and, at some level, feel their pain with them. I’m grateful for your post and will incorporate these strategies into my daily rituals. Thank you.

      • That’s a perfect word for what we’re all feeling, Kay. Thank you. Let the tears come when they come. They’re healing and help us to keep showing up.

    • Hi Katie: Sending you much love. Yes, the ancestral piece lives so deeply in all of us – I think deeper than we even realize until times like these.

  7. Sheryl…. Thank you xxxx

  8. Thank you Sheryl for sharing your beautiful words and light in these dark times. It’s a reminder of what we can do when we feel so helpless to events outside of our control. I have been avoiding the news as my first instinct is to look away for self preservation but I have been offering prayers and I will donate to a refugee charity.
    I looked at my partner last night and thought about leaving him alone and fleeing with our young son-for that split second- it was harrowing.
    My grandfather fought in the Second World War and my grandmother lived through the bombing in the UK. Like you, I believe that the memory of that trauma lives through us. I too feel it in my bones intuitively.
    Thank you for taking the time to write and reminding us again and again of the light and power we hold inside ❤️

    • Thank you, Sara. We’re in collective trauma even though we’re in safety. It’s what happens when something like this occurs on the world stage. Sending you much love. ❤️

  9. The best kind of words in times like these. I was also having panics and feeling grief so deeply at the thought of being in a situation where my husband had to leave me to fight. It’s horrifying. I wrote a poem last night in an attempt to shift from the pain, remembering that when so much is out of my control and that I want peace so badly, that peace can and does begin with me and the way I show up in the world, in my own little way. Thank you Sheryl, sending you so much love x

  10. Thank you Sheryl, I’ve been so stuck, almost frozen. Sharing your experience is helping me to understand mine. Especially the Jewish influence – when you wrote about the experience of Jews having to hide in WWII at the beginning of lock down and feeling the ancestral connection, it was so powerful for me, as is the connection you drew in this post.

    • I’m so glad my words helped to unfreeze something. Frozen is a trauma response, and we’re all in it right now in one way or another. Sending you big hugs. ❤️

  11. Thank you Sheryl.

    Being a continental western European, the situation now is hard to cope with.
    On one hand, we’re perfectly safe and OK here in France – and I fell nearly guilty for this, when people from Ukraine are under bomb, and the brave Russians trying to do the right thing are endangering themselves.
    On the other hand, in three days we fell into another world, with an open war on the Continent – not the messy, complicated civil ones we dealt so badly with in ex Yugoslavia, but plain, simple, and terrifying invasion-for-power war. The risk of having the war expanding in the EU is very real, with the worst of weapons being used at some point. And another risk – being coward and abandoning all moral values believing we’ll be safer- is also very real.
    I have absolutely no idea how our lives will be impacted by what’s happening, but they will, if only because the price of energy will rise even more. But I’m pretty sure there will be many other repercussions we can’t think about now. I’m totally aware, and grateful, I’m amongst the luckiest ones in the world: we’re facing uncertainty, not life threatening danger. Since I’m dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder for 4 years, that’s not nothing – but compared to what the people on the front are going through, it’s trivial.

    All the familial memories of the two awful wars Europe unleashed on the world are going through my mind – my great grand mother’s father who never totally healed from WWI (PTSD wasn’t a concept, in some times…), her husband has was a captive in WWII, and the consequences it had, deep down, on all the family, the hunger and the cold winters without clothes enough I’ve been told about, the hostages Nazis kept in the village…
    And I feel guilty of my fear, because, again, I’m in a perfectly safe country.

    So I’m a mess of fear, guilt, old anchored pain transmitted through generation, rage against the madman behind all this,..
    And I felt so bloody powerless.

    So thank you, thank you so much for writing us and reminding me that I still have a spiritual way to cope with things. Shifting my focus is hard – nearly impossible for now. But all this other things you’re enumerating are in my grasp. I can write, and pray, and connect (and give to help refugees), and above all, I can choose this way to react with spirituality and to be whole, and as strong as I could be, for what’s to come.

    And since we’re talking gratitude, may I express mine for your father-in-law, coming here to fight for our countries and continent, and for his family, staying one and not knowing when and how he will come back? I am, we are, deeply grateful to him and all his brother and sister in arms for this.

    And because things are never only black and bleak in this world, I’d like to share something, that may seem trivial, but made my joy today: we have, for a few months, our first women soferet in France. Her name is Ermeline Vicaire. I’m not Jewish, but I have a deep gratitude toward Jewish spirituality, and I felt blessed knowing this. So I’m sharing.

    Thank you again Sheryl – your post has been an anchor for me today.

    • I’m in tears reading this, Sandrine: tears of connection and warmth and pain and gratitude. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for expressing your gratitude for our boys’ grandfather. He passed away when my husband was 18 and he never fully recovered from his war years (never spoke of them, as was the case with so many people after WWII), but his story lives in our home, in my husband’s heart, and is living in our sons. Your words remind me again that we are one human family, one earth, one body, and we never know how we touch one another, but we do.

      Please try to let go of your guilt. It’s okay that you’re living in relative safety and have many blessings in your life. Move toward those blessings with gratitude then show up where you can. Guilt has no positive function right now. Sending you a big hug.

  12. Thank you Sheryl. This touched my heart and helped me release the tears for all of the souls affected by this unprovoked war. Much love. 🙏♥️

    • May our collective tears flow into the one river of humanity and lead us to peace. 🙏🏽

  13. Sheryl,
    Thank you so much for putting your emotions to words….I know it resonates with me and I’m sure so many of us. Thank you for showing up with honesty and vulnerability, as you always do. Crying as I read this and touched by the beautiful men you have in your life. Big hugs,

  14. thank you for this, sheryl. after hearing how young men, especially men 18-25, were being forced to fight and stolen away from their wives and children while fleeing, i have been in a constant state of grief. i heard a story how i young wife begged the soldiers not to take her husband away, only to be slapped in the face. i cant help but see myself in these young people. i could be the young wife. my partner is 21- i hate to think of what would happen to him if we were in the same situation. so i hold him a bit tighter tonight, and think of the crying women and children who are separated from the men in their lives. crumpling into grief is hard. us humans are tired. sending love to you all <3

  15. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your tears. You have captured the essence of what I’ve been feeling. My Jewish great grandmother also boarded a ship to leave Ukraine. My great grandfather was already in the US and I think of her crossing in 1908 or so with two little children, one of them my grandmother, and a six-month-old baby. My grandmother had stayed behind so that the baby, my great aunt, who told me this story when she was in her nineties, wouldn’t be born on the ship. So many tears just thinking about this brave woman.

    • Oh correction— I meant to say that my great grandmother stayed behind.

  16. Sheryl,
    Your openness to sharing your energy and unique light during this painful time is most appreciated. We each are on a different path yet have common threads in our tapestry. It is comforting to know that one is not alone in our sadness and grief at a time when the world as we know it is truly in pain. Our heritage (both direct experience and through family history shared through the years) does reside in each of us at a cellular level. I affirm your list (healthy choices, as we must continue to self-care in order to support others) with writing, music, tears, solitude and community. Gratitude is critical as we acknowledge our blessings while praying for our global family.
    Thank you, fellow empath, and brightest blessings and peace to all! And so it is….Amen.

  17. Thank you, Sheryl, for this beautiful post. I’m not Ukranian but I’m european. I hope our brothers and sisters from Ukraine may live in peace again very, very soon.

  18. Thank you Sheryl for reaching out to offer comfort with such moving words. The morning I found out the invasion had started I actually felt sick. Since then I hurt inside but cant cry. The images on tv are heartbreaking & I’ll never understand how human beings are capable of doing such atrocities to each other. It feels like history repeating itself & yes I’m terrified we are heading towards the unspeakable. I pray for peace & harmony in such a deeply troubled world.


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