Will doing Twister help with depression?
Updated: Apr 3
“I think they are depressed and very sad,” our Ukrainian staff member, Sasha, recently told us about some of the families who are living in a temporary shelter close to Kyiv.
They have been living in the shelter for almost a year now, and they don’t know how much longer they will have to stay. Their dreams for the future are on hold. Their days are in a perpetual waiting area, but they do not even know what they are waiting for at the moment. Waiting for the war to end, yes. But what are their lives going to be once the war is over? Their homes, their neighbors and friends, the school the children attended, the neighborhood store and the community centers are all gone.
Three meals a day
The shelter is relatively safe. Each family has one room. They get three meals a day. They have beds and blankets. Isn’t that enough for them? Their country is at war, after all, and there are many whose lives are much more difficult.
This is easy for us to say who haven’t tried to live in crammed quarters with hundreds of others for months. Every day is exactly like the previous. There are no expectations to fill, other than making it through the day. It is getting harder and harder to find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. It is like: Who cares if I stay in bed all day?
Idleness can lead to depression and anxiety
Being idle for longer durations can lead to anxiety, depression, poor thinking capacity, loss of concentration and even a decline in memory. It makes sense. Being still with nothing much to do for long allows for repetitive thinking, slow-moving emotions, and, sometimes, a negative thinking pattern. Add to that a sedentary lifestyle—little or no physical activity. This actually lowers the blood circulation in the body and can make you slow—even mentally.
Not knowing if it is day or night
A lack of purpose, idleness and no real challenges are bad for us, no matter who and where we are. For the families living in temporary shelters in Ukraine, waiting for life to start again, it could have disastrous consequences. Imagine sitting in your bed most of the day, watching a screen. “They don’t even know if it is daytime or nighttime,” report our staff. The lack of physical activity is a major risk. If children don’t get to move around, their stress will increase. It diminishes their sense of well-being, affects their sleep patterns and lowers their school performance. And, not to forget, lack of activity also increases the risk of disease and physical ailments. Stress in children, we have been told, can slow, even stop, brain development and physical growth. We can only try to imagine the long-term effects.
Tools need not be complicated
Some of the children who are suffering the outcome of war in Ukraine need professional help to deal with their trauma. But for most of the children living under the constant stress of active conflict, a sedentary lifestyle in a shelter, or as with stress in other forms, some simple tools can change their lives from bad to a lot better. One of the best things we can do, is giving them simple tools so they can learn to regulate their emotions themselves. One such tool is physical activity. The Novi Life Kits, which we are distributing all over Ukraine, are designed to give children something else to do than inactivity. Devised as a game that can be played alone or with others, the children who participate are encouraged to skip with a jump rope, to play Twister, to throw balls in the air, to do hopscotch, and other activities.
This may seem like too simple of a solution to stress and trauma. For some children, it can make the difference between dark depression and initiative for the future.