Coping with post Brexit anxiety

29 June 2016

If you have been anything like me since Thursday, your cortisol levels will have been sky high. 

30 million of us voted last week on the UK’s ongoing membership of the European Union.

It was a monumental decision. The consequences, both positive or negative, are unpredictable, varied and open to interpretation. Far from closing the conversation down, it is likely that the debate and uncertainty will continue for the foreseeable future.

No matter which way you voted last week, or even if you didn’t vote, big decisions with multiple consequences are triggers of stress and anxiety for many. We know that when our mental health deteriorates, it has knock-on effects both for our individual and collective ability to flourish or thrive.

Depending on how you voted, you are likely to be experiencing a range of heightened emotions.

The fallout

Many people who voted to Remain are likely to be struggling with feelings of shock and anger. This is a normal response when you feel like an event has created long-term negative consequences for your life and if you feel your sense of control has been taken away. Anger is often accompanied by its common emotional bed-fellows of sadness, frustration and even despair.

Many of those who voted Leave are likely to be experiencing different but no less acute levels of upheaval. There will likely be a sense of dissonance at getting the outcome they wanted and yet stung by the disappointment or resentment expressed by friends and family who took a different view. For some, there will likely be anxiety at the sense of responsibility of being on the ‘winning’ side and even shame for being associated with the extreme actions of others who also voted leave.

Throughout the UK, many people feel labelled, stereotyped and judged. There has been an unacceptable 57% increase in reported incidence of hate crimes since the referendum. Many people in black and ethnic minority groups are feeling especially vulnerable as a result.

Powerful emotions

Shame, anger, regret, fear – these are some of the most powerful emotions we can experience. They are the big drivers for anxiety and stress. Physical symptoms to watch for include dizziness, dry palate or sleeplessness or psychological symptoms such as a sense of foreboding and impending disaster. Managing those feelings proactively and responding sensitively to others could make a huge difference to how you adjust to whatever the post-Brexit reality brings.

In amongst all this upheaval, we believe there are actions we can each take that will strengthen your resilience and help manage the uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead.

Strengthening resilience

Here are our suggestions to help you strengthen your resilience:

  • Permission to be heard: everyone has the right to respectfully express what they think and feel and to be respected in return. Seeking to understand and accepting that it’s okay for others to have different views is an important first step in managing anger.
  • Know yourself: be aware of what you are feeling and identify if there are particular triggers for strong reactions. Consider how you can manage or avoid those triggers.
  • Assert control: if you can resist responding or acting in a state of agitation and instead from a place of calm, you will prevent a situation from escalating.
  • Find an outlet: find something that helps you change state. Places to relax, a person to talk to, regular exercise or healthy eating have all shown to be effective in managing stress.
  • Stay connected: if you are part of a community or if you are religious or spiritual - these networks can give you a way of staying connected to something bigger and provide consolation in times of difficulty.
  • Turn off each day: news is now available 24hrs a day and so much exposure to uncertainty can be stressful, though it’s important to stay informed, be aware of how it is making you feel and limit yourself to how many times you check you phone.
  • Get help: it is better to act early if you feel rising levels of stress. There are a range of online resources and apps available plus effective psychological therapies through the NHS.
  • Look outwards: keep an eye out for your friends and family who may be struggling.

Unpredictability and volatility are becoming the new normal. Now as much as at any time, we need to find ways of supporting each other and building our collective resilience.

Resources

Get your free guide to managing anxiety and fear.

For more information on anxiety and stress, visit the Foundation's Mental Health A-Z.

Our 10-session online mindfulness course has proven benefits to managing stress and anxiety.