“I feel frightened of the angry world outside my door”: the impact of Brexit anxiety

9th Aug 2019
Influencing policies
Antonis Kousoulis

Dr Antonis Kousoulis

Former Director of England and Wales

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This content mentions anxiety, which some people may find triggering.

Brexit: a topic that has overwhelmed, fascinated and exhausted people living in the UK more than anything else in recent memory.

I’m not sure if I agree with those calling it a Marmite issue. While Brexit can certainly be divisive, it has much more important and far reaching social and economic implications than whether you love or hate a yeast extract spread.

Regardless of where we stand on the issue, we know one thing for certain: it’s stressing us out.

Brexit anxiety

The survey we ran in March 2019 (close to the first Brexit deadline) revealed that:

Our survey also showed that we share these feelings whether we voted Leave or Remain. We are either exhausted by a mission to overturn the outcome, or demoralised by the delay in fulfilling the promise of the referendum.

We have argued with our family, friends and colleagues. We have lost sleep over it. We have engaged in endless political conversations and changed two Prime Ministers over it.

We also know that our children are more anxious. They are actively avoiding social activities or having nightmares because of scary world news.

Examples worldwide show us that an unstable political environment can increase anxiety levels. Research also shows that experiences of conflict in relationships, problems with sleeping and feelings of powerlessness are all associated with higher levels of distress and poor well-being.

Talking about Brexit

We asked our supporters and followers on social media how they felt about Brexit and mental health.

Some told us that they are too overwhelmed by their own issues to deal with Brexit. Others have questioned why we want to talk about it when there are so many other important topics.

But then others have criticised us for not talking enough about Brexit when it’s consuming the nation’s media and exhausting the nation’s patience.

Both views are valid.

Now, almost six months on from our last survey, we are again at a crossroads with a new Brexit deadline fast approaching in October.

Many of you said you are afraid of what Brexit means for you and your circumstances and that you are struggling to cope as a result. Others were anxious of the rise in levels of polarisation, intolerance and negativity.

Someone told me: “I feel frightened of the angry world outside my door”. Regardless of where we stand on Brexit, it shouldn’t be acceptable for any of us to feel like that.

Stress inequality

As with everything in mental health, we shouldn’t expect Brexit anxiety to affect everyone equally.

People who are disproportionately affected include:

  • non-British citizens,
  • ethnic and religious minorities,
  • people working in sectors dependent on European funding,
  • people experiencing mental health problems,
  • and people living with long-term health problems – to name a few.

Some solutions have emerged. We know that Brexit is likely to impact heavily on farmers and their families. To propose what would work best for them in this time of uncertainty, we are working on research in collaboration with Public Health Wales.

A lot of organisations like us are out there - working hard to help reduce the mental health impacts of Brexit.

Ways to cope

It seems like everyone has been developing their own ways to deal with the 24-hour news cycle. Some of you told me that these varied from ignoring the topic to signing petitions. And from talking to friends to getting better sleep.

On the back of this, we have released new top tips on dealing with Brexit anxiety. We are extremely grateful to our supporters for providing quotes for this guide.

Staying informed may be important, but we should also try to notice our limits. Being able to engage with our communities (live or online) in a meaningful way will also be important in the coming months, as will being able to have honest conversations with our children about UK and world news.

Brexit talk and anxiety are here to stay. At the Foundation, we will continue to work towards good mental health for all. But for many of us, empowering our voice through community involvement and staying close to friends may be our only possible contribution.

And we shouldn’t underestimate just how important this contribution is.

If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.

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