No doubt – anxiety about and because of Brexit exists. Irrespective of where you stand on it, what passport you hold, whether you are a Brit living in Spain or a Spaniard living in the UK - Brexit is about politics and politics is ultimately about human relationships, which is about managing power and control (or lack of) as well as uncertainty.

Brexit anxiety does not need to be a problem, unless the level of anxiety is heightened, persists and affects your wellbeing. To understand more fully, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves what anxiety is, where it comes from and why it may be a different experience for different people.

In a nutshell, anxiety is a fearful feeling about an uncertain or unknown situation – something around the corner, in the future or right now; something that might or might never happen; something we feel we have little control over and which can be threatening.

Anxiety is normal and essential for survival. It tells us that we cannot take things for granted. It tells us that we can and should play an active part in our lives. It tells us we need to keep alert, look after our wellbeing and make choices.

So far so good. But why can anxiety be triggered by a debate about Brexit? It goes back a long way to our first experiences with others, often the main care givers like parents or other influential people in our lives: Did they gives us cause for anxiety, how often, how did we learn to cope with it and which areas of that experience have remained triggers for any present day unreasonable anxiety?

As we are social beings, issues of control, safety, threat, boundaries, our sense of ‘me and you’ will have shaped our experience of anxiety: Can I trust you? Do you like me? Do you love me? Am I good? Are you good? Are you predictable? Are you safe to be with? Do you control me? Is it ok to feel like that? Will you punish me? Will you stay or abandon me?

Based on that and how we have observed others around us cope, we will have developed our own beliefs and attitudes about ourselves and others, about uncertainty and anxiety: the things that will make us anxious, the level of anxiety we may feel and how we tend to cope.

None of this will have gone smoothly for all of us all of the time, and it is normal to have experienced frustrations along the way. We all will have come away with aspects of ourselves which are less robust, which under certain conditions (i.e. Brexit debate) can resurface out of the blue or be there more permanently (i.e. lack of self worth, feeling different). They can get re-triggered and we can feel a surge of anxiety.

This does not need to be a problem. What matters is that we have some idea of what is going on and have some helpful ways of managing our anxiety – like a thermostat which needs to be regulated to avoid overheating or freezing.

So what about Brexit? Brexit is one of many topics that can trigger our personal history and issues with anxiety. Why? Because Brexit, like all areas in politics and economics is about power, control versus self-determination, loyalties and issues of difference.

If you have a difficult relationship with any of that and find it hard to deal with the unknown, then chances are you will feel some anxiety (and potentially frustration, irritation and anger – which are close neighbours of anxiety). How much anxiety you feel, that will depend on how you tend to cope with anxiety (or not). Your present life circumstances will also play a role, i.e. how many other difficulties you may currently have to deal with. You may already be struggling with enough vulnerability and uncertainties.

It is understandable, if you feel anxious about what the outcome of Brexit may mean for you and your life. But if the feeling is intense and overwhelming and the possible outcome scenarios you may think of are catastrophic, then I would urge caution and suggest you find a helpful way of regulating your anxiety. How?

  • Remain calm and get a sense of proportion. Time is on your side, nothing has been decided.
  • Try and understand where your anxiety is coming from. Is it real or has an old way of feeling been triggered? Is it the prospect of uncertainty? Is it the sense of having no or little say in important aspects of your life and future? Is it the sense of not being wanted, of being singled out, made to feel different and worthless? Is it the sense of not being heard, asked, considered? I could go on, you get the picture. If you can get in touch with what is going on for you, then you may also realise a familiar pattern. If you do, then there is an opportunity to start dealing with that now, at this time in your life
  • Try and get (even briefly) into a frame of mind where you can factually (not emotionally) clearly review your own circumstances and implications of a referendum yes or no outcome on your life.
  • Still factually, identify choices and options you have (irrespective of whether you like them or not).

If your anxiety is heightened and overwhelming then this can stand in the way of making sensible and meaningful choices that are in your best interest, and you may want to explore what helpful coping mechanisms there are suitable for you to regulate your anxiety before you deal with Brexit.

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