Brexit stress - is it real and how to deal with it

September 28th, 2019

Ever since the referendum result in 2016, there has been a phenomenon called "Brexit stress".

Sometimes, when a new phrase of this ilk enters the public consciousness, it can be hard to know if it's a real thing or whether it has simply been coined by commentators in order to create headlines.

But looking at the evidence, it does appear that Brexit stress is very real. With the term "Brexit latest" searched for online more than half a million times a month, and "Brexit news" double that, it's clear that engagement with this particular political hot potato is very much on British people's minds.

Whatever side of the fence we were on in terms of the vote itself, the fact is that our stresses around the uncertainty of Brexit are genuine. Surveys have found that around a third of UK adults have suffered with their mental health as a result of Brexit (source) with a spike in prescriptions for antidepressants in the month following the result (source).

The reasons why so many people are stressed about Brexit are manifold. Here are a few of the more common issues:

Job security

We are not fortune tellers and the prospect of life after Brexit - if it happens - is, to say the least, fairly unclear. This is causing many of us to have fears over the security of our jobs. Will our employers be affected? Will this in turn affect our jobs? What does the future hold? Are businesses not investing money in services in which they normally would, having myriad consequences on other businesses and the people who work for them?

Maybe our employers will benefit from Brexit and take on a lot or new staff? How would that affect us and our role? The civil service, for example, is seeing a big increase in its workforce as it takes on more staff to prepare for the UK's severance from the European Union, with 388,000 monthly searches for "Civil Service Brexit jobs".

Holiday costs

The prospect of taking a holiday is how many of us relax but Brexit uncertainty has meant that some holiday makers have chosen not to travel to the EU this year, and it may also spell an unwillingness to book again for next year. Booking, looking forward to and then finally taking that holiday is a big part of many people's wellbeing. Not being able to trust that it will happen certainly doesn't help our feelings of Brexit stress.

Please, can we talk about something else?

It may seem facetious but, seriously, a lot of people are simply getting bored to tears with Brexit, and it's making us stressed out and unwell. A 2019 Britain Thinks poll found that the vast majority (83 per cent) of respondents were sick of seeing Brexit on the news every day with a largish proportion of those believing the confusion that went with seeing continual Brexit-related headlines was making them anxious.

How to deal with it

All these various strands of different types of Brexit stress are united by a common theme - uncertainty. It is the not knowing what will happen and how it may affect us and future generations – if we have children - that is causing a lot of these problems. We human beings generally like to feel in control of things, and Brexit is making many of us feel exactly the opposite.

This blog is by no means intended to solve Brexit stress – if we had any answers, we'd send them to Downing Street – but there are some mental health tips that can help with general feelings of confusion and being out of control.

Understand what is in your control, and what is not

Remember the serenity prayer? God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Those words penned by American theologian Rheinhold Niebuhr are very helpful when it comes to learning to take control over what we can't control.

If you are feeling Brexit stress, try to articulate either verbally or on paper exactly what you are stressed about. Is it not booking holidays? Job stress? Worries about money? Worries about your children's future? When you have done that, go through your list and identify those things over which you may have some control, and those things over which you don't.

What you can influence

What are the things on your list over which you may have some influence? If you work in a large corporation and are worried about how Brexit may affect your business, it's unlikely that you are going to be able to have much sway over the powers that be on matters of large policy such as whether that business will continue to operate in this country, for example. What you can control is how well you do your job. That is really all you can do so continue to do it in the best way you can.

Are you stressed about how Brexit may affect your children in the future? Again, that is something over which many of us as individuals have very little control. So, we must learn to let it go and trust that we will respond to any new situation in the best way that we can. Ultimately, all we really have control over is how we ourselves act.

Some practical steps

Last, but not least, there are a few practical steps you can make to ease some of your Brexit stress. Stockpiling food may feel like preparing for war but all it means is filling our kitchen cupboards with long-life supplies such as tinned goods, in the event of supermarket shelves being a little emptier as markets try to sort things out post-Brexit, especially if a no-deal is eventually what happens. The sight of all those tins sitting neatly in your cupboards should at least make you feel a bit more prepared!

You could also start putting by a bit of cash, in case your work may be affected by Brexit. Just whatever you can afford. Think of simple things you could scale back on; that cup of takeaway coffee you have on the way to work, perhaps, or little trips to the pub. Focus on the things that you really need in your life, the things that make you feel good, and save on the rest. Little increments of cash saved up in this way for a rainy day soon mount up, and, if you don't need the money when Brexit finally happens (assuming it will) you can always spend them on that holiday after all.