The seven stages of Brexit anxiety

For almost half the population, the vote didn't go their way. Here's how to feel less shit about it

Keira Knightley Brexit
Keira Knightley Brexit

A shout out to our American friends who voted for Hillary. We hear you. Here's how we coped with post-Brexit anxiety

When Britain voted to leave the European Union, it was a narrow victory for the Vote Leave campaign, with 52% voting for a Brexit. But for almost half (48%) of the rest of the population, including 75% of 18-24 year olds who voted to Remain, the news served a devastating blow. What’s more, many voters have since claimed they now regret their Leave vote. Big mistake. Huge.

While the dust settles over the pond as Trump gets his feet under the table at the White House, for Democratic voters in the US and liberals worldwide, the dark cloud has again descended. Early voter statistics showed that 53% of America's men voted for Trump compared to 41% of women. The vote also shows large racial divides as Clinton won 88% of black voters and 65% of America's Hispanic population. It's a huge blow to Hillary's supporters worldwide.

So how to deal with the fallout? If the reaction is anything like post-Brexit Britain, anxiety levels will be high. A report by Dr. Stephen Cox and Dr. Michael Sinclair on behalf of bcalm, the panic attack specialists, revealed that 45% of Britons experienced increased levels of anxiety in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, with women 10% more likely to feel the impact of Brexit anxiety than men.

We asked psychologist Emma Kenny for a speed therapy session.

Stage one: Shock WTF?! Did this really happen? Yes, yes it did. It’s still not a bad dream. Even for some Vote Leavers and Trump supporters who have over the past few days admitted they never thought it would actually happen. And the initial knee jerk reaction has been one of utter shock. Emma says: ‘It’s important to acknowledge that this as a kind of grief. It’s okay to feel scared, to feel frightened, to have your opinions and to air them. These emotions are all part of the process. But where possible, avoid playing the blame game. That only exacerbates negativity.’

Stage two: Denial But it was such a small margin, and it’s not actually legally binding, right? Right?? Maybe they just need a recount.... Emma says: ‘I liken the feeling of Remainers and Democratic voters right now to that of being a child in a divorce scenario. It's confusing and frustrating. People are scared, and when we get scared, we revert to being childish, hence some of the mud-slinging and Facebook unfriending from both sides. It is ultimately driven by fear so try to stay calm and avoid confrontation while emotions are flying high.’

Stage three: Anger F**k the old people! Screw you, racists! Farage you t**t! As the initial shock makes way for a bellyful of hot angry tears, it’s important to handle your emotions in a constructive way, according to psychologist Emma Kenny. Emma says: ‘Again, it’s totally natural to feel anger and frustration so acknowledge them and work through them. Stand true to your beliefs and don’t be afraid to have your opinions but don’t react. When this whole scenario is sorted out – and it will be – you’ll want your relationships with friends, family and colleagues to remain in tact. Don’t say anything in anger, or post anything online in anger that could cause lasting damage. A lot of people have taken the result of this vote very personally which is understandable because it affects us all on a personal level, but don’t humanise it by focusing on one person on your Facebook timeline who disagrees with you, or your dad who needs to move with the times, or your next-door neighbour by blaming them. Type a furious email and don’t send it. Type an angry tweet but don’t post it. That will only further fuel negative feelings.’

Stage four: Desperation Petitions for another referendum or election, campaigns for London to break away and remain in the EU, the plan to all emigrate to Canada, frankly signing anything that might mean this apocalypse isn’t really happening. Emma Kenny: ‘This is the beginning of the action stage. Borne out of frustration, it’s the will to want to do something, anything, that might regain some control of a situation that ultimately we have no control over. It’s a positive thing because it’s a step towards solutions. It’s around now that a digital detox is useful. Exposure to all the noise will only increase your anger and worry. Other people’s opinions are not facts. We feel we need to battle them but instead, all we can do is wait for the facts to emerge. In the meantime, it helps to step away from newspapers and social media. Internalise your feelings instead and ask what do I have? What's brilliant about my life right now?’

Stage five: Depression Life will never be the same again. My future, my children’s future, it’s all in disarray. Everything is ruined! The Actual End. Emma says: ‘There was always going to be a slump after such a frenzied campaign. We were promised the end of the world in many guises and now the dust is starting to settle, everything feels decidedly flat. This is where you need to find a positive voice. We have been through worse. The Orlando shootings and the murder of Jo Cox all precluded this referendum and election, so it was natural we would be experiencing a collective grief. But like grief, what happens next is out of our control. Surround yourself with like-minded people, but avoid inciting one another. Stay calm and look for the positives together.

Stage six: Action To hell with all this, what on earth can I do to help? Emma says: ‘The overwhelming feeling seems to be frustration so do something at grass roots to regain control: Join a peaceful protest march, become active with a political party, get involved with a refugee charity. Do a random act of kindness. Heaven knows everybody needs cheering up right now. Be the one to do it. Don’t be that bitter person.’

Stage seven: Acceptance Okay. What’s done is done. Can we all just go to the pub together and talk about Game of Thrones and share cat memes on Facebook? Emma says: ‘Whilst initially it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded, affirmative people there will also be people in your family and friendship group who voted differently to you. This is where the Brexit and US presidential election divide has occurred and it can be toxic. You can’t ignore the topic completely with a ‘let’s not talk politics’ declaration. But be respectful. Always look for similarities, not differences. They are what reinforce us. Put your point across calmly and open-mindedly. Look at the situation through somebody else’s eyes. Be compassionate and non-confrontational. Nobody's going to change anybody else’s mind so instead find a common ground. You may find you have more in common than you think, for example, a desire to have a better way of life. Accept that we’re all different and realise that everything is going to be okay eventually. Then do what we've always done best and take things with humour. There are hundreds of memes online to help with that.’

Tracy Ramsden