How To Cope With Brexit Anxiety? Part 1by Dr Holly Kahya - 1st July, 2016
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Ghandi
A week of unprecedented political turmoil can take its toll. Following last week’s referendum, the social and economic future of the country seems unclear, with a divided population and leaders on both sides of the debate fighting for control.
As individuals repeatedly bombarded by scaremongering headlines and alarmist articles shared on social media our sense of threat can naturally rise – especially for those who themselves have migrated to the United Kingdom, or were born to parents who did, and who’s future may feel particularly uncertain.
As human beings we have evolved a highly effective fight-or-flight system designed to protect us from danger: at the perception of danger (either real or imaged) this amazing system was engineered in our prehistoric past to protect us from mortal peril back in the days of sabre tooth tigers and the like. Whilst a racing heart, panting breath, tense muscles and an accompanying (very healthy) sense of danger would once have saved our lives, in our modern lives it is a little over engineered.
That’s not to say the social and economic consequences of such political turmoil are unimportant or should be ignored. However, the experience of stress or anxiety that our well-meaning nervous systems trigger to mobilise us can become self-perpetuating, keeping us alert to further perceived danger and failing to process the fact that we aren’t actually about to be eaten alive, right now.
A further problem, aside from the rather unpleasant experience of anxiety, is the way our fight-or-flight system can also make us feel as if we need to fight for our safety. This can perpetuate the sense of threat from the other side of the political debate, propagating a sense of ‘otherness’ and maintaining social division.
Psychology has recently adopted many Buddhist ideas about the nature of human suffering. From this perspective all human beings share a fundamental desire for love, safety and security – for themselves and their loved ones. Ultimately, whatever our politics we all more or less want roughly the same things for ourselves and our families.
Psychologists subscribing to this approach recommend a simple yet powerful meditation practice called Loving-Kindness meditation (“Metta Bhavana”), involving the conscious cultivation of kind feelings towards the self and others, including our so-called ‘enemies’. In so doing research has demonstrated that our brain and nervous system move out of threat-focused fight-or-flight and into a relaxation response; our stress hormones reduce and levels of oxytocin, our bonding hormone, increase.
Does this mean we stop caring about our collective future and wellbeing? That we don’t challenge injustice? Not at all: by soothing ourselves and cultivating our sense of shared humanity we are arguably better able to respond with far greater groundedness and integrity