Brexit and the psychology of fear

PUBLISHED: 10:35 28 April 2017

The Scream, Edvard Munch

The Scream, Edvard Munch

Archant

The problem is that these days, it’s not the physical danger that usually brings about a fear – or panic attack – but an emotional one.

Fear: don’t you just hate it? That gnawing anxiety attacking your belly and bowels, those sweaty palms, inability to focus, broken sleep? We’ve all read about what’s going on in our bodies and brains: neural pathways that run from the depths of the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex and back become electrically or chemically stimulated and so we feel the fear.

It’s perfectly normal to have this response: our bodies, which have developed over 10s of 1,000s of years, evolved to deal with present danger – say, a passing predator – with the fight or flight response, flooding our bodies with the hormone adrenaline to power action. The problem is that these days, it’s not the physical danger that usually brings about a fear – or panic attack – but an emotional one.

Some insects, birds and mammals emit pheromones to defend themselves and warn others of their species that danger is around the corner. We humans, at the top of the evolutionary pile, have come up with new and more insidious ways of keeping ourselves on edge, like 24 hour news and social media.

Mental health blogger and singer-songwriter Leanne Brookes spoke for many when, last autumn, she wrote on the welldoing.org site: “Terrorism, mass shootings, political murders, Brexit, a country divided and a world in peril. Events in the news turn social media feeds into scary, hateful, sad places to be. It is hard not to stay glued to it though, involving myself in the narrative, disappointed and afraid. I have, in the end, had to unfollow news organisations which although I usually found interesting, just kept churning out fearful articles and predictions for the future which encouraged my anxieties and depression.”

Her response is understandable: for people who know they have irrational fears and are prone to anxiety and depression, most professionals would counsel them to turn away from the things that spark their fear responses. But what about when fear is a perfectly normal, rational response? Like the way the world is turning these days?

Consider recent events: an Assad-sanctioned chemical weapon attack, followed by 59 missiles from the US in return; the “mother of all bombs” being dropped by the US on ISIS territory in Afghanistan; China’s foreign minister Wang Yi warning that “conflict could break out at any moment” over US concern at North Korea’s nuclear testing. It’s no surprise that Google have let it be known that the searches for terms “World War 3” and “Trump War” have sharply escalated in he past few weeks.

Meanwhile, Theresa May and her Brexit trio have failed to shift EU leaders who want to block any talks about a future comprehensive trade deal until the UK agrees to settle its divorce bill - which could be as high as €60bn - and comes to a settlement on the rights of EU citizens.

In the meantime, those EU citizens are just one of the groups who understandably fear what the real effects of Brexit will be. Having to wait to see what that will be does nothing to calm the rising panic – particularly with all the uncertainty of a general election to prolong the process.

Cortisol, another of the hormones in the brain, is great for invoking a sudden fear response, but you don’t want it hanging around as you stew on the Brexit problem. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, decrease libido, contribute to obesity and more. It’s even been seen as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience.

Be worried, sure, but also be calm. And if that won’t come naturally take some exercise (kick-boxing anyone?) try mindfulness meditation, or simply hang out with friends and have some fun. You might spend some of the time moaning – you are a “Remoaner” after all. But there’s bound to be good times too.

Louise Chunn is the founder of find a therapist platform welldoing.org, and former editor of Psychologies magazine

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a Friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish).
  • Become a Patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You or your company will be mentioned in the newspaper each week (should you wish) and you and a guest will be invited to join the editor at a special lunch in London this June to discuss the anniversary of Brexit.


Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest articles

Brexit will wreck the NHS - even from the moment you’re admitted to hospital

The devastation Brexit is bringing to the NHS will be felt from the moment a patient is admitted to hospital, right through the course of their treatment

Where have our great leaders gone?

The global titans and statesmen of yesteryear have gone. And we may never see their like again

We proved people are hardwired to work together not to live in conflict

Politicians are refusing to debate Brexit, so the Convention on Brexit had to show them how it’s done,

The Remain strategy for this election is a simple one

Politics is a matter of sentiment, of attitude and feeling.

Will the Russian connection bring Trump down?

Is Donald Trump’s misfiring presidency spiralling towards impeachment? We delve in to the chaos engulfing Washington

Knowing your political identity: Here’s why “we” won’t work for me

Embracing political identity on a tribal level can lead to disastrous decisions

Election diary: “It must have been while you were kissing me!”

Thoughts on Thornberry and campaign tales

Election Live: Closing polls and Jo Cox remembered

Election news, analysis and reaction on May 21.

Dementia: A cruel result of the beautiful game?

Would the possibility of a link between heading the ball and dementia have changed the way you approached the sport?

Election Live: Leaders ramp up campaign efforts as pool approaches

Election news, updates and analysis on May 20.

Theresa May’s Brexit at any cost means sending the NHS over a cliff

Because of the success of the £350m Big Lie, Tory politicians now feel free to make any promise without feeling a matching pressure to keep it.

Let’s pretend Labour just won the 2017 general election

What would happen if Theresa and the rest of Team May have got it all wrong?

Election live: The manifestos keep coming thick and fast

Election news, reaction and analysis on May 19.

Question Time Norwich: Live reactions and analysis

On the panel: Priti Patel, Angela Rayner, Vince Cable, Jonathan Bartley and Charles Moore.

Why Theresa May’s ‘team’ is dangerous (and why you’re definitely not on it)

The dangers of the presidential-style government Theresa May and her ‘team’ are seeking for the UK

Election live: Tories release manifesto with plans for social care

Election news, reaction and analysis on May 18.

Watch as Brexit fanatic Farage calls Junker ‘bloody rude’ and a ‘bully’

Hard Brexit fanatic Nigel Farage has once again been baiting the very people the UK needs to keep on side – the ones we are about to spend months negotiating with.

Watch as Gina Miller summons the “game changers” with her Brexit battle cry

Don’t turn your back on democracy on June 8, urged Miller

5 things you need to know about Tuesdsay’s election campaign

Theresa May confirms she is not like a Harry Potter character: Five important things we learnt yesterday

Theresa May’s neglect of the NHS could prove fatal

The NHS is Theresa May’s blind spot and it is being sidelined in the Brexit process.

Watch us on YouTube

Nigel Farage calls Jean-Claude Junker "BLOODY RUDE" and a "BULLY" in European Parliament!

Views: 1355

Jeremy Corbyn launches the Labour general election 2017 manifesto

Views: 85

Gina Miller's Brexit battle cry at The Convention on Brexit

Views: 699

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter