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  • Writer's pictureDr. Paul D'Alton

Follow my five-point plan to see off 'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety' and help next generation in process

There seems to be a large number of people, across the political and geographic landscape, suffering from a kind of 'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety'.

Newspaper photo of Trump finally wearing a mask.

Over the last week several patients have said to me "the world is gone mad". They have talked about how upset they are in relation to the recent developments in the US as well as the dramatic Brexit decision in June. Even people in favour of both of these recent international developments admit to an unease about the stability of the world and concern about how this change will unfold in the months and years to come.

There seems to be a large number of people, across the political and geographic landscape, suffering from a kind of 'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety'.

The trigger to this 'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety' seems to centre around loss. Loss of the familiar, loss of a sense of knowing the direction the world is headed in and for many a loss of trust in their own judgment. The question of "how could this be happening" has been on the minds of many over the last number of months.

'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety' has, in some ways, taken away a very important sense of predictability; predictability is what most often buffers us from feeling anxiety. In the absence of predictability we enter the world of the unknown and we human beings do not cope well with the unknown or the uncertain.

In response to the unknown we often attempt the task of filling in the gaps. We often fill in the gaps with the most dramatic images and stories; the end of democracy, the end of the civilised world, and potentially, the outbreak of a nuclear war. Unfortunately, it's what our minds do - when faced with the unknown and the unpredictable our minds become threat focused and jump to the worst possible outcome.

Psychologists have been successfully treating anxiety for many decades now. There is now robust scientific evidence demonstrating what works to ease and manage anxiety of various forms. Often, the best place to start is by making changes to your behaviour, that is, the things you do on a daily basis. By taking action, and changing what we do, we can tackle the underlying factor that keeps anxiety going - hopelessness.

Here are five steps to beat 'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety':

1. Feel your feelings

Very often people tend to avoid or run away from their anxious thoughts and feelings. However, we know that it is often much more helpful to allow yourself to open up to and feel emotions that are already here for you.

It is really important to identify and label your feelings as they arise and to try to do this in a non-judgmental way; how you're feeling is how you're feeling. Acknowledging, with kindness, how we are feeling is a powerful first step in learning how to tolerate anxiety.

Once we acknowledge how we are feeling, then it is important to talk about it with someone who understands you.

Anxiety can render us feeling isolated and lead us to avoid the social connections that often transform and offer a way to live with difficult feelings.

What is really important at a time like this is to remember that feelings are usually powerful indicators that action is called for. The transformative potential of emotions should not be underestimated. Emotions act as our call to action.

Our lives are not about achieving a perpetual state of calm, strong emotions fuel change - they get us involved and connected.

2. Perspective take

There is a real tendency during times of anxiety such as this to become very black and white in our thinking, and we can often lose sight of the fact that there are few absolutes in life.

We may find ourselves labelling those who support the 'other side' as "idiots", as "fundamentalists", the "elite", or "supremacists". We can end up building emotional walls between those who hold a different view from our own.

We can quickly de-humanise those we disagree with.

This polarisation is probably the most damaging thing that can happen at a time like this. It's important to remember that there are legitimate concerns on both sides.

It is also critically important to be very vigilant of the political leadership that exploits this human tendency for their own gain.

3. Get active

One of the best ways to reduce your anxiety is by getting active - but activity should not just be confined to Facebook and Twitter.

It can be easy to post your thoughts and feelings on social media and it is likely that your friends share your values and views. This kind of expression and activity is of limited benefit to you as an individual.

Instead, real life engagement and participation in groups that seek to create positive change in your community, place of work, or the charity you support may serve to decrease your anxiety about the future.

We need to look beyond the next few months or even the next few years. We need to start thinking of the medium to long term and ask ourselves the question: "what am I doing that will help the next generation?".

We need to start thinking generationally in terms of our community, our political involvement, and what kind of society we want. Perhaps start by thinking about what small contribution you make over the next while to influence the direction you want the world to go in?

4. Moderate social media

Social media is a really useful medium and a great way to connect. However, we can get trapped in the bubble of social media at the cost of building real communities and having the deep human contact that transforms us even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Many of us use social media to edit the range of views we receive and this is dangerous, particularly, if social media is our main source for getting news. We can end up only being exposed to highly-edited world views that hamper our capacity to perspective take.

We are also in the darkest part of the year and it is really important to get outdoors. Social media tends to happen indoors - so ditch the smart phone and the iPad and get outdoors this weekend. The well documented benefits of the outdoors as an antidote for stress can sound clichéd - but it's true!

5. Knowledge

Knowledge combined with action is what real power is made of. This is particularly important when it comes to managing your mind in a time of uncertainty.

Knowledge and action increase our sense of control and this is crucial when living in a time of 'Trumpit-Brexit Anxiety'. So getting to know how politics works can be really helpful because it reduces the potential for feelings of hopelessness to arise. When we begin to understand, not just the outcome of politics, but also the process it can empower us to get involved and help shape the kind of society we want to see for our selves and for future generations.

Originally published in The Irish Independent 25/11/20.


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