Brexit: The Psychology of Fear & Uncertainty

Last week, we heard about the Brexit decision where Britain has decided to leave the European Union. I have many friends who voted on both sides of this. I am not going to waste my time giving my opinion and thought on what happened and what should have happened. To me, it really isn’t useful. What is useful is to try, in some way, to offer ideas or suggestions to those who are terrified and horrified by the results.  This includes not just the British people but us here in Ireland as well as those throughout Europe.

It’s not just about Brexit though. Americans will soon be voting in their election and that could also lead to a very different type of world. As we face such uncertainty, it is understandable to feel worried and helpless in the face of oncoming mass change.

The keys to living happily in uncertain times require a few shifts in mindset.

First, preparing for what is ahead is vital toward you being able to feel good. You need to try and understand as best you can the implications for you and prepare various strategies based upon the possible outcomes. Since there is so much uncertainty on what might happen, it’s a good idea to come up with a few different strategies. The more you come up with the more likely you are to be able to handle whatever happens and the safer you will feel.

Second, get ready for change itself. Understand your fears around it. Identify what you are scared of exactly and make sure that your contingency plans have taken them all into consideration. Remind yourself of times in the past where you have handled adversity and understand, no matter what, everything will be okay.

Third, visualise the various plans being acted out. If you were looking forward to something that now, may not happen, run the scenarios over and over in your mind of you making the most of whatever does happen instead. Rely on the things you can control and what you can deal with adequately.

Fourth, it’s important to take stock of where we are and of all the things that we are certain of no matter what. There are some things under our control and it’s a good idea to focus on those things. Make a list of them. What can you do something about? What is going to be true regardless? In times of uncertainty, you need to access a sense of certainty. Do your best to stay in the moment and enjoy what is going on now. The present needs to be fully enjoyed instead of living our lives in the past or the future.

Fifth, seek out the opportunity. We have recent memories of the worldwide economic recession which caused a massive amount of devastation. Still in such dark times, there were people who made money and did well from it. Seek out ways and opportunities to make the most of the situation as it is.

Sixth, try and find the comedy in the situation. Being angry at a decision you fundamentally despise is understandable but nonetheless, taking some time out to use humour about it can always help. Humour helps us think more flexibly. It enables us to get through difficult times more easily. It offers us a quick respite from the negativity in the world. (Sport also does this except when Ireland loses!)

Lastly, do your best to eliminate any harbouring of resentment that might be occurring. If, for example, you believe that Brexit was extremely stupid, naive and very arrogant… resenting people for doing it isn’t going to help you. If you can do something about it and that gives your life purpose then do so. If you can’t by all means let people know your point of view. But refuse to give in to the hate and the fear. It’s important to try and understand where other people are coming from. Such education can help us to connect more with each other.

Many of those who voted out had good intentions in mind. They have a different perspective on what would happen. It’s crucial to recognise this rather than dismissing them all as manipulated by propaganda. To a degree, it’s easier to dismiss someone else’s belief than to understand them. It is what the hate mongers and fear mongers understand. It is better to give the benefit of the doubt to our fellow human beings.

The famous philosopher Yoda once said that ‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side’. It is so important that we remember these wise words. The reality is that when terrorists and corrupt governments commit their atrocities and when far right blatantly fascist and racist parties and politicians spit their vitriol, what they are trying to do is divide us. What they are trying to do is create fear and hate. In many ways that is what gets people elected sadly.

Even if we decide to vote on something as a result of such misguided emotions, it is so important that we don’t allow the perpetrators accomplish what they set out to do. We need to reach out to those we disagree with and find common ground. We must become closer to others, even if they have become more distant economically. We must do what is useful.

Of course, there will be people out there who will simply justify their hatred of another race or religion or group of people. They are already lost in their own ‘feeling of rightness’. While we wait for them to make their way back, it is up to us to continuously set the example.

In a world where decisions are often made that we disagree with, we must learn to work with the tide and adapt and be flexible. It is a critical skill for business and for life. For life is a transient experience and the more we prepare for that, the happier we will be able to live with uncertainty.

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