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Brexit: Why We Shouldn't Underestimate the Emotional Impact

07/07/2016 13:37 | Updated 07 July 2016

You'd have to be hiding under a rock not to notice the storm cloud that's descended over the UK since in the past 10 days.

From the shock of the initial news, ( "I can't believe it", "I don't have words", "It can't be true") ,to denial ( "Well they'll have to call another one", "People didn't even know what they were voting for!"), and anger (one look at your Facebook feed will provide enough evidence for that.)

Now comes the bargaining with endless petitions, and analysis of potential get out clauses and game plans. It is quite clear the UK public have not quite reached the acceptance stage yet.

I have heard a lot of less politically charged people suggest that people "get over it", or "move on". It's true, it's not the end of the world. We haven't just declared war. No one has died. So why are many of us reacting as if the grim reaper has just paid a visit to British Isles?

Whether or not it is a proportionate reaction to the future in front of us we don't yet know. Without knowing the specifics of how and when we will exit the European Union, how are we supposed to understand the impact? And this comes to the crux of the issue, and the main reason why people have been close to self combustion over the past week; uncertainty. The scariest of situations for humans lies in the unknown.


The Psychology Behind The Doom And Gloom

Psychological studies have shown that uncertainty heightens both positive and negative emotions making us more reactive.

"Uncertainty about a possible future threat disrupts our ability to avoid it or to mitigate its negative impact, and thus results in anxiety."

The truth is, we've never been in this situation before. We don't know how to predict what's going to happen next. We don't have similar past experience or information that we can analyse to give us a clue. We're in the dark and that's scary.

And these are just a few parts of our life where uncertainty breeds anxiety:

Our Jobs

For most of us, our jobs are our identity, they are our daily routine. No matter which side you're on Brexit is undoubtedly going to have an impact on the way we do our jobs, where we work and potentially if we'll be able to keep our jobs at all!

The ability to work in any one of the 28 EU members is no longer guaranteed. As a major economic hub of Europe a lot of my London friend's jobs involve them flying to multiple European cities often several times a week. Are we going to need visas to do this now? Are we even going to be able to do business with our European neighbours in the same way anymore? What about that transfer to Berlin you've worked the past 5 years towards? Many industries have legislation intrinsically linked to the EU (law being one of them), does this mean people will need to retrain?

For a lot of us our careers are integral to our identities, the uncertainty around how much these will change is understandably triggering anxiety among many working age people.

Our Citizenship

Since the referendum result was announced Northern Ireland has received more than 4,000 passport enquiries from UK citizens( a big jump from its average 200). The surge was so great that Ireland's foreign minister has appealed Britons to stop the rush as it threatens to overwhelm the system. Remaining a part of the EU is about more than just a status, it's rooted in opportunity.

For example a number of my friends have given up their own nationalities in favour of a British passport. Up until now it has been one of the most powerful passports in the world. Now they feel duped and let down, maybe even regretful, uncertain that they will have the same opportunities in the future.

"It is easy to imagine that the rather sleepy world of residency and citizenship applications will be overrun by the sheer volume of applicants in the coming months. Typically, the application process is one that takes several years, but there will be so many people under pressure to obtain the correct documentation that these rules will almost certainly need to be revised, both in the UK and the rest of the EU."

Our Finances

We all saw the value of the pound plummet in the hours and days after the result was announced. This was enough to give the public palpitations and now there are warnings of further consequences to come. With the pound continuing to fall against most major currencies people are understandably concerned about more than just the increased price of an ice cream on their next holiday.

"If this persists, things the UK imports, such as oil (affecting domestic fuel prices and petrol), foreign cars, coffee, bananas and clothing, will cost more. Overall, then, the general price level may rise meaning that your income will not stretch quite so far...

A weak pound affects industry as well and so may impact on jobs. Company costs will rise if they import their raw materials and most firms will be hit by higher fuel prices."

Once again it is the uncertainty of the situation that is naturally creating a feeling of anxiety, which as we know can often be a cause of market instability in itself. Pensions, mortgages, and savings may all be affected by a slow- down in the economy with quantitative easing already being discussed as a potential measure.

Our Relationships

Last, but certainly not least, one of the main reasons that people have been reacting with such strong emotion over the past week (and the main reason I keep welling up), is down to the impact Brexit might have on our relationships. If we have lived and worked in a multi-cultural part of the country, chances are we will have friends from other EU countries. You might even originate from another European country yourself.

Despite being assured by politicians that the rights of EU migrants to live and work in Europe won't change, the situation is as yet unclear. Without legislation to protect it, Freedom of Movement will no longer be guaranteed, as it has been in most of our living memories.

In the course of the next 5 to 10 years (or however long it takes to officially exit the EU), we may lose friends, romances, potential life partners, alongside our rights to join our friends or partners in their countries.

In short the potential impact of all of these factors doesn't just change our status as a nation, but threatens to disrupt important aspects of our everyday lives. The element of anxiety that lies in the unknown will only be exacerbated by the press in the months to come, and whether or not our anxieties will come to pass, it doesn't make the feeling any less valid. So please, stop telling us to 'Get over it!'.

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