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Brexit burnout, political fatigue and the 2019 general election: how politics is damaging our wellbeing, and how to fix it

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Lauren Geall
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Brexit Burnout

As the 2019 general election comes to a (tumultuous) end, new research from Headspace has revealed twice as many of us are stressed about current affairs compared to last year, with 40% of British people saying they’ve experienced insomnia or a change in their sleep patterns as a result. Here’s how to deal with this worrying trend.

It’s been a long three years since the UK voted to leave the European Union back in June 2016. Three leaders, two deals and one chaotic general election later, and it feels like we’re more divided than ever. Merry Christmas everyone!

All jokes aside, there’s a general sense of dismay hanging over the country when it comes to our political system – including the people within it. Over the last couple of years, the endless torrent of arguments over leave vs. remain, us vs. them and climate action vs. complete denial has led to most of us feeling pretty fed up and exhausted. 

Just recently, a study conducted by Healthspan found that 45% of UK adults would rank Brexit news as one of the things which leave them feeling tired, both physically and mentally. The poll of 2,000 adults also found that 32% of respondents avoid watching the news entirely because it will “sap them of their energy” – and that’s a massive problem.

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Alongside the fact that Brexit coverage leads many of us to feel exhausted, it’s also messing with our mental health. In March, four in 10 adults admitted that Brexit made them feel powerless, angry and worried, while in April, a third of British people said that Brexit had negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing. Since then, we’ve had a new prime minister, another withdrawal deal and a second Brexit extension, plus the added pressure of a general election to anticipate and prepare for. As such, is it any surprise that more and more of us are choosing to switch off and disengage? 

How is Brexit impacting our mental health?

Brexit Burnout
Brexit Burnout: “The news can affect our health in lots of ways, especially when it comes to the loss of control.”

“The news can affect our health in lots of ways, especially when it comes to the loss of control,” says Rachel Kelly, a mental health campaigner and author of Singing in the Rain: An Inspirational Workbook. “We can’t control the future or politics, and in political discourse, rather extreme views of the future can be raised. This can make people highly anxious.”

Hypnotherapist and coach Chloe Brotheridge agrees. “The political situation in the UK is chaotic, and the uncertainty of it all could be impacting our mental health, particularly if things affect you directly, such as being a European living in the UK. Much of the media report things in a very alarmist way to get clicks and drive fear and anger, too.

She continues: “Because of our ever-present use of mobile phones and social media it can be hard to switch off and take a break from the news. Facebook feeds can seem overwhelming with videos, memes and posts all screaming for your attention.”

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Although the WHO stresses that burnout is an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from “chronic workplace stress”, it’s clear that there are parallels between workplace burnout and the way we’re all feeling towards Brexit (and politics in general) right now. We’re exhausted, cynical and unable to engage in politics like we would normally like to.

The other problem? Brexit burnout (or fatigue) is disproportionately affecting women. According to the most recent poll by YouGov, 75% of women say they have Brexit fatigue, compared to just 65% of men. And this has implications for the number of people engaging (and eventually voting) in the next election.

Why is it especially important to stay engaged with politics right now?

The easiest solution, for many, is to turn away from the news – and switch off from politics in general, including choosing not to vote. However, we must remember that the government we elect on Thursday (12 December) will not just affect the future of Brexit – they have the power to change the whole world.

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In October 2018, the IPCC released a report that said we have 12 years (now 11) to limit the amount of irreversible damage done by climate change. But the thing is, the decisions to make that happen would need to be made well ahead of the 11-year deadline – in fact, observers now recognise that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon needed to meet that deadline will need to happen before the end of next year, and therefore under the government we are about to elect.

Essentially, it’s important to remember that this election isn’t just about Brexit. While it may play a significant part in the election process (and will, I’m sure, be the topic that dominates most of the debates), there is so much more to fight for and consider when it comes to deciding our next government, as comedian Francesca Martinez excellently pointed out in a now viral tweet.

“The most important election in a generation,” she writes, listing the areas we need to tackle in the next four years.

There’s no doubt then that reengaging with politics needs to be a priority going forward, but it also seems like a catch 22 situation for our mental health. While we want to stay engaged, make informed decisions and elect a government with the potential to lead us for the next few years to come, the amount of information coming our way puts both our mental and physical health at risk. 

How can we engage with politics in a mentally healthy way?

“To engage in politics in a healthy way is not to remain passive,” says Dr. Meg Arroll, a chartered psychologist at Healthspan. “By this I mean actively engage in news, have a conversation, and don’t let the news overwhelm you and become passive in your consumption of it.

“Do something in an interactive and active way, whether that’s by seeing a different point of view or bringing a sense of empathy to a conversation. It’s when we don’t interact we become more rigid in our thinking patterns.”

Brexit Burnout
Brexit Burnout: “If we disengage we can start to feel helpless – turning our anxiety into action empowers us.”

Brotheridge agrees. “If we disengage we can start to feel helpless – turning our anxiety into action empowers us. I’d encourage people to remember that what they do matters, and that sometimes taking a bit of action can make us feel a lot better.”

To avoid Brexit burnout, make sure you’re placing restrictions on the times when you interact with the news – turn off push notifications, spend less time scrolling through social media and set distinct times of the day when you check the news so you have the time to properly engage with it. It may feel like having all the information all the time may be the best way to stay informed and engaged, but if you end up becoming overwhelmed and burnt out, you’re much less likely to make a positive contribution.

And if you’re sick of consuming news about Brexit, why not take a short break? Sky News has recently launched a Brexit-free channel which airs from 5pm-10pm Monday to Friday, so you can take yourself away from the centre of the drama for a little bit.

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“People have to take a responsibility for themselves,” says Kelly. “We need to remind ourselves of our sense of agency: we bring ourselves to our consumption of the news. We also bring ourselves to our phones. We can use this challenging time as one for psychological growth, when we learn to have boundaries and be disciplined.”

“Educate yourself but avoid websites that overly sensational things or focus on gossip,” adds Brotheridge. “Sign petitions, have conversations and don’t bury your head in the sand. Remember that you are powerful.”

Want insider tips on happiness, health, relaxation and more? Sign up for the Stylist Loves Wellbeing email

Rachel Kelly is a writer, mental health campaigner and author of Singing in the Rain: An Inspirational Workbook. She is also a member of the Speakers Collective. You can find her on Twitter here.

Chloe Brotheridge is a hypnotherapist, coach and anxiety expert. You can get a FREE anxiety-busting toolkit when you visit www.calmer-you.com/free.

Main Image: Getty, with design by Alessia Armenise

Other Images: Getty

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