What to do when you know the worst is coming
We seem to have fallen into a state of national anxiety. No one knows what’s coming next and neither side of the Brexit debate is feeling particularly cheerful. Except Nigel Farage. He is positively gleeful. But overall, winning has never looked less triumphant and assured. Those who feel that they lost are mournful, those who feel that they won are feeling attacked and demonised. Although I cannot speak for the entire country, it certainly seems to me that people on both sides of the debate are now confused and plagued with uncertainty about the future. The feeling seems to be that there have been too many lies, too much in-fighting, and too many brutal exchanges on facebook and Twitter. Not to mention the brutal crisis of faith happening to those of us who gaze at our TV screens and our newsfeeds and ask ourselves: “Is it really true that no one has a plan for what happens next? How can none of these politicians, who lobbied so hard and gave such passionate speeches, how can none of them know what comes next? Aren’t they supposed to know? Didn’t we elect them for this sort of thing?”
So whilst we stare and watch as each new day brings a new headline, and every hour a new fact, statistic, or story is revealed, we are left to dwell in our own fears about the future. However we voted, we are left to languish in the fear of what the follow-up will be.
Because no one knows what’s coming, and it may be much worse than we imagined.
That’s the reason I have called this post “What to do when you know the worst is coming” – It’s not because I necessarily believe we are headed for a political disaster that may split the government, Kingdom, and the EU in pieces, (though, coincidentally, that is what I believe) but because the nature of all anxiety is that we fear the worst. Maybe your worst fear is the opposite of my worst fear, but whatever the fear is,this prevalent insecurity over our collective future brings them all out front and centre. It’s the relentless comments we read on facebook. It’s the angry exchange we have with a friend we thought would agree with us. It’s the tense fights we have at the family gathering. It’s the fear that someone who disagrees with you over this referendum will demonstrate their disagreement in a violent, and unethical way. Whatever our fears are, they fester and grow in this period of uncertainty, as we wait, impatiently, for the consequences to arrive.
So what can you do when your mind won’t put down that worst case scenario? What can you do to ward off the fear and the anxiety about the future of our world?
Does it sound over the top to say that some of us really just need to take some time to care for ourselves right now?
Maybe it does. Maybe it sounds unbearably new-world, or hippie, but to me, it really makes tremendous sense. Many of my friends have described their feelings about the results of the vote in terms of a type of mourning, and for some, it really is. Others have been so stressed about the outcome they have barely slept, barely eaten properly. Others have had relationships pushed to the absolute maximum – I know people who have unfriended people on facebook, engaged in harsh words with those that they love, and risked the disintegration of some of their precious relationships over this vote. Some people might say that we should just take it less seriously, but how can you tell someone to take their own future less seriously?
If it’s your livelihood, your children’s future, your pension, or your right to work, how can you tell someone not to worry?
Well, you could tell them not to. You could say, “Don’t worry, you’re nervous about nothing,” but any person who has ever done a tango with an anxiety attack will tell you that’s the emotional equivalent of punching someone in the face when they have a broken leg. It’s Mean, very unhelpful, and a little insulting. Mainly, because our anxieties about the future of our nation and other nations are real and valid, and saying they shouldn’t be there doesn’t make them go away. But here are some techniques to use that might help you feel more calm about the future, and might help you calm down your nervous friend. It’s self care, and also care for others. Because no one likes to be punched in the face.
Disconnect and Reconnect
The internet is really really great. (Oh no you don’t, Avenue Q fans!!) Thanks to the internet I can buy a bikini without having to strip off in those horrifying, three mirror changing rooms that are about 40& responsible for negative body image in teenagers. Thanks to the internet we are a more connected, global community who can talk to each other and build friendships, businesses, and relationships across oceans and time zones. This is wonderful, but sometimes the rate at which we receive information is overwhelming. Post-referendum, the internet has shown it’s Jekyll and Hyde nature, as it often does following an important global human event, and it hasn’t been pretty. For me, it got a bit much around Friday night and I decided to disconnect for a while. Not because I don’t care, but because at a certain point I have to ask myself how all that bile and hate and fear is affecting me. Often, the answer is that it is affecting me, and not in a good way. At that point, it’s time for me to disconnect from the menagerie of social media platforms and news outlets that we have, and reconnect with real people. This weekend I have been visiting my hometown, catching up with old friends and family, and avoiding the internet. It has been really helpful. It’s not like I’ve been in a secluded bubble, the referendum has come up in every conversation I have had this weekend, but rather than being discouraged by the hateful words that can so easily be exchanged when hidden behind a screen, I have been encouraged. I have been encouraged by having real conversations with people who think differently to me, and have been assured that whilst it might seem like everyone’s lost their minds, we are still capable of relationships that extend beyond the EU referendum. Conversations instead of comments, that’s the way to go! Sometimes, an online detox is necessary. I say that as a woman posting things on the internet – if you do not see this because you are detoxing, I applaud you!
Find something you can do
We have done a huge thing as a nation in the last week. We showed up and spoke on an issue, and gave our voice to an enormous political decision. Now, it’s out of our hands. The die has been cast, the votes have been counted, and even those of us who wish magic was real and time turners had really been invented cannot unwrite the historic moment that took place in the early hours of Friday morning. So as the politicians work out the next bit, we can all end up feeling a bit helpless. We’re involved now, we’ve actually voted on this thing! We want to get in there, make sure things turn out our way. But we can’t, and that sudden helplessness again can be a bit disarming. So find something you can do that calms down that nervous feeling that you have. Maybe you want to sign a petition, maybe you want to protest. Maybe you have an MP you want to write to, maybe you want to get involved in local politics. Maybe, like me, you don’t need more politics to feel better. My job involves working with young people and children, and for me to feel better, I need to get stuck into that. Because whilst the future is uncertain, teaching kids and connecting with them, making their day more exciting, is something I can do to affect change in the world. Maybe it’s making your Nan a cup of tea, maybe it’s ringing an old friend for a catch up, maybe it’s a hobby that you love to do or maybe it’s just showing as much kindness and love as you can to the people who around you who are so anxious and worried at this time. Find something you can do to affect change and remind yourself that whilst it will probably do nothing to influence how the politicians move on from this point, it is changing someone’s life. At the end of the day, isn’t that just as, if not more, important?
The Bigger Picture
Whilst it isn’t helpful to tell someone to get over their anxiety because it’s stupid, it is quite helpful to help them see the bigger picture of the situation. It’s sort of the same, as the end result is that the anxiety is revealed in its futility, but this way nobody feels like they have been emotionally belittled. For me, it helps to put this moment in the context of the broad sweep of history. When I was a child I lived in fear that we would be propelled into the dark ages again. The dark ages sounded like the worst period in history to me because common people couldn’t read. As a young bookworm, that fate seemed worse than death itself. So for me, it helps to see this moment within the context that the dark ages. It helps to tell myself that humanity once dragged itself slowly up by its bootstraps after civilisation, education and culture were brought tumbling down, and the now we have things like the internet, and Spotify, and coffee makers. Nothing seems as bad to me once I have reminded myself of the inscrutable persistence of humans to keep surviving!
For you, it might be a lot less abstract. Maybe it’s helpful to look at this current uncertainty in terms of your own family, and remind yourself that whilst you are unsure about the future you do still love one another and that is all that matters. Sometimes we do need a bigger perspective, especially when our information outlets are flooded with overwhelming uncertainty. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that the world still turns, even when it feels like the world has stopped. That we still have to wake up and get on with our day, that people still love us and need us, and the bins still need taking out. That, my friend, is always a certainty.
If none of these things help your anxiety about the future, here are some quick-fire practical tips for how to survive anxiety:
- Have a cup of tea. Two, if you need to.
- Find a pet and stroke it.
- Binge watch the West Wing on netflix and pretend that you live in a universe governed by politicians as morally guided as Jed Bartlett.
- Get some friends together, have a rant, and get a bit smashed on gin.
And above all, remember that tomorrow you will get up and live your life much the same as you have always done. And maybe getting up and focusing on this one day that you have to live today is more helpful than wondering what’s going to happen or how you are going to live in the future. And remember the very wise words of a young woman who had hope in circumstances more extraordinary and painful than any we are currently facing: