When things fall apart: Finding well-being in the world of Brexit

Politics and Well-being

Society is our extended mind and body.

Alan Watts

Throughout philosophy, we find an inextricable link between ourselves and the society of which we are a part of. Many thinkers have expounded upon the theory that, society is not merely the room in which we find ourselves – an external force that interacts with us – but an extension of our very internal being.

This is seen throughout philosophy and psychology. Alan Watts posits that society is an extension of our mind, whilst Lacan went into great depth exploring how our unconscious psyche is formed within a broader societal network.

Such thoughts can be seen as extensions of John Locke’s theory of the self as a “tabula rasa” which is shaped by our ongoing experiences. This disregards the notion of any true, or pure self. It instead poses the idea that we are shaped, or created by the external society around us.

To use a metaphor, like the true English graduate I am, we can be seen as the products of erosion. Us – as we find ourselves today – started as unshaped, unthinking stone. Then, through the ebbs and flows of societal currents, this stone is crafted into the beings we find before us today.

So this is what brings me to the question of today’s blog post…

If our sense of self and well-being is contingent on the society around us, what effect do events such as Brexit have upon us? When politics becomes so violently polemic, can we maintain a healthy mental health, and if so, how?

To use my initial metaphor to expand upon these questions: if we need societal currents to help shape us from stone, what happens when there aren’t steady currents, but multiple, warring currents smashing against each other? What becomes of us?

Is it just me… Or are we a little bit fucked?

Brexit: A broken society

After just a few minutes searching, it is easy to see the anger that has been stirred up surrounding Brexit. It doesn’t take long to find articles such as:

Or tweets such as:

Wherever you look, at whatever side of the political spectrum, you are greeted by feelings of anger and anxiety. Something reflected in articles such as the Mental Health Foundation’s,

“I feel frightened of the angry world outside my door” – the impact of Brexit anxiety “

Mental Health Foundation

The article states how, in a recent survey:

  • Millions across the nation have felt powerless, angry or worried over the last year.
  • Over one in 10 people reported that Brexit had caused them problems with sleeping in the last year.
  • Almost two in 10 said it had caused them ‘high levels of stress’.

Mental Health Foundation

It is interesting to think, what exactly is it about Brexit in particular that is having such an effect on the population?

I lived through 9/11, the war on terror and the 2008 financial crash. None of these seem to have had the same effect on the general population as Brexit. This is interesting when one puts the situations into context. We saw an entire city – nay, nation – brought to its knees, we saw a global financial fallout, but it’s Brexit

Something we voted for that has posed such a threat to our population’s well-being.

So why?

In trying to come to a conclusion, I can’t help but think the reason hinges on the polemic nature of this issue. Brexit has caused an undeniable schism within our society. Our very political system has been turned on its head. The simple left, right dynamic of our government has been torn apart. The major parties are seen to be tearing themselves apart, and even within our own families we find vocal disagreements on the correct course of action.

Compare this to 9/11 or the war on terror. I think, for the most part, the majority of British society was in agreement that Osama bin Ladin was a bit of a prick.

Or how about the financial crash? Whilst there was some disagreement over the causes and means through which it should be dealt with, it did very little to mess with the status quo. The dialogue was still within the well tread dynamic of Labour vs Conservative, left vs right.

If anything, these events helped to solidify our understanding of our society. It only went to emphasise the narrative on which our understanding of politics had been built for years. Those on the left like spending. Don’t trust them with your credit card. Those guys on the right: they hate the poor, the NHS, the railways and basically anyone that didn’t go to Eton.

It was a simpler time.

You could always understand the narrative that played out before you, and for the most part, politics remained pretty separate to your day to day life. For the most part, it was all pretty academic in nature and never so much a thing of any real emotional heft.

But then shit got real…

The entire Brexit campaign has revolved around playing with our emotions. It has been framed as an issue that transcends simple political discourse. This has caused considerable issues, as it brings a lot of what we have come to know into question.

Ideas that weren’t often spoken about in open discourse have been hurtled into the mainstream. The conversation has been changed and as a result, we find ourselves within a very different society.

To return to my earlier metaphor, the tides have changed. Gone are the gentle currents, interrupted by a sudden, unpredictable riptide. This has changed the landscape in which we have long made sense of ourselves.

It has upset the narratives we have long found ourselves a part of. No wonder we’re anxious!

It is as Suzanne Moore says:

“Every self-help book and every act of self-love is a way for individuals to try to cope in a world that is deeply dysfunctional.”

We can talk about self-care, but this mental health crisis is political , Suzanne Moore

So how can we better cope?

So if the issue is societal, how can we better cope with what is happening?

For me, I can’t help but think, we need to try and shift the narrative we tell ourselves about society. A large part of the issue is we don’t know what to expect. The way politics is supposed to work, the illusion of control has been pulled from beneath us.

The steering wheel has been snatched from us, and for many, we appear to be careening for a cliff edge.

The thing is… We never really had much control. When it came to politics at least. There was very little we could ever really do. Yes, of course we could vote and that is important. But did we make much difference? For the most part…

No. Bugger all.

I am a Labour voter in a safe conservative seat. Whoop, whoop! Got to love the power to create real change my vote gives m… Oh wait. FUCK!

You need to try and lessen the weight you place upon your own political self worth. Because well, yeah, you could never do that much to begin with.

I know, I know. I began this blog by saying how our sense of self and society are inseparable. And yes, this is in many ways true. But still, it is up to us how we choose to interact with this society, and with which bits we focus upon.

Sometimes you need to step back from the discourse and realign your values. Focus on what you can. Don’t place your identity in the hands of an uncontrollable force. Shrink your gaze from the broader world, to something smaller, something more manageable.

Can I effect real nationwide change? Probably not.

Can I make a difference in my direct relationships? My day to day life? Whether I go to the gym or eat a big ass burger? Yes. So that is where my focus should be.

Is this to say you should become totally apolitical and uncaring? If you want to… go for! If politics is doing nothing but wearing you down and damaging your well-being? Sure thing. All the power to you.

But I’m not saying you have to. What I am saying is this… there is only so much worth you can afford to place upon any one thing. And just because it is on the news everyday, or in the papers, doesn’t mean it has to be central to your life.

You have the power to turn off the phone, or the TV. To close your eyes and listen to your own thoughts and your own feelings.

You can choose what is central to you.

And for me, one thing is for sure…

Brexit is a fucking omnishambles.

And I ain’t got no time for that!

All the best,

Shaun.

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Published by BeBetterShaun

A keen ultra runner and trainee counsellor and psychotherapist. I am looking to promote a positive well-being and looking after one's mental health whatever your situation. "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung

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