Stress and the LRAU
By Dr. David Brock, Consultant Psychologist
The visits by two delegations of European Members of Parliament to the Valencian Community to
investigate abuses of LRAU in 2004 and 2005 have brought to light not only the sheer size of
the problem in numerical terms, but also the high level of stress and
human suffering being caused by this iniquitous law and its application by
unscrupulous politicians and developers.
As a clinical psychologist, who has recently moved here from England and
found myself facing the threat of being 'LRAUed', I have been struck by the
similarity between many of the stress reactions being suffered by ordinary
people here and those which I encountered amongst my clinical clients back
On this basis, I think that it could be useful to explore and analyse
some of the psychological aspects of the situation being created by LRAU
and look at ways in which people can be helped to deal with these. I will
look at these in terms of firstly, the threat posed by LRAU; secondly,
individuals´ psychological reactions to this threat; and thirdly, methods
and techniques for dealing with stress and associated unwanted emotional
Although LRAU has a similarly devastating effect upon our Spanish
neighbours, the following comments are aimed at the expatriate community.
The Threat of LRAU
While LRAU and its abuses have things in common with other stressful life
events, it has factors which make it particular. The following seem to be
some key factors which make up the threat:
* It provokes an anticipation of loss. The loss is along a number of
dimensions, including financial, emotional, social, environmental and
time. These various forms of loss are frequently difficult to anticipate
* It involves prolonged uncertainty, which is in itself psychologically
uncomfortable and hard to deal with. This uncertainty applies to each
phase of the process from initial planning suggestion through to
completion of the development and can last many years.
* During this process, in many ways, people are unable to get on with
their lives. In a real sense, important aspects of life are having to be
put on hold. Thus, for example, they may be unable to sell their home and
move; they may face restrictions from the town hall on improving and
changing their property; they may be unable to plan financially for the
* Due to living abroad, there may be an absence or shortage of the usual
support networks, which help us deal with stress, i.e. family, friends,
work colleagues, etc.
* Again, due to living in an alien environment, we are frequently lacking
in the knowledge necessary to help in dealing with the problem. This lack
of knowledge covers such areas as the language, the law, social and
political systems, local traditions and the planning process, all of which
are likely to play a part in what happens.
* The quality of life, either temporarily or permanently, is spoilt due to
negative changes in both the natural and social environments. The reasons
why we chose to live where we did are being changed out of our control.
* The process that we face is the application of a law, which is presented
as being powerful, unchallengeable and unchangeable.
Psychological reactions to the threat
The ways in which individuals react to these threats will vary a lot,
depending on the type, severity and duration of the problem and aspects
unique to the person. However, it is normal to have unpleasant reactions
to stress; and likely that most of us will encounter some of the
* A feeling of being threatened, which in any living animal is likely to
trigger the ¨fight – flight´ response, i.e. the nervous system becomes
* Where this sense of threat persists, the nervous system continues to
overact producing fear and anxiety.
* Thinking about the problem can come to preoccupy the mind and become a
main topic of conversation, with the accompanying habit of worry.
* Frequently, emotional problems trigger and are made worse by sleep
* There may be a sense of regret about having come here, made worse by a
loss of trust in one’s decision making ability.
* In the face of seemingly powerful threatening forces, the person may
feel helpless and/or hopeless.
* Linked to helplessness is the feeling that life (and perhaps our own
reactions to it) is out of control. We believe that we can’t any longer
make our own decisions or affect what happens to us.
* Helplessness, hopelessness and loss of control are predictors for
depression, particularly where they persist over time, i.e. several
* The flip side of depression is irritability and anger. This may be a
positive reaction if it motivates to productive activity, but also has the
potential to provoke further problems, particularly in our relationships
with others. Sometimes people spin back and forth between anger and
* Anxiety or depression is likely to shift the person’s thoughts in a
negative direction. This is likely to have a number of unwanted
consequences including a difficulty in enjoying life, a loss of
confidence, and underestimating ones own personal strengths, skill and
* Often, social isolation goes with other emotional problems and cuts the
person off from potential help.
* Increased use of alcohol, food and/or drugs may be part of a person’s
attempt to cope, but will usually produce further problems of their own.
* Prolonged stress is associated with a wide range of physical and
psychosomatic problems, including chronic tension, migraine, skin
problems, hypertension, digestive disorders, headaches, strokes and heart
problems, among others.
Dealing with it
At the outset, the methods and techniques, which are likely to help, will
depend on the type, duration and severity of the problem. Self help for
stress, anxiety and/or depression now has a range of techniques available,
which have been developed and found to work well for some but not all
people. None of them are a quick fix. Most require to be tested, used and
applied over a period of time to bring lasting benefit. Having said this,
some of the following are likely to be of benefit to most people:
* Set about developing a social support network. It helps to be around
others. As bad as the problem is and as bad as you feel, it is good to
learn that others can understand and share how it feels.
* Try to remember why you came here originally; and reclaim your original
goals, plans and ambitions for being here.
* Develop activities which are for you personally enjoyable or give a
sense of achievement (or both). Make a point of focusing on the feelings
of pleasure or success both during and after the activity.
* Take time out (at least a half hour each day) to deeply relax your body
and mind. There are a number of systems for achieving this including
progressive relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, meditation and yoga
* Challenge negative thinking where this is irrational and excessive.
* Be proactive in gaining the knowledge you need to deal with the
situation; and in this way, challenge the belief in helplessness. Network
with others, learn about the law, and focus on what you can do, rather
than what you can't.
* Put limits on the time spent worrying. One way of doing this is to
timetable ¨worry time¨ i.e. set time aside specifically to worry and don’t
allow yourself to worry outside these times.
* Accept that the problem and its solution is likely to take time, and get
on with your life apart from this.
The use of these approaches is easier said than done, and as noted above
will take time, discipline and dedication. They will not help everybody.
However, it is important to know that there is professional help
available. Many counselors and therapists are able to offer treatment for
stress and related problems; and for anxiety and depression, there is now
a highly effective treatment available called cognitive therapy, which has
been experimentally proven.
So the message is that either through using these methods to help yourself
or via professional assistance, many of the worst psychological effects
caused by LRAU can be addressed and reduced .