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Coronavirus: Coping with worries about money

September 28, 2020

Financial concerns are affecting a lot of us at the moment. Some people will have lost their jobs due to coronavirus, or seen a drop in income, while others will be worrying about how secure their employment is. These problems can lead to financial struggles and debt. They can also affect our mental health.

The uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic, combined with the pressure of being financially squeezed, might make us feel down, anxious or stressed. Research by Citizen’s Advice shows that four out of every five people who are in debt lose sleep over the issue. If you had mental health difficulties before coronavirus arrived the symptoms might have got worse, or you could be experiencing them for the first time.

This isn’t surprising, as financial wellbeing and emotional wellbeing are closely linked. Two in five people with a mental health difficulty have experienced a reduction in income during the pandemic, and one in three of those have had to cut back on essentials such as food and heating. According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, people with mental health difficulties are three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt than those without, and half of all people with a debt problem also have a mental health problem.

Some people become stuck in a ‘vicious cycle’, where the thoughts and feelings they have about money trigger certain behaviours which then make the problem – and their mental health – worse.

Having a mental health difficulty can make it harder to manage money well, spend carefully and seek help when we need it. When we feel stressed, anxious or low it might become more of a challenge to face our problems, make decisions, concentrate on paperwork or motivate ourselves to make a tricky phone call.

We might put off trying to sort out our financial difficulties as a result. Someone who’s in debt might experience feelings of panic when a letter comes through the door, for instance: their stomach drops and their heart races. This could lead to avoidance behaviour, where they stuff the letter into a drawer without opening it. Avoiding the problem will only make it bigger, of course, which in turn will increase stress, anxiety and low mood.

If you recognise this pattern, there are some techniques you can apply to try and break it. For example, if you need to contact an organisation to discuss a financial problem you can prepare yourself for a successful interaction by:

  • Deciding the best way to make contact (letter, phone, email or in person)
  • Writing down a detailed plan for the interaction, including the points you want to get across and the questions you need to ask
  • Imagining and visualising yourself having the conversation
  • Role playing the conversation with a friend or family member.

If you have a pile of unopened post or emails which feels overwhelming, try breaking the task down into chunks. For example, you could commit to opening and dealing with three per day.

Challenging the thoughts and beliefs behind your worries can also be effective. If there’s an email or letter you’d absolutely dreaded opening, ask yourself after you’ve read it – were the contents as bad as you were expecting? And if they were, did you cope?

If you need practical support with your financial situation, the Money and Pensions Service can offer independent and impartial help. Set up by the government, it offers free guidance to help people make informed choices about everything from borrowing to budgeting, and also provides high quality advice about debt. You can contact the service through webchat, WhatsApp, email, letter or phone. It has also set up a specific support hub around coronavirus.

If your financial situation is having a significant effect on your mental health and wellbeing, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could equip you with some practical approaches to break the vicious cycle, and help you cope better with the difficulties you’re having.

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