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Money worries and mental health

October 24, 2022
Becky Morris

As we enter the winter of 2022, things are getting tougher on the financial front for most of us. This could have an impact on our mental wellbeing: according to the Office for National Statistics 77% of British adults report feeling stressed as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. When we’re in a stressful situation, we can start to feel like things are getting on top of us, and this can lead to anxiety and low mood.

People who have an existing mental health problem might find that worrying about money makes their symptoms worse. In a survey carried out by Mind, 73% of people said that when their mental health is poor, they struggle more to manage their money, while 74% said that difficulty managing money then went on to affect their mental health.

The strain of experiencing financial difficulties can sometimes lead to avoidance behaviours. If we feel hopeless, we might struggle to summon up the motivation to deal with problems that seem unsolvable. We may start to avoid opening our mail or checking our bank balance, or skip taking necessary actions such as paying bills or making decisions. In the short-term this may bring relief – but the problem will just continue to loom, increasing the pressure and make us feel even more overwhelmed.

Others may do the opposite – perhaps taking on extra work to increase their income, or stop engaging in activities they enjoy to make sure there’s enough money available to cover living costs. Again, while this might bring short-term relief, the lack of rewarding or fulfilling activities in our life, combined with an increased workload, could have a negative impact on our mood.

While we may not be able to do much about our financial circumstances, there are steps we can take to manage how they affect our feelings and our mental health. In this blog, we’ll look at two strategies: getting the ‘what ifs?’ out of our heads, and problem solving where we can.

Refocus on the present.

We probably all have hypothetical worries in our minds at the moment. These are based on what might happen in the future – such as ‘what if the boiler breaks and I have no money to get it fixed?’. These worries can cause a lot of anxiety, and we can spend a lot of time trying to find a solution, and ruminating on the possible outcomes.

First, identify whether your worry is a current problem, which requires you to take action now, or a hypothetical ‘what if…?’. Some people find that writing their worries down and setting aside a small amount of time each day to review them stops them from taking over.

We can’t problem-solve hypothetical worries, so we want to dismiss these and turn our minds back to the present.

Try to focus your attention on the task at hand, and fully participate in it. For example, if you go for a walk, take notice of the sounds of the birds and the colour of the leaves on the trees.

Use the 54321 strategy: identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This brings your attention back into the present moment by focusing on the sensory information around you.

Deal with any current problems.

If we take action to solve the problems and worries that do need tackling, we’ll feel more in control and things are less likely to spiral.

  • Step 1: Identify the problem. For example: The gas bill has arrived and I don’t have enough money in the bank to pay it.
  • Step 2: Identify your goal. To get the gas company off my back!
  • Step 3: Identify all possible solutions, no matter how ridiculous they may seem.

    Solution 1 – Use my credit card to pay the bill.
    Solution 2 – Call the gas company and ask for a manageable payment schedule.
    Solution 3 – Ignore it.
    Solution 4 – Pay the bill in full now.
    Solution 5 – Borrow money from a friend.
  • Step 4: Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each solution.
  • Step 5: Pick a solution and put it into action. Solution 2 – Call the gas company tomorrow morning.
  • Step 6: Review how it went – did you achieve your goal? Yes – the gas company has agreed to monthly repayments and gave me some tips that will help me keep future costs down.

Tap into some helpful resources.

The Mind website has a section that looks at the links between mental health and money, and the feelings and behaviours associated with financial struggles.

Mental Health & Money Advice provides guidance on maintaining our wellbeing during the cost-of-living crisis – including a downloadable Toolkit, and tips for managing household budgets, such as finding affordable or free ways to de-stress.

Talk about it.

There’s still a certain amount of stigma around discussing money troubles with other people – but talking your worries through could help you to feel supported and less alone. There’s absolutely no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed; what’s happening right now isn’t our fault, and there will be a lot of people in the same boat.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that is very effective for managing stress, anxiety and depression. Find out how it works here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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