The cost of living crisis has affected us all in one way or another over the last couple of months. From rising gas and electricity bills to an increase in National Insurance, it feels like our bank accounts are being squeezed from every possible direction with no sign of things improving.
As such, it’s hardly surprising to learn that the current circumstances are taking their toll on our mental health. That’s according to new research from the investment management company BMO, which found that over a quarter (28%) of British adults say the rising cost of living has impacted their mental health.
The poll of more than 2,000 people also revealed the most common financial concerns causing this impact, with rent and house prices and rising interest rates affecting 38% and 35% of people respectively. Other concerns that ranked highly in the list included rising National Insurance contributions (32%), wages not rising at the same time as inflation (29%), everyday living costs (28%) and energy prices (28%).
And these worries aren’t affecting everyone equally, either. According to the research, millennials – or those aged 26-41 – are experiencing the biggest mental health impact, with almost one in three millennials (30%) so concerned about rising costs that they are kept awake at night worrying about their financial situation.
If you’re one of the people struggling with the psychological impact of rising costs, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one feeling this way.
The most frustrating part of experiencing money-related worries is that there’s no way to completely rid yourself of the source of your anxiety in the short term, but taking care of yourself and your mind can make things feel a little easier to deal with.
Indeed, as Dr Megan Jones Bell, former chief science and strategy officer at Headspace, tells Stylist: “These situations and thoughts are emotionally challenging at any time, but they can become even more stressful during these uncertain, unprecedented circumstances.
“This pressure can feel overwhelming and hard to escape, affecting our relationships, our sleep and our physical health. It seems to trickle down into every area of life, making it hard to think, focus and function. Dealing with the effects of this stress on our wellbeing is therefore of the utmost importance.”
To help you take care of yourself during this stressful time, we asked Dr Bell to share her top tips for coping with financial anxiety and worries about the future. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Step away from the worry and be present
“Worry about one’s financial future is a real and legitimate concern for many people,” Bell says. “We can be more effective at problem-solving and managing complicated and stressful situations when we keep worry and anxiety at a more manageable level so our brains can focus.
“Mindfulness is a helpful way to step away from the anxious inner chatter we might feel as a result of stressful situations. It’s essentially an inner pause button that allows us to step out of the busyness of our minds and check in with ourselves.”
As Bell points out, when we’re feeling worried about something – whether that’s our finances, relationships or health – it’s easy to spend hours picking apart the situation in our head and thinking of all the worst case scenarios. Mindfulness can help us to take a break from this anxious chatter and see the situation more clearly.
“Rather than worrying about things that are out of our control, mindfulness can be a great tool to bring attention to the present moment and help you stop getting caught up in your thoughts and emotions,” Bell says.
“By incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives – even for as little as 10 minutes a day – we become aware of our mind’s behaviour, increase our ability to be more present and engage with whatever we are doing without distraction, inner dialogue or judgment.”
2. Take a moment to pause
“When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation, your thoughts can get muddled, priorities confused and your mental health can deteriorate accordingly,” Bell says. “Take some breathing breaks throughout the day. Breath can be used as a tool to reset your mind and physiology; the simple act of focusing on your breathing can help you to unwind, reset and step away from the worried mind.
“This can help you achieve some much-needed clarity on what matters and what needs to be prioritised, helping you establish a greater sense of purpose and meaning and increasing your confidence.”
For more information on using breathing to calm your anxiety, check out this simple technique.
3. Prioritise your sleep
“Financial anxiety and stress about money can lead to many sleepless nights,” Bell says. “Stress triggers our flight or fight response, and the stress hormone, cortisol, keeps us alert. This acts as a counterweight that prevents the body from experiencing tiredness. Once we’re lying down and doing nothing, our mind also tends to experience more anxious thoughts it blocked out during the busy day, so we experience everything that’s been suppressed at night.
“Meditation teaches us how to put distance between ourselves and those thoughts and feelings, allowing the spaciousness of mind for good, quality sleep.
“If you wake up in the middle of the night, or struggle to sleep due to anxiety, try this simple but effective exercise: eyes closed, take a couple of deep breaths and, starting at the number 1,000, just slowly and gently count backwards… to zero. Focus on the counting though, rather than trying to will yourself to sleep.”
Alongside using some of Headspace’s sleep content to practise mindfulness as you lay in bed, you could also try some calming yoga practices, or check out our guide to making sure that stress doesn’t impact your sleep.
4. Give yourself time to relax
“When we’re stressed about money, one of the hardest things to do is look after ourselves, or at least do something that feels positive,” Bell says. “But in looking after ourselves, we look after our minds, and that’s a stress-buster in and of itself.”
It may sound simple, but giving ourselves permission to relax and do something we enjoy, no matter what that is, is a great way to practise self-kindness and boost your mental health.
“Why not take a mindful walk, even if it’s just for a few minutes around the block?” Bell suggests. “Or take some time out in the day to do something you love, whether that’s baking a cake, reading a book or watching your favourite TV programme. Taking time out for yourself is vital to maintaining your mental wellbeing in this difficult time.”