Whether you’ve lost your job, been furloughed or are facing job insecurity over the coming months, it’s likely many of us will be dealing with increased stress and anxiety over money right now. Here, we asked an expert to share their top tips for taking care of your mental health under these challenging circumstances.
It’s hard to comprehend just how massive the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic really is. Alongside the health and social impacts of the virus, the devastating effect the outbreak has had on people’s businesses and livelihoods will have repercussions for years to come.
While the latest ONS statistics revealed that over 600,000 workers lost their jobs between March and May 2020, that number is not indicative of the massive impact the pandemic will likely have in the long term; with the furlough scheme, which currently supports 9.1 million jobs, set to come to an end in October, it’s likely that number will continue to rise as we head towards the end of 2020.
All in all, hundreds of thousands of people are likely to find themselves dealing with financial insecurity and uncertainty over the coming weeks and months – a situation which can be incredibly stressful and detrimental to someone’s mental health.
As Dr Megan Jones Bell, chief science and strategy officer at Headspace, tells Stylist, the thoughts and worries which come with financial uncertainty and money problems – such as concern about not being able to pay the bills or anxiety over whether or not a job will exist when the furlough scheme ends – can take their toll on someone’s wellbeing.
“The thoughts and worries which come with uncertainty over job security and a lack of income can result in heightened stress and anxiety about your finances, and be an extraordinary mental health burden,” she says. “Losing a job can also have an impact on people’s self-efficacy and sense of control: two important anchors of mental health.”
“Studies have shown the prevalence of mental health problems amongst the unemployed. One study found the average number of persons with psychological problems among the unemployed was 34%, compared to 16% among employed individuals (these include mixed symptoms of distress, depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, subjective well-being, and self-esteem).”
She continues: “With financial anxiety, we also tend to project our current situation into the future and imagine it’s never-ending, making us feel even worse; this can lead to sleepless nights, loss of appetite and constantly feeling low.”
If you’re struggling to deal with a lack of job security and financial uncertainty right now, it’s important to remember that it’s completely normal to feel stressed and anxious – but there are things you can do to take care of your mental wellbeing during this difficult time and alleviate some of the stress you’re feeling.
“These situations and thoughts are emotionally challenging at any time, but they can become even more stressful during these uncertain, unprecedented circumstances,” Bell explains. “Our concerns with the pandemic, in addition to these financial worries, can add further pressure and strain on our mental health.
“This pressure can sometimes 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 utmost importance.”
If you’re looking for ways to alleviate some of the financial stress you’re experiencing as a result of the pandemic, there are a number of great resources and techniques to help you get started. To start off, Headspace is offering free Headspace Plus subscriptions for all UK unemployed and furloughed people, so you can get instant access to mindfulness and meditation resources to calm your mind.
On top of this, we asked Bell to provide us with some of her top tips for coping with feelings of financial anxiety and worries about money during this challenging time. 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 judgement.”
2. Take a moment to pause
“When you have lost a job or you’ve been placed on furlough, it is hard to find a sense of purpose. 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.”