The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means 2020 has been a struggle for many people – especially financially. Worrying about money is one of the main causes of stress in regular times, without the added pressure of the coronavirus.
Feeling anxious and generally low is a normal response when you’ve lost your job, or you’re battling with debt, but it doesn’t automatically mean you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder. However, if you’re behaving in a way that’s unfamiliar, with symptoms that are affecting your life in the longer term, you may be dealing with stress.
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Some of the signs of financial stress affect your general health and relationships in particular. You may end up arguing with loved ones about money, suffering from insomnia, feeling tired all the time, alternating between anger and fear and experiencing dramatic mood swings.
The physical effects can also include a loss of appetite, muscle pains, reduced sex drive and withdrawing from others because you feel like being alone. These can be normal reactions to a stressful situation – but if they linger for more than a few weeks, they can start to seriously affect your health, leaving you at risk of developing clinical anxiety or depression.
How big a problem is financial stress?
According to studies by the mental health charity, Mind, one-third of all British adults have financial problems that give them cause for concern, with 60% of respondents feeling stressed about their finances.
Of more than 2,000 people surveyed about the biggest causes of anxiety, problems with money and job issues were the main triggers in 2020. More than one-quarter of adults worry about the state of their finances every day.
They worry most about not being able to afford unexpected costs and feeling unable to achieve their goals because of a lack of money. Around 20% of adults say their finances are in “very poor” shape and believe it will take up to five years to be “satisfied” with their financial state.
The study covered people of all ages, with 25 to 34-year-olds worrying most about money out of all age groups. Everyone admitted to feeling stressed at some point about money, no matter what their age or job situation.
How do people cope with stress?
More than half (57%) of respondents said they had an alcoholic drink in the evening to cope with stress, while 14% said they drank during the day. People had various means of coping, with 28% smoking, 15% taking anti-depressants and 26% regularly taking sleeping tablets.
Of the people surveyed about financial stress, a massive 51% admitted it had impacted negatively on their relationships and personal life. Around one-third said they had experienced physical health problems as well.
In addition to affecting the lives of loved ones, stress impacts on work too, with almost a quarter of respondents saying it had lowered their productivity and ruined relationships with colleagues.
Clearly, something needs to change when financial stress is impacting on so many aspects of our life. Medical advice promotes the importance of talking about your financial concerns, either with family and friends, or with a health professional.
Road to recovery
Admitting to yourself you have anxiety problems because of your financial state is the first step towards recovery. Seek help and support as quickly as possible. Letting loved ones know why you’re behaving in an erratic manner means they will cut you some slack, as they will understand your fears. You will soon realise you’re not alone. While you may feel you have the cares of the world on your shoulders, it’s comforting to know other people can empathise with you.
The first step is taking control of your life again. When you’re in debt, it’s easy to bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away, but sadly, it won’t.
Seek advice on how to prioritise your debts, whether it’s from loved ones or a service such as Citizens Advice. Try to keep paying even a little off your bills, even if it’s only a couple of pounds a week. Tell your creditors about your financial problems and ask to go on a reduced payment plan. It will stop the red demands threatening legal action from arriving.
Face fears head-on
Anxiety can make you feel uncomfortable about doing things you normally wouldn’t think twice about, such as striking up a conversation, driving, or travelling away from your home. If you fear this is happening, it’s best to face your fears head-on, before it becomes a bigger problem that you’re continually trying to hide.
You may feel like curling up in a ball on your settee and never leaving the house again, but this is the worst thing you can do. Even with the current Covid-19 lockdown, keep in touch with your friends online, on the phone, or through video chats.
If you have more time on your hands because you’re not at work, keep active through exercise. Physical activity can improve your mood and just because the gyms are shut, it doesn’t mean you can’t work out at home, go for a run or a brisk walk, or watch workout classes on YouTube and join in. You don’t need a gym membership, expensive equipment or branded gear to get fit!
The best way to fight the stress caused by financial worries is to admit to it, make sure your loved ones know how you’re feeling, seek professional medical or financial advice if appropriate and keep yourself busy, sociable and active. The best advice you should listen to is NEVER sit at home in solitude, worrying to yourself.
Even if you fear your finances are in very poor shape, there are always steps you can take to recover from your situation. You may consider consolidating debts to alleviate short-term financial difficulties. If so, make sure you choose a responsible lender, who will assess whether you can afford repayments, so you don’t fall further into debt.