Financial stress is a major risk factor for poor mental health. Not having enough money to cover basic expenses, having a fluctuating and/or insecure income and carrying high levels of debt or mortgage stress can lead to anxiety and depression for many people.
So, how does financial stress make us feel?
People with financial problems describe experiencing feelings such as:
- A low mood
- A cloud over you wherever you go
- Dread, guilt and shame
- Like someone else is controlling your means of happiness
- Trapped in a vicious cycle that they can’t escape
Of course, everyone reacts differently to money worries. What’s most important is recognising the signs in yourself and someone else, and asking the question, “is everything okay?”
More people are currently worried about their finances than their health. 30% of people name finances as their biggest worry, compared to 25% who name their physical health.
Nearly two-thirds of UK adults (63%) say that stress over money has affected the mental health or wellbeing of someone they know.
These statistics show that you’re not alone, and there’s no shame in getting help for money worries.
It might not always be easy or quick, but there’s always a route to feeling better.
There are a number of signs of financial distress and poor mental health, including:
- Avoiding opening bills or post, and forgetting to pay bills
- Being more secretive
- Avoiding making financial decisions
- Not checking bank balances
- Changes in spending behaviour
- Lacking energy, being unmotivated, and appearing tired
- Appearing more upset than usual
- Being more easily confused, and not being able to concentrate
- Not wanting to be sociable/becoming withdrawn
- Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating differently
- Misusing alcohol or drugs
- Finding it hard to cope with everyday life
- Appearing restless/irritable
- Not taking care of themselves
- Being unusually accident prone
- Saying negative things about themselves and their life
- Saying things that are unusual or irrational
If you’re concerned about someone else
It’s important to start a conversation if you’re concerned about someone else’s financial situation. Talk about your own personal experiences to get the conversation started, just ensure that you keep your language non-judgemental.
Let them know that they aren’t alone and that there are many ways that they can improve their situation.
Have a few places in mind where you can suggest that they go for help. There are many organisations at the end of this course that may be of help.
Money and mental health are often linked. This is because poor mental health can make managing money harder, and stressing about money can also make your mental health worse.
People who have money problems also sometimes turn to alcohol, smoking, or drugs in order to cope. But these are coping mechanisms that aren’t sustainable or healthy, and it’s important to pursue a healthy solution instead.
If you are struggling with your mental health and are finding your spending feels more uncontrollable, immediate actions you can take include giving your cards to someone else, distracting yourself by doing something else like going on a walk, or telling yourself that ‘I will buy this next week if I still feel like it then’, as you may feel better and more in control.
It doesn’t have to be a crisis
It’s important to understand that you don’t have to be at a crisis point to take a look at your financial situation and to find ways that you can improve it.
Leaving the situation . It’s always better to take early, preventative action than to leave it until the problem escalates further.
For example, if it looks like you could potentially go into debt, get advice on how to prioritise your debts sooner rather than later.
A budget is a plan that summarises your earnings and spending habits, so you have a clear idea of what money you have coming in, and where your money is going.
Set aside some time to come up with your budget. It’s better to spend some time in organising it and to get it right than to rush it.
Add up your income (after tax, loans etc. have been deducted) and then calculate your essential spending. This would cover things like rent, bills, travel and food. You have now arrived at your disposable income. If you’re able to put away and save some of this disposable income, try to budget for that too. Most experts recommend having at least three months’ worth of salary saved and some suggest it should be as much as six months’ worth. This can help you in future times if your financial situation gets tough.
There are lots of thorough tools online that can help you to budget, including this one from the Money Saving Expert.
You may also want to consider:
- Choosing a regular time each week to look at your money and expenditure to check that you’re on track
- Putting all important records and documents (for example, payslips, bank statements, bills and receipts) in one place, so that you can find them with ease
- Setting up a bank account that you can check your situation more easily
- Only taking out as much money out as you want to spend at the start of each week
- Looking for ways to cut costs, for example use comparison sites to find better deals on your bills
- Be careful about taking out loans and using credit cards
- Getting professional advice – there are organisations who can help you
If you’re feeling stressed out about money, talking about it with people that you trust can help to ease your worry. It may also help to ease any money worries they have that they feel unable to talk about.
Research has found that people who do discuss money:
- make better and less risky financial decisions
- have stronger personal relationships
- help their children form good lifetime money habits
- feel less stressed or anxious
- feel more in control
You may want to start the conversation in a less direct way rather than asking them to sit down and bringing up the subject. For example, you could use whatever is around you to spark the conversation – bills, a new item of furniture you are still paying off, or something you’re watching on TV.
Remember that your conversation about money can be as big or small as you like and your conversations also do not have to just focus on specific numbers. You can also talk about experiences and feelings. Number crunching can be important, but so is understanding your feelings. Talk about the emotions that go hand-in-hand with finances. Doing this can also make the conversation seem less daunting, as you will probably realise that you and the person you are talking with feel very similarly.
Your physical body and your mental health are also undoubtedly connected, and looking after your physical body may help you to feel better and more in control of your financial situation. Some things you can do to stay healthy include:
- Get enough sleep and rest – There are a number of things you can do to help to get a good night’s rest. Ensure that your bedroom is ‘sleep-friendly’ by getting rid of excessive gadgets and keeping it as a relaxing environment, and do things that relax you, like reading or having a bath, before trying to go to sleep.
- Eat healthily – What you eat can have a big influence on your emotions and a diet that is good for your physical health is usually also good for your mental health. Try to eat healthy foods that you enjoy.
- Avoid alcohol and drug misuse – While you may feel like you want to use alcohol and/or drugs to cope with your emotions, in the long run they can make you feel a lot worse.
- Exercise – Many people rave about the mental benefits of exercise, and for good reason. Research has consistently found that exercise is great for our mental health. You also don’t have to be an exercising expert to reap the psychological rewards of it; even getting outside for a walk can be great for your mental health.