Money can be a huge source of stress for many of us, especially in January. After a month full of overindulgence and over-spending, this stress is even more likely to fester and have a real impact on our mental health at the start of the year. This is amplified even further by the overall feeling of ‘well that’s that, back to it…’ we can experience after the lights and warmth of December and the holidays have faded.
This post marks the start of a series that I have decided to produce this year. These specific posts will look at each month and target a particular source of anxiety or stress that can come from them. Hopefully you will enjoy reading them and can find some useful lessons for coping in the process.
In this post, we will be discussing what financial anxiety is, what causes it and what some of the most common symptoms are with regards to not only your mental health, but also your physical health. After this, we will explore some potential methods in order to assist in relieving some of this anxiety in order to help us get through one of the driest months of the year, without having to worry about any extra stress we’ve brought with us from the previous year (if that is possible post 2020).
What is Financial Anxiety and What are the Causes?
Change in Employment: This point is especially worth mentioning given the current global climate. Thousands of people worldwide have lost their jobs or been placed on furlough which led to a big change in personal income, and with this, anxiety levels. However, this cause isn’t only valid in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Be it due to a change in career, or losing your job, or trying to escape a toxic work environment, there are many reasons that your employment may change, and with each of these, a different financial challenge can arise.
Unexpected Expenses: There is no sure-fire way to know when every single little unexpected payment will arise, so it makes sense that it is one of the core causes of financial stress. Health emergencies or unplanned damage are some of the most common ways we find ourselves in trouble with our money. Sometimes it’s possible to sort the issue out with little to no stress, but eventually these issues can start to pile up. Having to pay out money to repair sudden damages to your home or technology and paying for an unexpected visit to the vet if your pet gets sick can be difficult tasks. These unfortunately can and do happen to all of us, and if we don’t have any savings in place, can be detrimental to our finances and our mental health.
General Money Issues: This one is a little less specific in nature. It could be that you’re not very good at managing money and that you spend more than you save, or it could be that you’re paying off debt such as student loans, or even over-spending on a special occasion like mentioned above with the holiday period. Whilst it’s common to consider re-paying debt and managing money something we all experience and just get on with, for others it can be an incredible stressful ordeal which could leave them feeling like they are working hard for no reward.
All of the above causes and more are experienced every day by millions of people worldwide. With these experiences and the toxic anxiety they create, it’s useful to know the signs and symptoms of whether or not you’re feeling overly worried about your money.
What are the Symptoms?
The link between financial stress and poor mental health is well established. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the statistic for those experiencing mental health issues is usually around 1 in 4. One of the studies carried out by Perkbox (link at the end of the article) shows that financial wellness levels were ‘very poor’ for around 1 in 5 people. The study went on even further to discuss how a huge 27% of UK adults feel stressed about their financial situation every single day. It stands to reason that these figures often overlap and many of those experiencing this daily worry are also those facing mental health issues on a daily basis. These anxiety and stress issues can manifest in several ways:
Physical symptoms: The most common physical symptoms of anxiety come in the form of trouble sleeping, tiredness, headaches, stomach aches, loss of sexual desire, chest pains, dry mouth, ringing ears and in more extreme cases, self-harm and suicide. Whilst I know there is a lot more to it than simply calling self-harm and suicide symptoms, many people who suffer from intense forms of anxiety or depression, be they fuelled by financial worry or not, can find themselves performing these harmful acts.
Emotional Symptoms: Like with physical symptoms, there are a range of emotional issues that can span from financial anxiety. These include low Self Esteem, being easily frustrated or angered, feeling depressed or having a consistent low mood. Whilst this list by no means covers the extensive uniquely personal symptoms and issues we each face, they are the most common and can lead us into very dark places. Feeling the pressure of debt on top of their everyday lives can be enough to lead people to crack or crumble, which can lead them to the following outlets:
Others: One of the hardest problems when discussing stress, mood and money, is that we as human beings can find the pressure so intense that we find ways to relieve some of it. However, a lot of the time we do this in an extremely negative way. Reliance on cheap or negative thrills such as alcohol, drugs, smoking or excessive unhealthy food, can not only makes us feel worse physically and mentally, but also add to our financial worry as well. It can be very easy to feel like we have poor judgement and control issues when we find ourselves in this cheap thrills way of thinking, which leads to our self-esteem getting even more deflated.
How can it be helped?
Talk about it: For just about any problem or issue that may be discussed on this blog, talking about it will most likely always be the first solution or suggestion offered in order to help. It doesn’t matter whom you speak to about your anxiety or stress, be it family, friends, financial advisors, therapists, or counsellors, as long as you are in a trusting environment with no feeling of judgement. Being able to express your concerns and then work with someone else to try and improve your situation is unmeasurably positive for your mental health and your financial wellbeing.
Identify your triggers: For this point I feel it is essential to address both financially speaking and non-financially. Triggers with regards to finances, can be as simple as feeling down when you start thinking about your debt. If this is the case, then you must acknowledge that this happens and learn to approach it safely and with others if necessary. If this, or any other financial trigger you may have becomes too much for you, then learn to take a step back, breathe, and approach the problem again when you’re ready. This will help you to avoid spiralling.
Non financially speaking, it’s a healthy habit to be aware of your triggers in general. If your depression or anxiety is amplified in certain situations or by certain aspects of your life, then being around them could lower your mood which can make us more reckless with our decision-making capabilities, including making rash purchases of the above-mentioned cheap thrills, increasing our financial stress even further. Being aware of these triggers and planning how to cope if they are unavoidable is a great way to help deal with these worries.
Budget: Plan. Plan. Plan. Working out your monthly expenditure and then mapping out what costs are essential, helpful, and non-helpful and then adjusting accordingly can be of great use to all of us, not just those of us who experience financial anxiety. It can seem like such a daunting task if you’ve never attempted it before but being able to start by listing out the money you spend each month on rent, food, internet etc, and then figuring out what the best way to use the money that’s left, is extremely useful to us. If you still find it difficult it could be time to ask for help, be it from a friend, family member or professional in the field of finances.
Rainy Day Fund: Rainy Day Fund, Safety Net, Security Blanket, Fallback plan. Whatever you call it, this is a useful tool to pre-emptively ease money problems/anxiety. It doesn’t have to be full of savings for the next 6 months right away, but building up something so you can cover those unexpected costs is sure to not only save you a lot of stress whenever something does go wrong but allow you to sleep a lot better for the time being. Starting today by setting a small portion of your wages aside, you can build a nice safety fund quicker than you realise.
Avoid Temptation: This one is self-explanatory. There is a reason that finance, mental health and addiction are all so closely linked. When we feel more stressed, we are likely to try and get quick fixes in order to make ourselves feel better. This can include alcohol, drugs, smoking or excessive spending on materialistic things. One thing to take note of is that this does not mean no spending at all. Use your budget to set aside money for a treat or some self-care when you’re feeling low or worn out. It’s better to have this planned out and a small amount put away, than to spontaneously spend a large amount on alcohol and feel even more anxious about your finances after you’ve sobered up.
So, to finish up this post, I just wanted to emphasize to you that I am by no means a money-conscious savings expert and that everything stated is not cold hard fact. That being said, I can be anxious about my financial situation some of the time too, and these tips have helped me feel a little more at ease. If you find yourself struggling with your mental health and think your finances are part of the cause, then do reach out to a professional, be it a counsellor, therapist or financial advisor who can help you get things back on track.
Have you struggled with financial anxiety before? Let me know below if there is anything you think is worth adding to my list of tips. If you enjoyed reading this article, then subscribe to my blog for regular content on the subject of mental health awareness.
If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post such as depression or anxiety, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.