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With an ongoing war in Europe and a fallout from the energy crisis, economic pressures are being felt far and wide with the mental toll concerning people from all walks of life.

As Mental Health Awareness Week begins, local mental health charity Hull and East Yorkshire Mind is launching its new campaign aimed at raising awareness of the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on people’s mental health. But how can financial pressures can affect your mental health? Read the following article from Annie Button.

On a domestic level, financial stress looms over the UK right now, with news stories every day of how the cost of living crisis will impact us in various ways. There’s no avoiding the fact that money is a source of stress in our lives, and it’s impacting much more than just our wallets. From our work life to our relationships, financial pressures can cause a wealth of issues. And with over 1.5 million people in England experiencing debt and mental health problems, it’s a growing concern for our wellbeing. But what exactly is the effect of financial worry on our mental health and how can we tackle it?

How does financial stress impact our mental health?

Research by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy found that 66% of therapists cite cost of living concerns as negatively impacting people’s mental health, and six in ten people are concerned about how they’ll pay their household bills. Struggling with your finances can increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression and severe stress, whether it’s worrying about how you’ll find money for the grocery shop each week or fearing another bill reminder coming through. 

Emotional stress

Financial stress can also cause you to lose sleep, which can exacerbate your mental health issues. Studies have shown that a lack of support in our finances can have significant ramifications on our wider mental health, caused by stress and worry. People with financial insecurity can feel more vulnerable and isolated, but it can also lead to harmful coping styles such as drinking too much or excessive eating.

The Mental Health Foundation explains that “if you experience anxiety, alcohol can give you a very short-lived feeling of relaxation – but this quickly disappears. If you rely on alcohol to cover your anxiety, you may soon find yourself drinking more and more to relax. Over time, this can lead to alcohol dependence”. It’s a common side effect when we’re worried to find ways to mask the symptoms we’re experiencing, but over time, the result can be far from positive. 

Relationship problems

This feeling of isolation can start to cause problems in relationships and marriages. During periods of financial struggle, it’s common for unhappy couples to speak to divorce lawyers to discuss their options, particularly for the financially stronger member of the relationship who may want to minimise their liability in settlements. The cost-of-living crisis has prompted a rise in divorce cases due to stress causing arguments and resentment in relationships, which can result in a drop in living standards, especially for the financially weaker of the two.  

Divorce specialists, The Wells Group, explain that “with ‘no fault divorce’ having come into force, more couples than ever are opting for mediation as a preferable route to reaching an agreement during the divorce process. Absolving the need to go to court, mediation is growing in popularity due to its increased speed, reduced cost and diminished conflict and stress”. The cost of a divorce can be minimised if both parties can reach an agreement quicker, but there’s no denying that the expenses surrounding a divorce or break-up are never planned for and can be money couples have to find outside of their usual living costs, which can be challenging. 

A vicious cycle

When we look at the connection between money and mental health, there’s a clear cycle. The gap between people’s earnings and mental health problems, and the people without mental health issues, is large. In part, people struggling with anxiety, depression and PTSD often can’t work as a result of their symptoms, and that makes their money problems worse. When people don’t have the income to maintain a healthy lifestyle, their mental health declines and their financial situation becomes worse — a cycle that continues and can be hard to break. 

Widespread pressure

One of the reasons why financial pressure can be such a toxic experience is that it’s all-consuming. It affects everything in our lives, from buying food to paying rent or mortgage, providing for our family and paying for prescriptions. Worrying about these things can put pressure on our personal and working relationships, and even put some life events on hold.

The cost of energy and food has risen considerably in the past year, and that has made life difficult for so many households in the UK. Not being able to afford the basic necessities can lead to anxiety and shame, and for low income households, research suggests that the levels of psychological distress and depression are higher

Overcoming financial stressors

The cost of living crisis makes it difficult to fix financial problems, but there are routes out of the stress surrounding your financial worries, which can ease the anxiety that debt can cause. 

Take stock of your financial situation

Start with understanding where you’re at financially, and the financial struggles that are causing you the most concern. It may seem overwhelming to see it all laid out in front of you, but having a clear overview of the situation will enable you to tackle things slowly. Make a budget, including only the necessities, and list out your debts from smallest to largest so you can make a plan for repaying them. 

Tracking your spending can also help you see where you need to cut back and where you spend the majority of your money. If you can’t pay your bills, speak to the businesses in question and explain your situation. Often, they can set up payment plans to make it more manageable. 

Get support

No-one can deal with this level of stress alone, and it’s important that you seek support when you’re struggling. That may be by contacting a support group for people who are also struggling financially, reaching out to friends and family for help, or talking to a therapist for advice on how to overcome anxiety and depression. Talking about what’s worrying you can help to ease the burden and ensure you don’t feel as alone. 

Face your fears

We tend to catastrophise when we’re anxious, so face those fears head on. Consider the worst case scenario and think about how you’ll overcome it. Knowing you have a back-up plan for every scenario can instill you with confidence, and it will help you to see that no matter how bad things may get in your mind, in reality there’s a way out and a way to cope. Paradoxically, thinking about the worst that can happen can actually lower your anxiety around the issue and make it seem less overwhelming. 

Know what help is available

From help with energy bills to tax credits and cost of living payments for those on benefits, there are support packages available to help you through this difficult time. So do your research and claim what you’re eligible for to help ease the financial burden and lower your stress around this area of your life. 

There is a clear connection between finances and our mental wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean that you have to suffer during what is a difficult financial period for many people in the UK. There is support available, both mental and financial, that can help ease your mind and help you take control of your finances so you can feel confident and mentally strong once again.

For more information on local employment support, including how we can support you to stay in work, please call 01482 240133 or email [email protected].