Your energy bills, the weekly shop, filling up the car… the cost of just about everything in the UK is soaring. With inflation at its highest level since 1982 – and more predicted to come – it’s no wonder that more than three quarters of adults feel “very or somewhat worried about the rising costs of living”.
If you’re one of that 77%, what can you do? And how do you know when “very or somewhat worried” (let’s face it, a rational reaction to the current crisis) has tipped over into something more serious and you’re struggling with ongoing stress. It seems that many people are at risk; 50% of those who reported being “very worried” in the government survey also said that they “felt those worries nearly every day.” It’s that kind of regularity that should concern you.
So, let’s look at what stress actually is and why it’s so harmful. When you feel stressed, it’s your body’s reaction to a fearful situation, a release of adrenalin and cortisol. It does that to alert you, like an alarm going off, so you’re ready and able to run or fight. In short bursts, a little stress is no real threat to your health. But, when your body continues to pump those hormones out, day after day, it’s a different story. Feeling stressed all the time can lead to serious health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.
How do you know it’s stress? We don’t all react the same way, but signs of stress include cognitive, physical and behavioural symptoms. For example, finding it more difficult to remember stuff, to concentrate or make decisions, having stomach aches, feeling sick, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches and chest pain. Are you sleeping more, not eating enough, or drinking too much? Do you get angry easily? Changes to your normal behaviour can be signs of stress too.
Often stress is caused by a feeling of not being in control. Whether it’s debt stress or more generalised stress from money worries, thinking that there’s nothing you can do is likely to be a factor here. After all, few of us can simply magic up more cash, lower prices, or make debts disappear. The good news is, there are ways to get back in control. One of the most helpful things you can do to manage financial stress is to focus on what you can change, not on what you can’t.
There are two parts to this: managing your finances and managing your feelings.
Managing your finances
AIME can’t give you financial advice, but there are many professionals out there who can find you a better mortgage or cheaper life insurance, for example. You can find a qualified independent financial advisor near you on unbiased.co.uk.
Check out the numerous comparison websites too, that can help you find everything from this week’s best supermarket offers to the lowest loan rates. Consumer champion, Martin Lewis has plenty of good advice, as well as links to deals, on his popular moneysavingexpert website.
Taking some time to fully review your finances is positive action that will help you feel more in control.
If you’re stressing over money because you’ve lost your job, there’s more help available. Citizens Advice has lots of information on the benefits you’re entitled to if you’ve been made redundant, as well as how to deal with debt and who to speak to if you’re at risk of losing your home. Also take a look at gov.uk for help with benefits, training and looking for a new job.
If you struggling to afford food or can’t pay your bills, make sure you’re claiming the benefits you’re entitled to. Seek out your local food bank or food rescue hub. Talk to your energy supplier, as they should have a scheme for people who are struggling to pay their bills; Ofgem has more information about this. The government website moneyhelper also has a tool that can help you prioritise your bills, with steps to make payments more manageable.
However difficult your financial situation, you’re not alone. The most important thing is to reach out and find help.
Managing your feelings
Taking positive practical measures will help you feel more in control, but there are other ways to help you cope with stress too.
Talking about your financial stress can help you manage it. This can be with a trusted friend or family member, or a professional therapist. It may seem pointless, but simply talking through problems can actually change the way you think and feel about them, and so lessen the physical and psychological effects.
There’s a proven approach in psychotherapy called CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). CBT helps you understand how your emotions work and gives you the tools to take ‘emotional responsibility’ in your life. Emotional responsibility means understanding that you can’t always control what happens to you, but you can always choose how you respond to it. Imagine you’re made redundant – that’s a decision you can’t control. On hearing the news, one choice could be to get drunk. Another choice could be to update your CV. How you react to a challenging situation is not determined by the situation itself; it’s up to you. In other words, you can help yourself feel more positive.
It’s also important to stay as active as you can. Any kind of physical exercise will lift your mood; it has even been shown to help people manage depression. Staying socially active, connecting often with friends and family, will make a difference too. But try to avoid socialising that involves drinking too much alcohol, as that can worsen your stress.
The cost of living crisis is likely to affect all of us in some way over the coming months and years. If you’re struggling with stress from it all, please remember that there’s lots of help available, including the AIME app. Find out how AIME can help you manage your financial stress.