10 October 2017

How to cope with financial anxiety

For a long time, mental health has been associated with serious, long-term mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But we all have mental health, and it's affected constantly by the pleasures and stresses of everyday life, from money and work, to family and relationships.

Financial uncertainty – whether it's the threat of redundancy, or an out of control debt – can take a huge toll on your mental health, leading to common issues like stress, depression and anxiety.

The impact of this can be huge, not only on your personal and family life, but also on your career. Work-related stress accounts for 45% of all working days lost to illness in the UK – and struggling at work is a sure-fire way to sink into the vicious cycle of financial anxiety.

But there are simple, practical steps you can take to cope with financial anxiety and regain a sense of control.

Understand the anxiety

First of all, if you're going to tackle your money worries, you need to understand their impact on your life. You don't necessarily need to have huge debts to be affected by financial uncertainty.

Sometimes it's just that feeling of always having "a little too much month at the end of the money", or wishing you had more going spare to buy nice things for the kids or save for a rainy day.

Whatever your financial situation, "uncertainty and worry makes you anxious, and that fires the survival instinct that humans developed back when we were hunter-gatherers," explains Kim Stephenson, an Occupational Psychologist, former financial advisor, and author of Taming The Pound.

Of course, your instinctive 'fight, flight or freeze' response isn't so useful when it comes to paying off your overdraft or dealing with a final demand from the gasman. "You worry about the money, the worry itself reduces your ability to think clearly, so it's a vicious cycle where the worry continues and potentially increases," Kim says.

Focus on what's important

Prioritising is really key to taking the load off your stressed-out brain. Think about what's really important to you – which won't necessarily be the same for everyone – and start to develop spending and saving goals around that.

"Then you can organise spending, saving, debt, and get a balance between what you want now and what you are aiming for in the future," Kim says. "The way you want your life to be is unique to you, so you need to find out what that is, and use your money as a tool to work towards it," he adds.

Find affordable ways to be more 'mindful'

Remember to give yourself a break and take better care of number one. "Practices like yoga and mindfulness allow you to take time, step back from issues and anxieties, and help your brain to work more effectively," says Kim.

"They allow you to think more objectively, rather than having a pure, 'gut reaction' that tends to shut down thought and drive anxiety."

You'll find loads of free resources online for these kinds of exercises or, if that doesn't float your boat, think about alternatives. Running, swimming, or taking a nice long bath can all be great ways of calming your anxious brain, so take your time and find what works for you

Reach out for expert help and support

You don't have to struggle in silence, either with debt or the associated anxiety. On a practical level, you can seek advice from financial advisors (although they can be expensive) or debt charities, but steer clear of the "quick fix" payday loan companies you'll see advertised on TV and online.

At Nationwide, we offer a free and confidential Specialist Support Service for customers dealing with unexpected financial challenges. Give us a call on 0800 917 23 93 to find out more.

Your employer's HR department may also be able to help, either with debt relief or by providing emotional support through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). If you prefer not to get work involved, you can also seek therapy through your NHS GP, to help you manage your stress and anxiety more effectively.

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