Cost of living – With increased costs often comes greater stress; here’s how to cope this winter

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British people are increasingly worried about the cost-of-living crisis. Inflation is at an all-time high and our energy bills are increasing dramatically despite the government’s domestic price cap. Not only this, but the UK is now braced for a recession, which is set to hit households later in the year.

Not only are Brits worried but it seems that the cost-of-living crisis is actually the biggest cause of our stress right now too. A recent survey carried out by Benenden Health found that almost a third of the nation have experienced increased stress during the cost-of-living crisis. It also revealed that half of adults are already financially worse due to the cost-of-living crisis and a quarter of the UK population’s mental health has worsened over this period of time.

Like any source of overwhelming stress, financial stress can take a huge toll on both our mental and physical health, and sadly the two can end up being in a bit of a never-ending cycle.

Financial stress can lead to….

Insomnia
Weight gain (or loss)
Gastrointestinal problems
Loneliness
Depression
High blood pressure
Social withdrawal
Anxiety
Unhealthy coping methods
Headaches
Relationship difficulties
Suicide

We often experience a vicious cycle between poor financial health and poor mental health with one impacting the other.
We’ve all seen how financial problems can adversely impact our mental health, but then on top of this, the decline in our mental health often makes it harder for us to manage money. When this happens, we often find it harder to concentrate on sorting out our money issues or pay those mounting bills. Or indeed, we may find that we are so stressed that we need to take some time off work, which will impact our finances too.

This often means we become trapped in a downward spiral of increasing money problems and declining mental health. We may then resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking or taking drugs. We may even start gambling or commit a fraud as we see no way out. And of course, in the worst circumstances, financial stress can even prompt thoughts of suicide.

But no matter how hopeless a situation seems, we must remember that there is always help available.

If you feel stressed right now due to the increased cost-of-living, here are six best practice tips to ease your anxiety and get you back on track.

Talk to someone. When you are facing money problems or worrying about an increase in your monthly outgoings, there’s often a strong temptation to bottle everything up. Sadly, this will only make your financial stress worse. Instead, the answer is to talk about it. Not only is talking face-to-face with a trusted friend or loved one a proven means of stress relief, but speaking openly about your financial problems can also help you put things in perspective too. Remember the person you talk to doesn’t need to be able to fix your issues, they just need to listen without judgement.

Get moving. You would be surprised at the toll financial stress can take on your physical health. Even a little regular exercise can help ease stress, boost your mood and energy, and improve your self-esteem. Aim for 30 minutes on most days, broken up into short 10-minute bursts if that’s easier. Remember exercise doesn’t have to mean paying a gym membership; a brisk walk or run is free.

Practice relaxation techniques daily. Take time to relax each day and give your mind a break from the constant worrying about how you will make ends meet. Meditating, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques like a nature walk or reading a book are excellent ways to relieve stress and restore some balance to your life.

Don’t skimp on sleep. It can be hard enough to nod off at the best of times if we are worrying about our finances, but try to ensure you are getting a good night’s sleep where possible. Feeling tired will increase your stress and negative thought patterns. Finding ways to improve your sleep will help both your mind and body. Try to avoid screens late at night and keep your bedroom dark and cool. Aim to keep your bedroom for sleeping only and ban any reminders of work or your stressors (such as unpaid bills) from your bedroom.

Boost your self-esteem. Rightly or wrongly, experiencing financial problems and worrying about increases in your outgoings, can cause you to feel like a failure and impact your self-esteem. But there are plenty of other, more rewarding ways to improve your sense of self-worth. Even when you’re struggling yourself, helping others by volunteering can increase your confidence and ease stress, anger, and anxiety. You could also spend time in nature, learn a new skill, or enjoy the company of people who appreciate you for who you are, rather than for your bank balance.

Seek professional advice. Depending on where you live, there are several organisations that offer free counselling on dealing with financial problems and this will include helping you with your increasing monthly spend. Whether or not you have a friend or loved one to talk to for emotional support, getting practical advice from an expert is always a good idea. Remember, reaching out is not a sign of weakness and it doesn’t mean that you’ve somehow failed as a provider, parent, or spouse, it just means that you’re wise enough to recognise your financial situation needs addressing.

Support services for those dealing with heightened stress due to the cost-of-living crisis:

For mental health support, try the NHS Better Health website.

Access support alongside your GP if you are struggling using NHS 111 or click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with high stress, depression or suicidal thoughts, please call the Samaritans on 116 123. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or text SHOUT to 85258 in the UK to text with a trained crisis volunteer.

To get help with your debts contact PayPlan.

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills, contact Citizen’s Advice on 0808 223 1133.

You can find advice on managing debt problems and budgeting through the Money Advice Service or National Debtline.

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Vita is an award-winning, CQC registered healthcare provider