When financial stress builds, it can impact your mental health
An increasing number of Australians are experiencing financial stress. The following information has been designed to provide practical suggestions to help improve your mental health when you’re suffering from financial stress.
What is financial stress?
Although many people worry about money, financial stress is when the worry becomes all-consuming. Some situations that might cause financial distress include losing your job, being unable to get stable income and not being able to pay your bills.
The cause or degree of money stress may vary and what may worry one person may not concern another. For example, some people may struggle to cover their mortgage each month which might give them ongoing financial stress. When 30% or more of the household income is needed to cover repayments, that person or family can be experiencing mortgage stress. For other people, it may be a one-off event such as getting an unexpectedly large bill that may lead to financial distress.
If you’re stressed about your finances, you’re not alone. Studies suggest that money is the top stressor in many peoples’ lives and may be a key reason for arguments and breakdowns in relationships.
The link between finances and mental health
There is an ongoing link between mental health and financial stress that can be hard to break. When you’re suffering from deep financial stress, your mental health is likely to suffer. And if you’re going through mental health challenges, you’re less likely to take action to improve your financial situation.
For some people with ongoing mental health problems, their symptoms may reduce their ability to keep on top of financial problems. They may lack the motivation to pay bills, may not complete financial tasks and experience difficulties talking with financial institutions.
Signs of financial stress
It’s important to recognise the early signs of financial stress and get help.
Common signs of financial stress are:
- Finding money troubles dominate your thoughts
- Arguing with a partner or family member about money
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Having difficulty sleeping
- A loss of appetite
- Feeling agitated, stressed and angry
- Withdrawing from others.
How to cope with financial stress
If you feel that you might be suffering from financial stress, there are things you can do to lessen its impact on your mental health.
Acknowledge what you’re going through
The first step is to admit to yourself that you’re having financial problems and that it may be impacting your mental health. Bottling up your feelings and avoiding thinking about them can often make things worse. Try to avoid negative self-talk and talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend. Telling yourself: “I’m going through a hard time but I’m going to get through it” may help you take the next step.
Tell someone you trust
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about the difficulties you’re experiencing. You don’t have to go into details if you don’t want to, but it’s important to tell someone that you’re having a hard time. They may give you strategies to help you get back on your feet or work with you to reduce your debt.
Get professional help
You may feel more comfortable talking to someone impartial about your financial and mental health issues. The first port of call is your GP as they will refer you to the right mental health specialist for you. There are many counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists that offer varying payment plans or bulk bill in the event of financial hardship. You can also access many of these services over the phone or using video conferencing programs.
You can also talk to a counsellor on a helpline such as SuicideLine Victoria by calling 1300 651 251. SuicideLine Victoria is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Be clear and honest with them about what has been going on for you. We can help you understand how your financial stress is impacting your mental health and work with you to come up with strategies to cope.
When you’re experiencing stress, it’s helpful to take some time out each day to distract yourself. You might want to take up a new hobby like gardening or baking. Perhaps taking your exercise breaks in nature where you can enjoy the fresh air. Eat good, fresh fruits and vegetables and try to avoid taking alcohol and drugs to cope.
Find new ways of managing stress
If you’re feeling stressed, there are many ways that you can help manage the feelings so they don’t overwhelm you. There is growing evidence that mindful meditation can reduce the body’s response to stress. Mindful meditation is a breathing practice that helps you let go of negativity and slow down racing thoughts. There are many courses, websites and books that can get you started with mindful meditation. One of the easiest ways is to download an app like Smiling Mind or ReMinder that have breathing exercises. There are lots of apps that have guided meditations, some that are just a few minutes long.
Get some emergency relief
There are many options at the moment for emergency financial help. Look into your eligibility for government support. You could also get help from your local community centre or charities who may have food parcels, medication vouchers and even clothing or furniture. These services are here to help people in times of need.
Get some help with your finances
If your money problems are ongoing, you might need to get some help from a professional. Financial Counselling Australia is the peak body for financial counsellors in Australia and offers free financial counselling. Financial counsellors can give you ways to improve your financial situation and can talk to creditors on your behalf.
The Australian ASIC Money Smart website has information on how to manage debt, how to manage on a low income and where to go to get practical support.
If you feel that your financial worries are impacting the enjoyment of your life, it’s important to reach out for help.
Don’t let it build up. SuicideLine Victoria is a free 24/7 telephone and online counselling service offering professional support to people who are concerned about their emotional and mental health. Call 1300 651 251. If it is an emergency, call 000.