Counseling psychologist Niamh Delmar shares her thoughts on coping with financial stress.
Financial stress is the subjective experience of having inadequate resources to cope with demands. Research has found that people feel stressed about their finances over 70% of the time. The global pandemic, rising cost of living, war and the energy crisis have exacerbated this even further.
This type of stress is different to worrying about money, when there is no actual lack. Financial anxiety is when you worry excessively about money or fear you will lose it, despite being financially healthy.
Financial stress has a detrimental impact on your physiological and psychological health. It is a contributing factor to sleep disruption, mood and anxiety. Studies have found that you are three times more at risk of having a mental health problem if in debt.
Financial problems can also increase your risk of depression and anxiety and exacerbate any existing conditions. People often resort to unhealthy distractions, such as alcohol or drugs. It is associated with feelings of shame and frustration and feeling trapped and hopeless.
We know from research that money stress is a risk factor for suicide*. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that financial hardship increases suicide attempts by 20 times. Money stress can be lethal.
Financial stress is pervasive as it affects most aspects of daily living including paying bills, buying groceries and clothing, rent or mortgage, accessing healthcare and providing for families.
With the ongoing release of adrenaline and cortisol, the body takes a hit with hypertension, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, muscle pain and coronary heart disease. The immune system becomes more susceptible to illness. People may hold off seeking medical or dental care due to costs.
A deterioration in mental health makes it harder to address money troubles or generate more income. Avoidance is common. People bury their heads in the sand as they become too overwhelmed and ignore bills, cease communication with banks and freeze.
Making decisions and good choices becomes impaired. Money is one of the most common sources of conflict among couples, and can lead to negative consequences for a relationship including irritability, loss of libido and emotional distance.
While money does not guarantee happiness, it matters. It helps the mind and physical health, paying bills, buying groceries, and availing of medical services. It facilitates activities and interests, socialising, education, enjoying holidays and keeping a roof over your head.
Financial scarcity in areas leads to fewer opportunities and higher rates of crime. Money stress is not limited to socioeconomic class. It has been reported among college students and the middle class. There is a stigma associated with not being financially successful. Illness, being a carer, and adverse life and global events can disrupt financial security. It is less about class and more about income.
The gap between a person's income and expenditure is a growing problem. People with lower incomes tend to experience higher levels of stress. Many have fewer resources, no savings, no health insurance and a deficit in lifestyle due to a lack of outlets.
According to Saint Vincent de Paul and other charitable organisations, more people with jobs are seeking their help as they can’t pay bills or are falling into arrears.
Many people find it too difficult to talk about their financial difficulties or crisis. Sometimes nobody will even know how extreme it may be. We can’t judge the book by the cover, as appearances can be deceptive. There are people very financially comfortable giving the impression of being broke, and others in debt coming across as being financially okay.
A generous person with limited funds may seem wealthy, while a frugal or stingy person who is financially well may seem poor. Financial stress is not always visible.
Embarrassment and pride isolate, but opening up to a trusted person can help put things in perspective and support you to feel less alone. If overwhelmed, frozen in avoidance or feeling suicidal talking with your GP and a mental health professional is essential.
Linking in with organisations offering financial expert help can offer practical steps to take, budget or negotiate on your behalf. Having a specific plan has been found to have a positive impact on psychological well-being.
Anxiety leads to obsessing and catastrophic thinking. Healthy distractions and outlets provide respite from constant worry. Refocus your mind by engaging in activities that cost little or nothing such as open water swimming, park runs, walking, hiking and use community facilities such as libraries, or join local clubs.
While the tendency is to withdraw, keep social interactions up on a regular basis even if it’s for a walk. Incorporate mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques into your daily life. Take stock and be aware of any harmful habits that have emerged.
To help someone in a financial crisis, consider how embarrassing it may be for that person, and actively listen non-judgmentally and empathise.
Encourage them to meet you for walks and other low cost activities, or take them out for a treat. If in a position to do so, offer a practical arrangement. It really is about being there for them and being mindful of how severe this may be in their daily lives, despite outward appearances or brave faces.