Financial stress

It's normal to feel worried, anxious or down when times are hard. Job insecurity, redundancy, debt and financial problems can all cause emotional distress.

But there are many things you can do to help yourself if you're in a difficult situation.

Below, Professor David Richards, from mental health services research at the University of Exeter, explains how financial problems can affect your mental wellbeing. He also offers lifestyle tips to help you out of a slump and advice on when to seek medical help.

What are the potential effects of financial problems on mental wellbeing?

When you've been made redundant or you're struggling with debt, feeling low or anxious is a normal response. Losing your job can affect your self-esteem and financial circumstances, which in turn can trigger emotional distress. Fear of redundancy can also lead to worry, which is a very common human emotion.

You may be feeling, behaving or thinking in ways that are unfamiliar. This doesn't necessarily mean you're suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder.

What are the symptoms of being emotionally distressed?

General symptoms of emotional distress include:

  • Changes in the way you feel physically, such as not being able to sleep well, having trouble concentrating, loss of appetite or feeling tearful.
  • Changes in what you do, such as staying in bed all day and no longer meeting your friends.
  • Changes in the way you think, for example having negative thoughts such as "I'm not worth it", or "I'll never get another job".

How can you help yourself?

Professor Richards' top tips for coping with feeling low and anxious are: "Be more active, face your fears and don't drink too much alcohol."

  • Being more active means not withdrawing from life. Keep seeing your friends. Keep your CV up-to-date. Don't ignore the bills and try to keep paying them. If you have more time because you're not at work, take up some form of exercise. It can improve your mood if you're feeling low. See Get fit for free for lots of ideas on how to exercise without spending any money. Or search for exercise classes and sports clubs close to where you live.
  • Facing your fears means not avoiding things you find difficult. For example, if it looks like you're going into debt, get advice on how to prioritise your debts. When people feel anxious, they sometimes avoid talking to others. Some people can lose their confidence about driving or travelling. If this starts to happen, facing up to these situations will generally help them become easier.
  • For some people, alcohol can become a problem. You may drink more than usual as a way of dealing with or hiding your emotions, or just to fill time. But alcohol won't help you deal with your problems and it could add to your stress. Get tips on how to cut down on alcohol.

A routine is important

If you don't have to go to work in the morning, you can get into a poor sleep routine, lying in bed until late or watching TV all day. Get up at your normal time and stick to your routine.

If you lose your routine, it can also affect your eating. You may stop cooking, you may eat snacks instead of having proper meals, or you may miss breakfast because you're still in bed.

For tips on healthy eating, see Food and diet.

When should you seek medical help for financial stress?

Most people who experience emotional distress will pick themselves up after a few days or weeks and then feel able to tackle challenges such as finding a new job. But for a small number of people, the feelings of anxiety and low mood don't go away and these feelings interfere with the way they live their life.

If you're still feeling worried, anxious or low after a few weeks, see your GP. You may find that talking to a professional therapist could help. Your GP can advise you on talking therapy services in your area.

You can search online for psychological therapy services close to where you live.

When to seek urgent help

If you start feeling like you really can't cope, life is becoming very difficult or your life isn't worth living, get help straight away. These are dangerous signs that mean you need to talk to someone.

As above, either see your GP or contact helplines such as Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) for confidential, non-judgmental emotional support. 

If you've already had depression or anxiety, even if they weren't formally diagnosed, seek help immediately. You're more likely to have an episode of depression if you've had one before.

Where to get more information

Citizens Advice Bureau

The Citizens Advice Bureau website is an excellent place for finding out about benefits, how to deal with debt, what you're entitled to if you're made redundant and who to speak to if you lose your home. A good starting point is their Adviceguide website.

GOV.UK

The GOV.UK website has sections on:

Staying healthy on a budget

You can find lots of ideas for exercising and healthy eating on a budget in our Fitness and Food and diet sections.

Coping with debt

The Citizens Advice Bureau has lots of information on sorting out debt in its Help with debt section. The charity Mind has a section on its website called Money and mental health, which includes advice on how to manage debt.

Other useful organisations include:

Stress

An expert explains what stress is, the physical and mental effects of being stressed, when it becomes a problem and when to seek help.

Media last reviewed: 21/09/2014

Next review due: 21/09/2016

Page last reviewed: 14/03/2013

Next review due: 14/03/2015

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