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The impact of financial stress on your mental health

Illustration of woman looking stressed thinking of her stressors

Worried about the rising cost of living? You are not alone. More than three-quarters of adults feel the same way, according to a survey from the Office of National Statistics – and half of those who were very worried felt those concerns nearly every day.

The knock-on effect of money worries can be huge. Whether we lie awake at night fretting or stop seeing friends because of the cost of socialising, our mental health can suffer. We might become anxious and stop opening bills or refuse to log on to our banking apps for fear of finding out how little is there. We may feel we have to turn off the heating and stop buying healthy food, which can affect our wellbeing and mental health. We may live in constant dread of the unexpected, like a boiler break-down or a car repair.

Money worries can quickly become a vicious mental health spiral when we don’t feel in control of our finances. But there is a lot of help available, from free resources for those able to make their own plans to organisations that will provide support for those struggling on their own. Take back control with our practical tools for a calmer financial future.

Simple steps to ease the stress

You probably know what we’re going to say first: facing up to any problem is the first step. However scared you are, open the envelopes and check the apps; you need to know your current position. If you’ve got a sympathetic friend, get them to hold your hand while you do so, or find professional help (check the resources in the sidebar). Now take a deep breath; you’re on your way.

Your next step is to work out your day to day money – you need to know what it takes to keep the roof over your head, food on the table and the means to get to work. You might find our online budgeting planner useful.

Take your time over this – if you’ve never kept a record it could take a while to work through bank statements and credit card bills. You can calculate it as weekly, monthly or annual totals – it’s up to you. You can find free and impartial guidance at MoneyHelper.

This could be a good time to think about what processes you have to manage your money. Do you check your bank statements on a regular basis – perhaps you could set a reminder on your phone. Have you set up direct debits for utility bills to go out straight after your paycheck drops, so you know you’ve got those bills covered? Keeping track of your money is an ongoing task, like cleaning your teeth.

Once you’ve got the basics of living expenses covered, think about the more variable spending, such as clothes or travel; once you’ve added it all up, you can see whether your outgoings are more than your income. If it does, can you see any areas where you can cut back? Maybe you’ve always been very generous with Christmas and birthday presents. Maybe you need to find a cheaper broadband deal. Are there other areas where you could make changes or swap to cheaper brands?

But it’s also important to prioritise the areas that are important to you. Staying active and seeing friends are both important for your mental health, so try and make room for some pleasures – you’re more likely to stick to a spending plan if you’ve got something to look forward to. You might be able to make some financially savvy swaps, such as cancelling an expensive gym membership and replacing it with outdoor running and some free online videos at home; but think carefully about what’s important to you. If the gym is part of your everyday routine and you prefer the motivation of the treadmill over a cold morning pounding the pavement, maybe there’s somewhere else you could trim the spending from.

Remember you don’t have to do this alone. Talking to family and friends is a great way to face your fears – you may find the other person is facing similar dilemmas and being open about your situation will help set expectations. If you’re in debt, look for advice services such as National Debtline or Citizens Advice. There are people who can help you make sense of financial problems, and guide you through whatever situation you are in.

If you are starting to struggle with mental health problems, remember that self-care is key. Eating regular meals, getting up at the normal time, scheduling in tasks such as laundry – can all help stop you slipping further into depression. If you have lost your job or your employment has changed, think about how to keep some structure in your day.