Are you looking after yourself? It’s important. This is a gentle reminder to take care of your mental health in the cost of living crisis (especially when so much feels out of your control).
We know the world is rough. We’re barely through the pandemic and there’s another crisis? There are post-Christmas blues, miserable weather and everyone’s talking about their ‘new year, new me’ goals.
If you’re struggling to get by, you are far from alone. Around one in six people in the UK are battling moderate to severe symptoms of depression, the government has found.
Mental health struggles often go hand in hand with money problems, with one in four people who cannot afford their energy bills facing depressive feelings.
“Poor mental health can make earning and managing money harder and worrying about money can make your mental health worse,” Kerry McLeod, head of information content at mental health charity Mind, says. “It can start to feel like a vicious cycle.”
Certain situations, like opening envelopes or attending a benefits assessment, might trigger anxiety. You might not be able to afford the things you need to stay healthy – food, socialising, medication or therapy.
Quick disclaimer: you are not to blame. Wellbeing tips and self-help books can only go so far. But there are small steps you can take to feel happier.
“Lots of things may be out of your control,” McLeod adds. “But learning how mental health and money are connected might help if you are struggling. Try taking things one step at a time.”
With the help of experts at Mind, Samaritans, Mental Health UK, Anxiety UK, the Centre for Mental Health and the Money and Pensions Service, we’ve created a guide to helping you through your mental health struggles in the cost of living crisis.
Make sure you are claiming the support you’re entitled to
If you are having money problems, you might be eligible for extra support. This could be from the government, your energy supplier, local authorities or charities. Even a small amount of support – whether that’s cash or advice – could help alleviate some of your anxiety.
You could be entitled to benefits if you are working or unemployed, sick or disabled, a parent, a young person, an older person or a veteran.
“For many of us with mental health problems it can feel like the whole benefits system isn’t designed to meet our needs,” a spokesperson for Mind says. “But it’s important to know benefits are there to support you, and you have a right to claim them if you’re struggling to manage or just need that bit extra.”
Even though so many of us struggle with money and poor mental health, they can often make us feel alone. Laura Peters, head of mental health and money advice at Mental Health UK, says: “People often tell us they feel embarrassed or ashamed of their situation, and avoid social situations by staying at home and not speaking to anyone. But isolation will only make your mental health worse.”
She suggests trying your best to connect with someone else at least once a day, even if it’s just a quick conversation to check in with a neighbour, or a phone call with a loved one.
Talk to someone you trust about your mental health
You don’t have to go through this alone. It might help to speak to someone, whether that’s a loved one, a support worker, a health professional like your GP, or a helpline like Samaritans.
Mubeen Bhutta, head of policy, public affairs and campaigns at Samaritans, says: “We know that many people find it hard to speak openly or ask for help when they are struggling but talking can be life-saving.
“We’re here to listen, 24/7, day or night. We provide a safe space to talk openly, and we won’t judge or tell you what to do but will simply listen. We know that listening can help you work through how you’re feeling and put things into perspective, to help you feel more positive about the future.”
Ed Davie, policy and public affairs lead at Centre for Mental Health, says: “Everyone’s mental, and physical, health is very strongly influenced by their circumstances – whether a person has enough money, a stable home, is treated fairly, or experienced trauma as a child, for example, all have a significant bearing on their chances of feeling and being well.
“People often have little control over these factors and that lack of a sense of control is itself a risk to mental health. That’s why it is so important that the government, and other bodies, do more to prevent the poverty, housing problems, discrimination, and childhood trauma that cause and worsen illness.”
You could take back a little bit of control by contacting your MP or getting involved with campaigns like Enough is Enough and Warm this Winter to push the government to act.
Make healthy choices if you can
As Davies says, making positive health choices is much easier if a person is not stressed and limited in their choices by a lack of money and time. But he explains that being as physically active as possible (ideally in a natural environment like a park), connecting with other people, gaining new skills, contributing to your community, eating healthily, quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol with support, if necessary, are all shown to reduce mental health risks.
Peters adds: “If your finances have forced you to give up things which used to support your wellbeing, such as a gym membership or social activities, think about alternatives. See if there are free activities or community support nearby that you can get involved in, and make time each day for something that benefits your mental health.”
“In challenging times, it can be easy for worry to dominate your day, making it more difficult for you to do the things you need to,” Peters adds.
She says one useful technique is to set aside “worry time”, which should be around 30 minutes long, not too close to bedtime. Whenever you find yourself worrying about something throughout the day, write it down, and then try to let it go until your scheduled worry time later. This could help you feel more in control and reduce some of your anxiety.
Peters remarks that it can feel like we’re constantly being bombarded by bad news, so try not to get trapped in a cycle of doom-scrolling.
“If things start to feel overwhelming, think about the things you can control and make positive steps to change them. You might not be able to control your energy bills, but you can make a budget to see exactly what you have coming in and going out.”
If anxiety starts to overwhelm you, Peters suggests you try some simple grounding exercises. For example, focus on each of your five senses, and think of something that you are currently able to see, touch, taste and hear.
A representative for Anxiety UK says there are a variety of self-help tools and resources available via websites, apps and other outlets you can access to help teach you grounding techniques and simple breathing exercises to help keep you calm and relaxed.
The charity offers a range of free resources and self-help tools, information and fact sheets free to download from its website, webinars to watch for free and access to therapy and other services at reduced costs.