Over the last few weeks, it’s become more and more apparent to me that the real price of the cost-of-living crisis is our collective mental health.

I’m not here to pile on the misery – we all know it’s hell out there right now – but we all also need to understand that good mental health (or recovering from poor mental health) means acknowledging the problem and then dealing with it. 

The situation we’re all facing is bad and getting worse, so where exactly are we right now? 

I’ve often said that, as health crises go, the mental health crisis we face not just in the UK but globally dwarfs the Covid-19 pandemic by many multiples. It’s certainly been around a lot longer, and it affects many millions more people than Covid ever has.

There are no silver linings on the mental health crisis at all, but however bad it’s been over the last three decades or more, at least there were at least as many people in good mental health as there were struggling.

Not anymore.

This month every household in the UK saw their energy bills skyrocket for the second time in six months, with some families now forecast to be paying £7,000 or more for their power and heat.

On its own, the hike in energy costs might have been manageable for a good proportion of people. But those rising costs are merely the tip of a colossal cost of living iceberg. 

Ballooning inflation and interest rates now pile on the misery further through a toxic cocktail of grocery bills, mortgage repayments, collapsing currency value, and stagnating wage inflation.

We may not formally be in recession, but for all of us it will feel like we are.

And it means that perhaps for the first time in living memory, everyone is now facing if not a full-blown mental health crisis, then anxiety and stress as they worry about how to pay their bills, keep warm, and eat in a world that is in economic turmoil.

This touches the very core of what nourishes us physically and mentally – a hierarchy of needs that begin at the base level of what’s needed to stay alive and extend across the spectrum to the luxuries we can happily do without.

This hierarchy of needs encompass five ‘levels’ of what humans require and was a theory developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1946.

He visualised our needs as a pyramid with our basic needs at its base and higher-level and increasingly intangible needs rising to its peak. 

The lower down the pyramid our needs cease to be met, the greater the emotional crisis we experience.

The five levels making up the pyramid – from bottom to top – are split into two groups – lower level (in other words, more intrinsic to our wellbeing), and higher level (more extrinsic, or non-essential).

The lower-level needs, in order of importance, are physiological (essential requirements for our survival such as food, water and shelter), safety (including protection from violence, health security and financial security), and love and belonging (the need for social interaction, love and companionship).

The pyramid is completed by the two higher level needs, starting with self-esteem (the need for self-respect and self-belief), and self-actualisation (the need to fulfil our potential).

Two paragraphs are never going to adequately explain complex human theory, but we only need those paragraphs to be able to understand that the current cost of living crisis means our safety needs are being compromised.

And it might also be argued, compellingly, perhaps – that the impact of our need for financial security being unmet necessarily puts our survival (physiological) needs at risk.

When our low-level needs face a primal threat like this, suggestions of ‘go and do a meditation’ or ‘practise mindfulness’ can feel inane and quite frankly aggravating.

It’s already too late to try to talk many off the anxiety ledge. Our subconscious is already on high alert, and as anyone who’s read my articles on apocalypse style and the Window of Tolerance will know, once the subconscious is locked onto a perceived threat, it doesn’t reduce its DefCon readiness until that threat has been neutralised.

All of which is to say that in this crisis, the fear of losing your business or your house or your job isn’t simply neurosis, it’s the acknowledgement of a cold, hard, and present reality. 

What the cost-of-living crisis and Covid have in common is that both introduced weapons-grade levels of uncertainty into our lives, but somehow what we now face together feels even darker and more menacing. 

If people aren’t already having to choose between heating and eating, they may well be doing so soon. 

In a cost-of-living crisis that shows no sign of let-up, businesses will go to the wall, homes will be repossessed, and people’s lives and health will be put in jeopardy.

The priority now is to do what we can to avoid further damaging our emotional wellbeing – and there are tips and tools we can use to protect ourselves that you’ll find further down this article.

On top of the energy price cap announced in her first week as Prime Minister, Liz Truss’ government has just announced the most radical package of fiscal reforms in recent memory. 

And yet it’s created more fear for many. How will the billions of pounds we’re borrowing be repaid? Not just financially, but in terms of our wider – and, therefore, personal – financial security in the future? 

Many of the reforms – cutting to the basic rate of income tax, for example – will not help anyone right now, when they need it most. Businesses will experience no tangible benefit from the reversal of the Corporation Tax rise at all. They will simply be grateful at not having to pay an extra 4% from April next year.

The £400 energy payment everyone will receive is obviously welcome as a gesture, but it will make no meaningful difference to anyone.

Money – and the lack of it – changes people. The promise of it fosters motivation and the absence of it drives antisocial sentiment and behaviour. The world is always a poorer place when money is short.

And I don’t just mean financially poorer. Emotionally poorer. Socially poorer. Morally poorer. Ethically poorer.

Debt triggers poor mental health (around half of people with debt issues also have a mental health diagnosis), and for three-quarters of those with a pre-existing mental health condition, money problems have been shown to make it worse.

Consequently, debt also makes it more difficult for people to recover from a mental health crisis.

Okay, so that’s the bad news – and in the end, it’s the bad news that forms the parameters within which we have to work.

The big question, though, is what we can do to mitigate or alleviate anxiety over what we must all accept is a tangible threat to our financial security? 

Acknowledge the problem. Burying your head in the sand doesn’t make the problem go away, and in fact every second that goes by without you ‘owning’ the problem is a second when your stress and anxiety becomes more entrenched.

By facing the problem and resolving to do whatever you can about it – which may not amount to very much – you effectively take control of it.

Set aside time to worry. It’s important that you allow yourself this time by protecting it fiercely – but make it productive. Worrying without also thinking logically and rationally about your options is wasted time and wasted energy.

Turn everything off  Exposing yourself to a constant stream of negative handwringing on social media and news channels is only making things worse. The media loves Armageddon because it sells newspapers and wins viewers, but it’s bad for your health. Cut down on the amount of time you spend on social media and watching the news 

Talk to someoneDebt helplines are generally free, confidential and proactive. They are also staffed by experts who will have access to up-to-date information about the options you might have and can suggest strategies to mitigate the impact of debt. Some suggested helplines are included at the end of this article.

First of all, do nothingNo good ever came of doing something in panic, anger or fear, so wait until you’re calm – preferably after speaking to someone you trust, such as a helpline or someone else with financial nous, such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau – before you take any action.

Give yourself a breakAs I’ve already said, until the threat has been neutralised or addressed, your anxiety will not stand down. But you can get respite from it through gentle escapism such as reading a book or getting out for a walk. 

You know what? It’s okay to ask for help. None of us are superhuman and we’re all impacted by the situation we’re facing. You don’t need to suffer alone.

TIPS FOR STAYING IN CONTROL

It’s important to be structured in how you approach the task of coping with the cost-of-living crisis and its impact on your mental health. Below are some ideas to help you keep on top of things. 

1. Can you create additional sources of income?

Obviously, adding to your income is an effective way of boosting your budget or paying down debt. There are lots of options for doing this – taking a second part-time job may be an option, or you might be a wizard in the kitchen and could start a small baking business to sell produce locally. 

But be careful your new income stream doesn’t also increase your stress. 

2. Declutter your budget

Now is the time to look at your finances and get rid of the expenditure you no longer need to lay out. Life changes, and your needs change with it. If you don’t go to the gym anymore, cancel your subscription. Decide if you really need that monthly magazine. 

The more control you have, the less stress you will feel.

3. Work on your general stress management. 

You can further reduce stress by finding stress-reducing routines and exercises, eating better, resting more, exercising (you don’t need the expensive gym membership to do it, either), learning yoga (YouTube is your free friend) and making sure you talk to people that feel emotionally safe.    

4. Understand the debt cycle.

Understanding debt is the first step to getting out of it. Pay attention to interest rates and prioritise the most expensive debt. Credit cards are generally more expensive than overdrafts which are in turn are generally more expensive than approved loans through reputable lenders.

Get support from a trusted professional or a specialist helpline to support you through understanding where you can make changes (you’ll find a list of helpline options at the end of this article).

Talk to your bank, creditors, a helpline or specialist adviser and see if they can help you to take steps to manage some or all of your debt, possibly with lower repayments. But whatever you do, don’t ignore correspondence from your creditors 

5. Be kind to yourself

Once you’re committed to controlling your financial security as much as you can, you’ll probably find your stress reduces noticeably.

The alternative is miserable. Financial anxiety and stress cause sleepless nights and constant worry. But help is always at hand. And finding it doesn’t have to cost the earth – or your mental health.

NB:  The author of this blog is not a Financial Specialist and if your mental health and / or your  financial circumstances are having  a serious and detrimental impact on your mental health please contact your GP  and / or contact one of the support services below 

StepChange Debt Charity- www.https://www.stepchange.org/

turn2us- https://www.turn2us.org.uk/

Young Minds-  Youngminds.org.uk

Mind- www.mind.org.uk – 0300 123 3393

Samaritans- www.samaritans.org – 116 123

Rethink- www.rething.org.uk – 0121 522 7007

Gofal- www.gofal.org.uk – 01656 647722

 

 

 

 
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About Zoë Clews

Zoë Clews is the founder of Zoë Clews & Associates and is one of the most successful and sought-after hypnotherapists working in the UK today. She has spent the last 17 years providing exclusive, highly-effective hypnotherapy treatment to a clientele that includes figures in the public eye, high net worth individuals and professionals at the top of their careers. An expert in all forms of hypnotherapy treatment, Zoë is a specialist in issues relating to anxiety, trauma, self-esteem and confidence. She works with nine Associates who are experts in their own fields and handpicked for their experience and track records of success, providing treatment for an extensive range of conditions that include addiction, weight loss, eating disorders, relationships, love and sex, children’s issues, fertility problems, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and sleep issues.  She takes inspiration from her own emotional journey and works with both individuals and blue-chip corporates who want to provide mindfulness support for their people either on a regular or occasional basis, or as part of an employee benefit scheme.