Money and mental health: how financial instability causes anxiety – and how to start getting on top of things
Recent research has drawn a stark link between the state of your finances and your mental and physical health.
The number of UK citizens reporting high anxiety
According to survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted by TopCashback, more than half say their financial wellbeing has affected their mental or physical health in the past, with 35 per cent adding that they suffer from money-related anxiety “regularly”.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics support this. Although measures of people’s money-related anxiety reached a three-year low in 2018, about 10.3 million people – a fifth of the UK’s population – reported high anxiety, and this proportion has remained roughly constant since 2014.
Citizens Advice figures show that 39 per cent of people with overdraft issues have mental health difficulties, as opposed to 24 per cent of the group’s usual clients.
There are, of course, many factors at play in people’s lives that can contribute to their overall wellbeing, but awareness of the role that financial stability can play is growing.
‘Sleeping was a big problem’
Joleen 37, is a veterinary receptionist and business owner from Middlesbrough
“My struggles with stress were brought on by financial worries.
“Sleeping was a big problem as my mind was on a constant loop worrying about bills. A lack of sleep led to lethargy, headaches, tummy upsets and mood swings.
“As a single mother with a mortgage and all the other bills to cover I had to set myself a £30 per week target to spend on necessities such as food. It made me vigilant to waste less from the fridge and freezer, and I was strict with the heating.
“The bank charged me whenever I went overdrawn to pay bills, if my ex-partner failed to pay child maintenance on time or I had house repairs to do.
“I shopped around for the best deals on household bills, earning money back by using services such as Topcashback.
“It took a few years and my son is now 16, but we have been comfortable for five years or so.
“I made and sold jewellery and this gradually transformed into a cake business that I run from home alongside my day job. I work a lot of hours, but we can enjoy treats now without worrying.”
TopCashback reports that 82 per cent of its survey’s respondents consider financial wellbeing to be “equally important” as healthy eating and exercise in terms of its impact on their overall health.
For many, even speaking about money problems can be a hard step to take, particularly among young people. A new podcast and event series, Future Proof, launched in April aimed at getting everyone to talk about the issues that cut across finance and culture.
Hosted by the BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Jamz Supernova and backed by the online money platform Bud, the podcast will see six episodes tackling some of the money issues many face in the modern world.
Let down by support systems
“Our generation is facing its own set of problems, with a housing crisis and issues around access to education based on money. Young adults in particular have been let down by the systems designed to support them,” says Bud’s chief executive Ed Maslaveckas.
A study of 2,000 22- to 35-year-olds commissioned by Bud found that 54 per cent are “often stressed out” by the state of their finances. One in three avoids spending on things they actually need, while one in five will avoid taking on credit or debt under any circumstances.
Mr Maslaveckas says that financial wellbeing should be “placed at the centre of the discourse around mental health” both to take the pressure off those struggling and to inspire financial confidence in those who need it.
Recovering one’s money health, however, requires both an eye for detail and a long-term plan.
Small stepping stones
Adam Bullock, TopCashback’s UK director, said that re-learning good habits was a case of using “small stepping stones”.
“A lot of people can feel out of their depth when trying to build their financial wellness, especially if they’re struggling with a lot of debt, don’t know where to start or feel the road is too long,” he added.
“From daily budgeting to savvy spending, little by little consumers can regain some control.”
Mr Maslaveckas suggests speaking to a financial adviser or, if not, setting small and realistic financial goals as a starting point, such as saving a certain amount each month or capping your phone contract.
Breaking the taboo
However, he adds that breaking the taboo about talking through your financial situation can be the most important step to take. Get-ting advice from – or just sharing experiences with – family, friends and colleagues can give you the confidence to seek advice when you need it, says Mr Maslaveckas.
Leaning on technology is another useful tip. Many modern money apps offer built-in ways of tracking your incomings and outgoings, freeing up mental space and making spending decisions easier.
He stresses that ignoring financial issues until it is too late “isn’t helpful long term, nor does it foster a sense of personal control”, adding that people should “take a moment, face the fear, assess the situation and don’t be afraid to ask for advice on how to tackle it.”