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Research shows 77% of people are worried about the cost-of-living crisis and 72% of people ‘believe overall health and wellbeing has declined in the past 12 months’. Ripples of global economic impact are affecting most of us in some way, shape, or form wherever we are in the world. In this blog, we sherlock these ripples and investigate why and how thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the crisis lead to the fight-or-flight-or- freeze behaviour. And, of course, how we can use our First Aid for Feelings to help us better respond to whatever is going on for us…

Financial stability is linked to self-worth

Worrying about paying bills and maintaining a standard of living affects your mental health. It’s even associated with what’s referred to as Serious Psychological Distress (SPD). Financial worries can even affect your sense of self-worth. It’s important to recognise that, although you may not be in poverty because of the higher cost of living, worrying about money affects you.

And, it’s not only your mental health that’s affected.  Research shows that financial worries and distress can  increase your pain levels. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Andrew Goddard talks about “How the cost of living crisis is another reminder that our health is shaped by our environment”.

At The Helpful Clinic we always talk about health in all three dimensions, physical, mental, and social. The current cost-of-living crisis is an example of how true that is. It’s therefore paramount that you take stock of how it’s affecting you.

Why do you worry about the cost-of-living crisis?

If you’re between 30 and 69 years of age, if you’re a parent, or you’ve got a disability, you’re statistically more likely to be worried.  Age, parenthood and disability are examples of factors that make up your financial context (the social dimension in the three dimensional model of health). Worrying about money is described as contextual. This means it’s affected by your personal circumstances as well as what’s going on in the world around you.

Bearing this in mind, let’s look deeper because awareness is key. If you’re not aware of how you are responding to what’s going on for you, there’s nothing you can do about it.  You may be surprised to find that money worries can be more about behaviour and beliefs than cash and credit.

Your behaviour: do you tackle, avoid, or feel stuck in worry?

Worrying about money activates your stress (flight-or-flight-or-freeze) response. This response is hardwired into your brain and, whether you’re aware of it or not, it drives your behaviour. And yes, worrying is a behaviour. So, what kind of worry behaviour are you doing? Are you tackling this worry, avoiding it, or just feeling stuck in it?

Tackling the situation

This is where you roll up your sleeves, sit down and work out what the impact is on you and your household. Whether you create a spreadsheet or write down your numbers on a piece of paper, the main thing is that you’re aware of your current reality.  You create a budget for various outgoings and know how to keep to that budget.

This is the Fight component of your stress response in action. It gives you the energy and focus to tackle what’s going on and find your way forward.

NOTE: The fear driving the money worries can become so strong that you’re overzealous in tackling what’s going on and start depriving yourself of what you need. Maybe you reduce what you spend on food more than you need to or reduce your heating more than you need to. You may even dismiss vital self-care as luxury and don’t prioritise money for it.  This is where you go into deprivation mode, which is unhelpful.

Avoiding the situation

This is where you stop looking at your bank balance or paying attention to how much things cost. You may find that rather than opening your bills, you put them to one side with the best intention of opening them later. It’s likely that you neglect tasks, like submitting metre readings or booking an appointment with the dentist. If your kids are asking for something that costs money you fob them off by saying “I’ll think about it” or “Let’s talk about this later”. It’s the proverbial ‘head in the sand’ situation. All of those behaviours, whether you’re conscious of them or not, push the issue into the future in the hope that you’ll feel able to tackle it then.

This is the Flight component of your stress response in action. It gives you the momentary relief of not dealing with what’s going on.

NOTE: The fear that’s driving avoidance can become so strong that you create a rod for your own back. What might have started like a small issue becomes a bigger issue because it’s left unattended. Because a part of you knows this is what you’re doing, it fuels the anxiety which then exaggerates the avoidance.  This becomes an internal conflict of worry and avoidance. With all this thinking going on, self-care drops off your radar and you may find that you excessively use food, TV, alcohol, work, and suchlike to distract you from how you feel. You’re likely to withdraw from others and go into isolation mode, which is unhelpful.

Money worries

Stuck in the situation

This is where you keep thinking about money and what you can and can’t afford. It’s the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing at night.  You may even wake up in the night thinking about money and your dreams can be affected too, even becoming nightmares. It’s like the wheels of a car spinning in the mud, digging deeper and deeper into the soil. There’s a lot of effort going on but you’re actually just becoming more and more stuck.

This is the Freeze component of your stress response in action. Despite hardly any action being taken, it costs a lot in terms of your energy.

NOTE: The fear that’s driving the freeze response can become so intense that your mind goes blank. It’s like the brain shuts down and you struggle to think at all. This can feel scary. When you feel stuck you may find that your appetite reduces and your ability to feel motivated about anything disappears. Self-care loses meaning and you’re likely to feel disconnected from yourself and others. This is where you go into shutdown mode which is unhelpful.

Whether it’s deprivation, isolation or shutdown, these responses are likely to end up costing you more in the long run in terms of both your health and your money.

Your beliefs: what do you believe about money?

What you believe about money affects how you worry and feel about money. And your beliefs are almost always inherited from the people you grew up with and your culture.

Some people dismiss worry as something to ignore or tackle with positive affirmation, sharing messages like “don’t worry – be happy” or “focus on manifesting abundance”. This can be unhelpful as it means you don’t get curious about the beliefs and issues that are making you worry.

Is it appropriate for you to be worried? Is it proportionate? You may find that your finances are actually ok and that your worry is driven by a belief that you should be worried because everyone else is worried.  Maybe your worry is appropriate but it’s disproportionate because it’s fuelled by an unhelpful belief like, “there’s never enough money” or “if I don’t worry about money I’ll lose control of my finances”.

Beliefs are like the operating software coding your experience and activating feelings. Remember feelings are information and that includes feelings like worry. It’s only when you sherlock what’s driving your worry that you discover what’s helpful to you and what needs updating, whether that’s a belief, a behaviour, or a skill.

Financial literacy is like health and emotional literacy

Feeling skilled and resourceful when it comes to your health and feelings is at the centre of everything we do here at The Helpful Clinic.  It’s called health and emotional literacy and means being able to read and respond to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations (remember feelings are always both). These are vital skills for self-care and self-care is vital for good health.

That all makes sense, right? What may not be as obvious is that financial literacy is an equally important component of your self-care skillset. It’s about feeling skilled and resourceful when it comes to your finances. According to Money Coach Dennis Harhalakis a whopping 40% of people don’t feel confident in having those skills and he argues that the number is almost certainly higher. Not only that, he’s also clear that it’s the feelings and therefore the beliefs that can stop us in making changes and getting those skills.

Health impact

Changing from avoiding money to caring for money

Dan was one of those 40%. He had always struggled with money and worrying about money. Most of the time he dismissed his worries. He was keen to live life to the full and create the best lifestyle for himself and his partner Jane.

His dad had always been talking about money, how much things cost and how important it was to save up for retirement. His dad had died in his fifties having gone without his whole life in order to save up for a retirement he never got to enjoy. Dan was determined not to repeat his father’s behaviour. He prioritised great experiences, using credit cards and loans when needed, telling himself “you only live once” and “it’ll be fine”.  He worked as a freelancer and had always been able to work more to meet any unexpected expenses.

With prices going up and his clients renegotiating or not renewing contracts, cashflow was now strained. He realised that his strategy of avoiding and hoping for the best was now coming at a high cost. Bills were piling up, money in the bank was dwindling and both sleep and appetite were affected. He was ignoring his friends, even avoiding Jane. He was struggling with brain fog to the point that it was difficult to motivate himself to work.

Getting curious together in consultations, Dan realised how much his beliefs and behaviours were affecting him and how he was now stuck in a vicious cycle. Identifying where those beliefs and behaviours came from, Dan was surprised how big the impact of his dad’s beliefs and behaviours was.  He realised that he’d been so determined not to be like his dad that he’d not stopped to check what was actually helpful and find a better way.  This is the A in the ABC of First Aid for Feelings, the Awareness. Until you become aware of what’s going on you can’t do anything about it.

Dan realised that when he cared for his money, he felt better and decided to make this his new belief. He knew he needed help to make this change. He wouldn’t be able to do this without a coach to hold him accountable, to encourage him and to teach him the skills he needed. He realised he was resisting making this investment and that it was because he was struggling to justify it when others are choosing between heating and eating.  Again, using the ABC technique, it became clear that this thinking was unhelpful. It would be more helpful to focus on what was within his circle of influence. Metaphorically placing the oxygen mask on himself first in order to help him feel stronger and better meant he’d be more able to support others feeling better too.

Cost of living crisis

The invitation to you

How are you being affected by the cost-of-living crisis? What is happening to your self-care? As always, the first port of call is to become aware. Write down what you notice about your behaviour and about your beliefs. Get your sherlock on and be curious. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, check out the blog on overwhelm here.

Here are links to some helpful resources:

How to save money on your energy bill if you’re disabled from Disability Horizons

Financial wellbeing tips from Money Coach Dennis Harhalakis

How money worries can affect your mental health with helpful tips on how to deal with it from Mental Health and Money Advice which is a comprehensive website offered by charity Mental Health UK

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Go gently, hold steady, and stay the course.

All the best, Thor

Thor sitting in a chair writing and Denny the dog sitting in her suitcase bed looking out the window