The signs of financial anxiety and how to regain control – a practical guide

Man looking worried while sitting on a sofa

It helps to know what to do if money matters get too much for us to cope with. Because there’s a path to regain control – we just have to know what it is.

By Shilpa Ganatra

Remember when slow news days and uneventful weeks were a thing? While we’re never short of something to talk about, all the coronavirus and Brexit uncertainty can have a major impact on our wellbeing. That’s especially the case when it affects our finances – putting our homes, health and happiness at risk.

Signs that show you're feeling anxious about money

Financial anxiety “is a period of stress that’s a response to having financial concerns,” says Suba Mm, Associate Medical Director at Aviva. Unlike general anxiety, it’s an unhappy state caused by a change in circumstance that leads to either money troubles, or the worry of money troubles.  

You could be struggling to sleep at night, have a feeling of hopelessness, or just a disinterest in usual activities. Money worries might be on your mind most of the time. You could also be in denial about it – if the final reminder envelopes stay unopened, chances are you’re not mentally or practically on top of your finances. Sufferers might not even be aware of these signs until they stop to think about it. 

Sarah Murphy, Associate Director for Advice, Information & Training at Rethink Mental Illness says, “Sometimes money problems can happen quickly, but most often it’s when it chips away at you. And when you’re under pressure for a prolonged period of time, it’s going to have a negative impact.”

Why is it an issue now?

2020 gave rise to all the conditions needed for an increase in financial anxiety, and it’s expected to become a bigger issue as the fallout from COVID and the recession becomes evident. Already, the UK has seen the highest rates of redundancy for over a decade 1 and 20% of mortgage holders are worried about paying their mortgage as government schemes wind down 2

It means more people are likely to be unable to cope with their finances and/or mental health in the coming months and years. The Centre for Mental Health predicts that in England alone, 10 million people – that’s one in five people – will need mental health support because of the crisis 3

Debt help organisations like StepChange are also broadening their help to make sure all circumstances are catered for. “We’re expecting to see people who wouldn’t necessarily have sought our help before, they’re not in the classic demographic of people who seek debt advice,” explains Andy Shaw, a debt advice coordinator at StepChange. 

So if you’re already dealing with financial anxiety or your money worries are starting to get on top of you, what can you do to regain control?  

How to manage money worries

1. Acknowledge the issue

It may seem like a cliché but it’s true – the most important step is admitting there’s a problem. “We always say the earlier the better, in terms of finding a resolution. But on the flip side, it's never too late,” says Andy. 

2. Talk it out

The best thing to do is to speak to an expert who can help with your situation – we’ve listed a few organisations and resources at the end of this page. StepChange found that three months after being given advice, two out of three clients say they worry about their debts less 4. Says Andy: “It doesn't matter what state your finances are in, there will be a route out.” If you still can’t quite bring yourself to speak to someone, StepChange also offers its debt advice online.

At the same time, don’t forget about your mental health – it’s just as important to talk to a professional who can help. You can visit your GP as the first port of call, or organisations like Mind or Rethink Mental Illness are equipped to help you get back on track. And if you have health insurance with us, you can call our 24-hour stress helpline too.

3. Set realistic budgets 

An expert will help you get back on track, but they’ll need honest input about how much you can live on. You don’t need to resign yourself to a life of beans on toast for six months, as “your budget has to be sustainable, and something you can see through for however long it takes you to become debt-free,” says Andy. “It’s tempting to think you can pay your debts off quickly if you don’t eat properly or have the heating on, but that’s not a realistic plan – you have to balance these things.”

4. Follow through with your plan slowly and steadily

It’s important to not become overwhelmed or try to do too much too quickly. “Some people might want to do everything, but try to slow down your thoughts. What you’re aiming for is progress, not perfection,” says Suba. “The issue is that if you do everything at the same time, you’re not going to have the bandwidth to deal with anything properly. So just work on making each day better for your financial anxiety than the last.”

5. Practice self-care

It’s just as important to have a healthy outlook as much as a healthy bank balance. There are lots of resources online to show you how to cope with stress and unwanted feelings, like Mind’s Tips for Everyday Living. Getting fresh air every day, practising mindfulness, staying in contact with friends and family, eating well and trying to get a good sleep routine are good places to start.  

6. Be kind to yourself

A final, important point: especially now, most financial woes are caused by factors outside our control and we shouldn’t let it affect our sense of self-worth. “The extent and duration of this disruption is something that no one in our recent past has had to deal with,” says Suba. “If you’re really struggling, it’s not just you, and it’s not a failure on your part.” 

Where to go for financial anxiety help and advice

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