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Don’t panic: How to alleviate financial stress


Money plays such a big part in our lives, that losing control of our personal finances can lead to detrimental effects on our health 1. There are many reasons why someone may fall into this position, and it can be challenging to get out of.

Our recent survey2 reveals the nation’s attitudes towards their finances,with a significant proportion of those surveyed saying they’re worried about their future finances, it’s no wonder people don’t feel very positive about their money. We spoke to expert Nicky Lidbetter, Chief Executive of Anxiety UK, Neil Shah who’s Chief De-stressing officer at The Stress Management Society and a spokesperson at StepChange Debt Charity, for their thoughts on how to deal with financial challenges.

Take control of your finances

People can get into debt for many different reasons, “such as reduced hours at work, job loss, illness or even a relationship breakdown” a spokesperson from StepChange told us. They went on to explain that “14 million people suffer an income shock every year and of them, 6.5 million turn to credit cards/store cards to cope. This makes them 20 times more likely to fall into severe problems with debt.” Our survey revealed a quarter of people have a debt in excess of £10,000 (excluding secure debts like mortgages).

StepChange pointed out how credit cards are the most common form of debt they see, as “credit cards can seem like an effective way of coping with financial difficulty.” Our data shows us that one in five are paying off a credit card of some form. “Credit cards create a false sense of security as the debt builds up and repeatedly making minimum repayments can turn what is designed to be a short term solution into a long term and costly one.”

“Managing finances is stressful for almost everyone, with many believing that there is a direct link between the amount of money they have and their quality of life," explains Nicky Lidbetter. "Stress, in general, is one of the main triggers for an anxiety disorder.” StepChange reports their clients feel “stress, guilt, shame and self-blame, as well as mental and physical health problems.”

Experiencing emotions such as worry, stress or feeling overwhelmed about your finances can be detrimental to your body and the people around you. Stress and anxiety come hand in hand, but it can lead to symptoms such as “hyperventilation, palpitations and tension headaches.” Lidbetter went on to explain, “It can be difficult to maintain relationships for those who are living with anxiety, with family and friends often not understanding their condition. In some cases, this can even result in family and friends developing anxiety themselves.”

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel

If you’re struggling with your finances and you’re feeling like this, it’s important not to panic. There are a few steps that you can take to help you get onto the path of a brighter future.

Breathe properly

It’s important to know how to breathe properly because oxygen provides energy to all parts of the body, and lack of oxygen will make us feel lethargic. Shah highlights that “our basic human need is to survive. We can go for days without the need to eat or drink, but we still need to breathe every 10 or so seconds.” We understand that when we’re stressed, we need to ‘calm down’ and take deep breathes – but we may not always do it. Deep breathing will help to clear your mind and feel more focused, changing your state of mind and how you feel.

Keep hydrated

The other important process Shah discusses is keeping hydrated. As much as 80% of the body and 93% of the brain is made up of water, so a drop in hydration levels can lead to things such as dry mouth, headaches, fatigue and seizures. “Our bodies work furiously to deal with stress. One of the ways to balance your body’s reaction is to drink more water.” Carry a bottle of water with you and take regular sips, to keep your body hydrated and energised.

Stick to a routine

It’s important to stick to a routine, especially if you’ve lost your job. An erratic routine can lead to bad sleeping patterns and bad eating habits; picking these up will make you feel a lot worse than you already do, according to scientific research2. Lidbetter says, “Paying attention to having a healthy diet and undertaking regular physical exercise are important in the management of stress and anxiety to maintain good emotional wellbeing.” Try and fit in regular exercise to help you feel more motivated and positive.

Break away from technology

Being constantly connected to the world has become the norm and it can be difficult to break away. Shah highlights how people can’t switch off from technology in general; “We need to turn off and give ourselves space to think about what’s going on in our lives, or to simply just relax.” Set aside some time each week to relax - have a technology break to help gather your thoughts and plan out your strategy to help you get out financial difficulties.

You’re not alone

The most important point that Shah highlights is “don’t suffer in silence”. Fortunately, there are many free resources that can help you to get motivated and back on your feet; some employers will have their own services you can use. It’s important to take action as soon as there’s a problem, otherwise the debt can mount up quickly and the long-term effects can be more devastating. Lidbetter explains that stress and anxiety “can be managed with a combination of talking therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – CBT), medication and other self-help strategies.”

If you do find yourself in the red, the important thing to do is not to panic; the sooner you tackle the problem, the less likely your debt will grow into an uncontrollable amount. Don’t hesitate to ask for help – there are plenty of charities and free advisers who can help you create a budget that breaks up your debt into manageable amounts to pay off. In the long run, you’ll feel more in control of your finances and mentally better off.


 SS01046 07/2019


Additional sources

Aviva Family Finances Report, Summer 2016.

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