Managing anxiety in the cost of living crisis
By the Options Wellbeing Team
With households facing a cost of living crisis, there is bound to be increased anxiety, stress and/or nervousness around how people will be able to manage financially and worries around the negative impact it will have on people’s lives… your life?
The crisis is expected to especially impact people living with an emotional or mental health condition(s). Worrying about money and the best way to make the most of what you have, eating unhealthily due to not using appliances to heat food and having a poorly heated or unheated home are three factors known to negatively affect your mental health. Nourishment, warmth and a safe and secure shelter are three of our most basic needs. If these are not met, then it is unlikely we can meet other needs or achieve our ambitions.
We know that the cost of living crisis, as well as the energy price rises, mean people face uncertain times. How this situation will apply to you on a practical level can create anxiety, and possibly some unhelpful behaviours come into play because of the fight, flight or freeze response. This response is a reaction to a perceived threat and is your body’s natural reaction to danger. It’s a built-in defence mechanism and is not a conscious decision. You may notice physical changes in your body such as a rapid heart rate and shallow breathing.
Ways to manage anxiety and stress around the crisis
The single most effective thing to do is to remain in communication with companies you use for things like energy, water etc. and any other companies where you may find it challenging to make regular payments and fall into debt. We know this is extremely difficult at times, but burying your head in the sand can put you and your family in a challenging and potentially worse position. Finding the courage to speak to customer services to negotiate an affordable monthly payment for your energy or other services is what they are guided and trained to do. This will provide you with some relief and reduce any anxieties about being able to manage your finances moving forward.
You can ask to be put onto the Priority Services Register if you or someone you know is vulnerable due to poor mental health. This is a free service. Support varies but can include things like priority reconnection in the event of power cuts. Contact your energy supplier or network operator to get on the register.
You may also be eligible for extra financial help from the government from:
- Hardship payments by contacting Universal Credit
- Welfare Assistance Schemes by contacting your local council
- Short-Term Benefit Advance by contacting your local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) office
Gas and electricity companies can’t cut off your supply unless they have first offered you a range of payment methods to help you pay.
They can only disconnect your supply as a last resort, and they must give you proper notice first.
It is important to open and read all correspondence coming through. If you find this overwhelming, get help from someone you trust or an organisation like Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) that is able to advocate for you if you are struggling to do this yourself.
Knowing your rights is another way to reduce anxiety and be able to advocate for yourself
If you think managing your money and paying your energy bills over the next few months is going to increase pressure and anxiety in your life, Download the free Mental Health & Money Toolkit. The free Toolkit helps you understand, manage and improve your mental and financial health.
How to cope and manage feelings of anxiety
There are ways to cope with an overactive stress response. This includes various strategies and making connections, such as:
By doing activities that promote relaxation, you can counteract the stress or fight, flight, freeze response with relaxation techniques.
Examples of relaxation techniques include:
- deep abdominal breathing-link to square breathing exercise
- focusing on a calming word
- visualizing peaceful images
- practising mindfulness
- repetitive prayer
- tai chi
When done regularly, these techniques can help improve how you react to anxieties.
Physical activity and making the most of getting outdoors
Another strategy for people with anxiety is regular exercise. Getting out into the fresh air and getting some physical activity reduces the stress response by:
- decreasing stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol
- increasing endorphins
- improving calmness
- promoting better sleep
These benefits can increase your mood and sense of relaxation, which helps you better cope with stressful scenarios.
In times of stress and anxiety, It’s also important to nurture healthy social relationships. Social support can minimize your psychological and physiological reactions to perceived threats. It provides a sense of safety and protection, which makes you feel less fearful.
Your social support network may include different people, including:
- significant others
When to see a professional
If you’re in a constant state of anxiety or overwhelm due to the current cost of living crisis, consider contacting your GP, your local IAPT service (such as iTalk or Steps to Wellbeing) or get in touch with the Options Wellbeing Team for a free 20-minute chat or to book an Initial Assessment. We offer counselling for anxiety, stress and depression, and work with you to develop solutions.
Specifically, you should seek professional/medical help if you experience the following:
- always feeling “on edge”
- persistent worry, nervousness, or fear
- continuous overthinking and negative self-talk
- stress that interferes with daily activities
- irrational fears of non-threatening situations
- inability to relax
Professionals can work with you to create a plan to manage and/or reduce your stressors and triggers as well as your anxiety response, depending on your symptoms and mental health history.