The cost-of-living crisis has pushed money worries to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott offers tips and advice on looking after your mental health in a stressful time.
The Cost-of-Living (COL) Crisis is yet another in a series of existential crises we have experienced as a nation, including Brexit, COVID-19, and the war in Ukraine, and each one of these events can have a multiplying effect psychologically.
Any one of these events would be enough to create significant stress responses, but all of them following on from each other amplifies the stress of the previous crisis. They all share a similarity in being events that as individuals we have little impact over and cannot control, which make them more difficult to process emotionally.
The key to helping yourself psychologically in these situations, is to recognise that there is little you can do about the events so your focus needs to come to what you can have an influence over, which is generally yourself and your immediate family.
Noel comments: “One of the key psychological tricks available during times of existential fear is to shift your focus from the events and the future and focus more on what is called the here and now. It’s evidenced through both mind-fullness and also cognitive behavioural therapy to help in reducing stress responses.
“Bringing your mind to focus on how you are experiencing this moment more will make you notice if you are stressed; elevated heartbeat, racing thoughts, tight muscles, dry mouth, shallow breathing, sweaty palms, and with that awareness work to reduce your stress reactions. This can be done learning relaxation methods, regulating breathing, and managing thinking processes by say focusing on your breathing”.
Managing Fear & Anxiety
An important way we can manage fear and anxiety is by understanding how it impacts on our psychological functioning. In general, there are three main ways we respond to existential threat – fight, flight, or freeze. These responses might manifest in a number of ways – we might find we get angry more often or our heads are filled with angry thoughts, we may stay home more than usual or not go to events, we may find it difficult to make decisions. All of these can be signs we are scared and need to feel safe.
The key is to find a way to create emotional safety, remembering we can’t change the COL, but we can create a safe emotional space for ourselves through increased self-care and help seeking (for example by talking to and asking for cuddles from loved ones and friends). It is also important that we challenge the signals that flight fight and freeze create, telling ourselves that in this moment it is possible to be safe emotionally.
The Dos to improve your wellbeing
- Regular exercise
- Stay hydrated
- Eat healthily
- Sleep and rest properly
- Get lots of hugs and lots of ‘me’ time
Remember health and healthy routines are the key to psychological wellbeing.
- Make big life decisions
- Drink alcohol or use drugs to cope
- Run away from your problems
- Listen to folk selling you simple solutions (financial or otherwise)
It is important to try to flip the narrative about problems piling up over the years and instead tell yourself you have learned real skills on how to manage psychologically and emotionally. We have all learned so much about how to stay well during troubled times over the last few years. Pull out those lists of healthy activities you made for the pandemic, dust them off and use them now. Quite simply, doing things we enjoy helps boost both our mood and self-esteem.
Healthy activities for improved wellbeing
- Yoga, by stretching our bodies we also help calm our minds – invest in valuable ‘you’ time!
- Gardening or going out for a walk – connecting to nature can improve our mood dramatically
- Escape into a new book or TV series – this is a simple but effective way to escape into a safe new world
- Music – create a playlist of feel-good tunes, turn it up loud and let go!
- Reach out to friends and family, talk through your worries, and ask for advice – you won’t be the only one feeling like this and a good laugh with your friends will help you feel more balanced and connected
Noel continues: “The big picture is we have been here before; we came out stronger and we will do it again. Reach out to others who may be worse off, try to stay connected to the ‘herd’ by acts of kindness as the herd is our best survival strategy.
Do be compassionate to yourself as you struggle, feel fear, or overwhelm and have a narrative ready that tells you there is not something wrong with you for feeling this way. Don’t try to be superhuman. Normalise your struggle as perversely it’s a sign you are well. Use the stress signals as they are intended, useful information that you need to love yourself and love those around you.”
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home.
This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.