Managing financial stress and mental health during the festive season

Many people in Australia are currently experiencing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial stress can impact our mental wellbeing at the best of times, but with the festive season just around the corner, some people may be feeling the strain now more than ever.

Here, we look at practical ways to manage your finances, help support your mental wellbeing, and set new expectations for this year’s festivities.

Unquestionably, 2020 hasn’t been a ‘normal’ year, so it goes without saying that for some people, this year’s festive period may look rather different too.

If you’re currently facing financial challenges and feel worried about how you’re going to afford the upcoming festivities, firstly, it’s important to remember to have realistic expectations and be kind to yourself and others.

“Financial wellbeing and good mental health go hand-in-hand and being conscious of this inextricable link is an important first step to achieving good financial and mental health,” says Beyond Blue’s lead clinical adviser, Dr. Grant Blashki.

“There is no doubt that being in debt and financial stress contribute significantly to poor mental health. I see this in my role as a GP. 2020 has been a perfect storm for many people with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting on higher insolvencies, unemployment and economic uncertainties.”

For those whose finances have been negatively impacted by the pandemic – and who may be experiencing feelings of stress, worry and anxiety as a result – Blashki offers the following advice.

Ways to look after your financial and mental wellbeing

Be extra kind to yourself

People facing financial hardship may be experiencing common depression and anxiety symptoms such as poor sleep, constant worrying, mood swings, withdrawal from family and friends, and a sense of despair about the future. It can be easy to get into a cycle of self-blame and regret when facing financial challenges.

Blashki suggests that if this is the case, to try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and acknowledge that it’s been an extraordinarily tough year. Be kind to yourself and try to quieten your inner critic, which may be saying unhelpful things like: ‘if only I’d done this, or if only I’d done that’.

Seek professional help early on

Many people are experiencing financial stress for the first time due to the economic impact of COVID-19. It’s important to seek help early on and get expert advice.

Woman seeking professional advice

Blashki recommends contacting the National Debt Helpline, which is free, independent and confidential, and “a great starting point for people dealing with unmanageable debt,” he says.

National Debt Helpline provide professional advice and does not lend money or advise people how to invest.

“Be aware of unregistered financial advisors offering solutions that are too good to be true, ” warns Blashki, who also suggests contacting Financial Counselling Australia to arrange a time to speak with a financial counsellor who can provide free, independent, and non-judgmental advice to help people get back in control of their finances.

Keep up a healthy routine

“The pandemic is certainly a marathon and you need to be in good physical and mental state to make good decisions and get through this difficult time. This includes doing regular exercise, getting enough sleep, eating well and consuming alcohol and caffeine in moderate amounts,” says Blashki.

Take daily mind breaks

Dealing with a financial crisis can lead to constant worry and obsessing about your current situation.

“Our minds don’t work very well when they are always ‘on’, and fatigue can lead to poor decision-making and losing perspective,” explains Blashki, who recommends structuring your time so that you allocate certain times to focus on sorting out your finances – taking regular breaks so that you avoid overwhelm and making unhelpful decisions.

“If it’s beneficial, have a family member or friend with you when you’re trying to sort through tricky paperwork, setting up direct debits and so on,” he adds.

Manage expectations – yours and your family and friends’

“The festive period is a special time for many of us, but it can also be a confronting time for people who are lonely or isolated, or amid economic hardship. Now is a good time to be compassionate above all else – to yourself and to those who are doing it tough this year,” says Blashki.

As well as managing other people’s expectations about what you’re comfortable with in terms of spending money on gifts, travel, food, drink and so on, Blashki suggests managing your own expectations too.

“Try and be realistic about what you can afford this year and be upfront with loved ones. Acknowledge that it’s been an incredibly tough time for everyone and try to focus on enjoying good times together over splurging on gifts.”

Thanks to the year we’ve just had, many of us have had an all-important reminder about what’s really important in life: the health, safety, and wellbeing of ourselves and those we love. Try and embrace the simplicity in this and take the focus away from spending money and celebrating in costly ways. Give the gift of time – and love instead.

Additional resources

This article looks at the link between financial wellbeing and mental health and offers advice on how to get on top of your finances. Find more articles about financial and mental health here.

For practical financial tools, advice and resources visit: moneysmart.gov.au.

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