The Cost-of-Living Crisis is another in a series of existential crises we have experienced as a nation, including Brexit, Covid, and the war in Ukraine. Each one of these events can have a multiplying effect psychologically.
Any of them would be enough to create significant stress responses, but all of them following on from each other amplifies the stress of the previous crisis. In addition, they all share a similarity in events that, as individuals, we have little impact on and cannot control, making them more difficult to process emotionally.
Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott offers tips and advice on looking after your mental health in yet another stressful time.
The key to helping yourself psychologically is to recognise that there is little you can do about the events. Hence, 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 the here and now. It’s evidenced through mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy to help reduce 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 by learning relaxation methods, regulating breathing, and managing thinking processes by focusing on your breathing.’
Managing fear and anxiety
Another significant way we can manage fear and anxiety is understanding how it impacts our psychological functioning. For example, there are three main ways we respond to an existential threat, fight, flight, or freeze.
However, during times like this, we may not recognise that we are doing any of these behaviourally and psychologically as we are not confronted by a tiger trying to eat us.
These responses might manifest in several 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, and we may find it challenging 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, dynamic space for ourselves through increased self-care, help-seeking (talking to and asking for cuddles from), loved ones and friends. Also, challenge the signals that flight fight and freeze create, telling yourself that it’s possible to be safe emotionally at this moment.
Health and healthy routines are keys to psychological well-being
- Regular exercise.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat healthily.
- Sleep and rest properly.
- Get lots of hugs and lots of me time.
- 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).
Flip the narrative about problems piling up over the years and tell yourself you have learned fundamental psychological and emotional management skills. 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 well-being
- In yoga, stretching our bodies helps calm our minds and invest valuable time.
- Gardening, walking, and connecting to nature can dramatically improve our mood.
- Escape into a new book or TV series; is a simple but effective way to escape into a safe new world.
- Create a playlist of feel-good tunes, turn it 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 will do it again. Reach out to others who may be worse off, and try to stay connected to the ‘herd’ by acts of kindness, as the herd is our best survival strategy.’
‘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.’
‘Instead, normalise your struggle as, perversely, it’s a sign you are well. Use the stress signals as intended, useful information you need to love yourself and those around you.’