As International Stress Awareness Week (30th of October to the 3rd of November 2023) shines a light on the global burden of stress, a study by Shepherds Friendly reveals a stark reality: money-related worries are the leading cause of anxiety in the UK. Over a third of Brits confess they grapple with their finances, a startling insight into the nation’s mental health. In an effort to address this issue, Shepherds Friendly has teamed up with counsellor Georgina Sturmer, MBACP, and psychotherapist Tasha Bailey to delve into the psychology of unhealthy money habits and provide strategies for change.
Financial stress: a modern epidemic
The study’s findings are timely, as financial pressures mount across the UK. Rising living costs and economic uncertainties contribute to a pervasive sense of financial unease. The research indicates that a significant portion of the population not only struggles with financial management but also experiences a profound psychological impact due to this struggle.
According to Georgina Sturmer, financial anxieties can lead to detrimental behaviours such as overspending, which often stem from a deeper sense of helplessness or resentment. Tasha Bailey echoes this sentiment, noting that overspending may be an attempt to assert control or react to underlying frustrations.
With these insights, the experts propose practical advice for those finding themselves in a spending spiral. Georgina recommends a reflective pause to understand the motives behind impulsive purchases, while Tasha emphasises the importance of setting financial boundaries to maintain a healthy balance.
Shepherds Friendly’s engagement with these professionals underscores the organisation’s commitment to fostering not only financial well-being but also psychological resilience among its members.
5 Strategies to alleviate financial anxiety
Georgina Sturmer offers five key strategies to address financial stress:
- Face up to what’s going on. It might be tempting to ignore problems or hide away from them but this is unlikely to solve things. Shying away from your issues is likely to worsen the physical and emotional burden that you’re carrying. Take stock of the stress that you’re under, and consider if there are any practical steps you can take to reduce the pressure.
- Try to untangle the stress. Often it’s about more than ‘just’ the money worries. Take time to figure out the feelings that are underlying the stress. It might help to unpack your anxieties about money. A lot of the time, the way that our parents and family dealt with their finances can instil fear or pressure in our own relationship with money. Have a think about your family’s history with money, and how it impacts you now. With a greater understanding of the issue, you can better combat it.
- Become more financially intelligent. Many of us weren’t taught about how to have a good relationship with money, let alone investments, taxes and savings. However, we have so much easy-access to insightful books and content online now which can help fill in any gaps in your knowledge. The more understanding you have, the better decisions you’ll make going forward.
- Set financial boundaries and learn to recognise self-sabotaging behaviour. Financial boundaries should be flexible enough to allow you to enjoy the money that you work for, while also allowing you to pay your bills and save for your future. Learn to recognise when you’re starting to lean towards unhealthy habits such as compulsive spending as this can lead to a vicious cycle of overspending and money anxiety.
- Seek support. There’s no shame in sharing your worries with other people, whether this involves voicing your concerns to a friend or family member, or even seeking professional support from an organisation or charity. Voicing your concerns can help you prioritise any actions you need to take and can even help to normalise your money-related concerns.
A call to action for mental well-being
While the financial landscape may be fraught with challenges, the path to better mental health begins with understanding and action. By acknowledging financial anxieties and adopting a strategic approach to money management, individuals can navigate their way to a more secure and less stressful life.
For those who feel overwhelmed by their money troubles, Tasha says, “Many of us might feel a sense of shame or fear of criticism about our financial situation, so we will feel like we have no one to speak to.
“Any shame we feel around our financial situation often gets smaller when we’re honest with ourselves and others. So, if you do feel that someone has the capacity to be non-judgmental about your situation, you should share your money story. Alternatively, there are so many great courses, social media accounts, and books out there that may lead you to a safe community to learn from.”
Georgina expands on this by advising, “Remember that there are plenty of organisations who are there to listen and support you. Samaritans and SHOUT are both staffed 24/7 by trained volunteers who are there to offer a listening ear. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau and the Money Advice Trust can also offer invaluable support.”