Worried about the money? You’re not alone

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Worried about the money? You’re not alone. The pandemic has strained the country’s personal finances on a scale previously unimaginable – and at ferocious speed.

For some, the effects were immediate: a drop in wages, a sudden drop in income or self-employment disappearing overnight.

For others, lingering concerns include the threat of layoffs, late payments, or fears their business could collapse.

At the start of the year, these money problems were the kind that befell others. Today, more than a third of UK adults with full-time jobs say they are worried about losing their jobs, and similar numbers say they are worried about their finances, including bill payments and debts.

I know these fears are real, because I feel them myself. Maybe you are too? Maybe you think I sound silly for worrying about something that (hopefully) will never happen.

The sane voice in my head keeps reminding me that we have enough in our emergency fund to pay off the mortgage for two years. But the haunting voice wonders if that is enough; whether pension payments should be suspended or investments sold until we have a clearer idea of ​​where we are heading.

Clearly, my fears are insignificant compared to what many others are going through right now. But that alone won’t stop me, or millions of others, from worrying about financial security.

Tackling rising levels of financial anxiety is one of the main goals of Mental Health Awareness Week, which begins on Monday. The research I am referring to above was carried out by the Mental Health Foundation charity, in partnership with four UK universities. The foundation’s project to track the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health shows how crucial our sense of financial well-being is to our overall well-being.

“Many people without a history of mental health problems are at high risk of developing them due to grief, trauma, and the sudden and ongoing financial, social and psychological effects of job insecurity and poverty. job loss, ”the report said. says charity.

Mental health and money issues are very “chicken and egg”. One can exacerbate the other.

This week, workplaces across the UK (including the Financial Times) are hosting virtual events to raise awareness and flag sources of support. I do a financial “ask me anything” with colleagues.

The aim is to reassure staff that they are not alone – and the advantage of technology means that people can submit questions anonymously, thus avoiding stigma. They say a shared problem is a halved problem. Knowing that these feelings are common, even if they are not often brought up, can be a bit reassuring.

Many people have asked about payment holidays, which are widely available on mortgages, credit cards, and auto financing. Although postponing payments results in higher interest charges, even those who can afford to pay wonder whether they should ask for a “time-out” to build up a larger reserve against future shocks.

Our sane voice says, “No, this will cost you a lot of money in the long run!” But the nagging voice wonders if the same tolerance will be available in the future should the worst happen. This perfectly illustrates how easily our emotions can distort financial decision making.

Nonetheless, these kinds of questions are particularly troubling for the 7.5 million workers currently on leave through the government’s job retention program. The concern is that it will be a “deferred unemployment scheme” and that they will not have a job to return to.

Worrying about losing your job is a much bigger concern than losing income. Mental health experts talk about loss of identity, both as a professional and perhaps as a breadwinner.

Figuring out how your financial plans can be adjusted, some with the help of an advisor, will help you see the big picture and come to a solution, even if it involves some tough choices.

But talking about how you feel is also important (and for this, another type of professional counselor may be more appropriate).

If you feel like you need support with either, the sooner you ask for help, the better.

Even before the pandemic, debt charities found that helpline callers typically had money issues and long-associated mental health issues, believing their issues were not severe enough to warrant. to ask for help – only to make problems worse.

For those who suffer from an underlying level of anxiety about their finances, I asked Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, director of the Mental Health Foundation, for his advice.

His first piece of advice is to be in the present. Take it one day at a time, if possible.

Second, remember that a lot of other people are in a similar position. “Keep a circle of support – and it doesn’t have to be mental health support,” he says.

This could include contacting friends and family (“don’t always let others organize themselves”) or joining groups on social media. There are many for small business owners, including the “Forgotten Ltd” campaign, where like-minded people pool their intellectual and spiritual resources as they fight to save their businesses.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of sleep and regular exercise.

“Look at the habits you can control,” he says, because I admit that my sleepless nights are often preceded by reading the news online in bed. I’ve tried different sleep apps instead – his favorite is Sleepio, but I’m a fan of the “Midnight Launderette” soundscape on Headspace.

This year, the overall theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. From a financial standpoint, you could say that the best thing about kindness is that it doesn’t cost anything. Yet being on the side of giving or receiving an “act of kindness” increases the well-being of both parties.

During the confinement, the kindness was there. People volunteer, neighbors care about each other and we all show our appreciation for the NHS and key workers.

So if you are someone who is familiar with the FT Money section, could your “kind act” be to offer support to friends or family members who have been in financial shock and are having a hard time finding a way forward, or who want to talk through their options?

Talking about money is something the British struggle with at the best of times. If it takes a pandemic to break this taboo, then at least something positive will have come out of the crisis.

Claer Barrett is the editor-in-chief of FT Money and a financial commentator on Eddie Mair’s LBC show, weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.: [email protected]; Twitter @Claerb; Instagram @Claerb

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