Whether the phrase makes your skin crawl, or you’re fully invested in it of a Sunday afternoon, the ‘self-care’ boom of late is undeniable and almost unavoidable. It’s whispered/shouted from tube posters, gym floors and beauty salons: ‘self-care’ is the antidote to our screen dependent, email a minute, twitchy social media dominated daily lives (never mind the irony that #selfcare has over four million tags on Instagram alone).
It’s deemed essential for our mental health, and given that it inhabits so many forms, it is, but it’s important to emphasise that self-care shouldn’t be limited to luxurious facials, spendy scented candles or even basic bubble baths, even though these can be instrumental in making yourself feel better in the maelstrom of a stressful week. Too often, the tenets of self-care are prohibitively expensive, which can cruelly play into one of the greatest risks posed to our mental health currently: our finances.
A survey of 4000 18-30 year olds in England and Wales by the Young Women’s Trust last year revealed depressing findings where money and mental health matters are concerned: a third of respondents reported feeling more anxious about money than ever before, and 25 per cent of women stated that their financial situation was worse than the year previous, compared to 21 per cent of men. As a result, 45 per cent of women were worried about their mental health in relation to money, compared to 38 per cent of men. The ‘vicious cycle’ of money troubles and poor mental health is also reflected in statistics reported by the charity Mental Health and Money Advice , underlining that half of people in debt also experience a mental health issue, and people with a mental health issue are three times as likely to be in debt than those who don’t suffer. Only yesterday, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) revealed that, in 2017, 23 000 people were being chased for debts and bill payments while in hospital being treated for mental health illnesses. It’s clear that if we’re going to place such high value on self-care as a means of mental health insurance, money matters need to be at the core of said care plan.
Thinking about money positively is easier when you feel well in yourself
Speaking of a plan, finance expert and founder of both MoneySavingExpert.com and MMHPI Martin Lewis, along with other debt charity groups, is lobbying the government to allow a period of “breathing space” for those with both mental health issues and financial problems, giving sufferers more time to recover, seek support and regain control over their finances. The proposed period would permit six weeks “grace” from debt collectors, interest payments, charges and legal action if a mental health sufferer seeks financial counsel. The scheme has already gained cross-party support, while both Energy UK and UK Finance are already implementing such “breathing space” objectives. Meanwhile, charities old and new are offering practical advice and services for those struggling with both money and mental health, with the backing of banking groups such as Lloyds, which has offered £3 million to Mental Health UK’s Mental Health and Money Advice programme.
Resources to turn to when mental and financial worry become overwhelming are key, but implementing a ‘self-care’ strategy can help to prevent both money and mental health issues spiralling out of control. Taking the following steps could be as vital to your wellbeing as any gym membership or Nutribullet creation, plus tending to your financial welfare will hopefully furnish you with more future ‘self-care’ funds, whether it’s a spa break or just a coffee round with your mates.
Get a head start
Figure out where your head is at when it comes to money. Mental health charity Mind recommends looking into when and where you’re spending money, and why. Are you making impulsive financial decisions when stressed, spending money to make yourself feel better or avoiding opening bills due to crippling anxiety? On the flipside, does spending money make you fearful? Is your relationship or family life under strain due to money issues or are you doing a job you hate simply to make ends meet? There’s not always a quick fix, but getting to grips with the root of any money worries, or simply being mindful (good old mindfulness can be applied to your bank balance too) of your attitude to money, can help you to feel in control.
Keep a diary
Mind advocates financial journaling as a way to better understand your relationship with money, but as well as listing ingoings and outgoings, be sure to monitor your mood in relation to budgeting, spending, interacting with banks, dealing with bills and discussing money with others. This will help to reveal any mental health triggers you may have that are associated with money, and therefore help yourself and be able to access the kind of counsel you might need from others.
Filing is fun
REALLY. Instead of/ in addition to setting up a Sunday home spa, put an hour aside a week to check in with your finances, file any payslips or bills or do your invoices. Set yourself financial goals (the equivalent of Dry January for your shopping habits?!), set up a savings account, make a clear budget and open any letters you’ve been dreading. Just don’t do it all at once, but bit by bit, you should feel better. If you don’t, seek support from the charities listed in this piece, and don’t go thinking that painting your toenails and putting your finances in order are mutually exclusive...
Self-care without the spend
I doubt that there’s many of us on this planet who haven’t endured a sleepless night on account of money concerns, but if financial issues are compromising your mental health, it’s all the more important to look out for yourself. Thinking about money positively is easier when you feel well in yourself, so focus on building up your self-esteem and try not to isolate yourself- make time to see friends, go for a walk or do whatever exercise that makes you feel good (yes yoga, or perhaps one of these seven exercises that improve mental health ), cook a meal you love, write down any worries playing on your mind before bed and utilize any stress reducing techniques that work for you. @everydaycarebot is also a self-care Twitter account to follow for realists: think day-to-day steps to make managing mental illness and taking care of your emotional wellbeing more manageable, whether that’s buying a magazine you like and taking your time over reading it, picking your washing up off the floor, gathering your spare change together or simply baking a loaf of garlic bread for the smell and pure enjoyment. It’s literally the small things, with no costly bee pollen bowls or turmeric lattes in sight. Unless that’s what makes you really happy, in which case, as you were.
Brits are notoriously cagey when it comes to talking about cash- a 2015 survey of 15 000 men and women carried out by researchers at University College London exposed that we’re more comfortable speaking about the intimate details of our sex lives with strangers than we are when discussing money- just three per cent would rebuff questions about their sexual history, while 20 per cent would refuse to enter into conversation about our salary and household income.
As with recent public awareness campaigns surrounding talking openly about mental health issues in every domain of life, from the workplace to social groups, so taboos around money and mental health will only dissolve by way of honest and constructive channels of communication. Many of us hate to admit if we’re having money troubles, so coupling financial struggles with mental health problems is all the more scary a prospect when it comes to starting a conversation, but speaking with someone you trust, whether a friend, family member, your GP or a charity worker can help you to gain perspective and establish an emotional and practical ‘to do’ list. Many banks now also have advisors trained in mental health support who can provide advice, so know that, from every angle, there are places and people to turn to if facing your finances triggers panic. Relate also provides resources to consult if speaking to your partner or family about money issues is upsetting.
Make notes during financial meetings and conversations, ask questions about anything that isn’t clear and seek out financial education websites, workshops, podcasts and events. If your employer doesn’t offer anything by way of money swotting, The Money Advice Service provides free information and advice about money management, while the It’s My Money Now programme provides financial training and support for young people in the workplace, doing apprenticeships or who may be struggling with student debt and the associated emotional burden that it can bring. Money can’t buy happiness, but feeling in control of the money you have is a must for mental wellbeing.