Although we don’t yet know the full impact of coronavirus on our health, many people are quickly experiencing financial stress due to the global pandemic. These are uncertain times and it can be hard to stay positive when experts estimate a loss of 3 million jobs by the summer and an “inevitable” recession. Whether you work in the service industry, hospitality, or travel and leisure, the threat to our personal security and safety is very real, but it doesn’t have to steal our mental wellbeing. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction says, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
Start With Awareness and Acceptance
This is an unprecedented moment in history, and we need to find our way towards acceptance of that fact. Things might not go back to normal for quite some time, and perhaps never altogether back. If we can give up trying to control the current state of affairs, and focus on accepting it, we can significantly lower our stress reaction.
Studies have found that financial-related stress can increase depression, anxiety, and physical issues such as headaches, backaches, ulcers, increased blood pressure and more. Managing your stress will help a bad situation from becoming even worse for your body and mood. Stay aware of your stress levels by using a mood tracker or doing body scans. If your stress is getting too high, use a coping method to relax, which can be anything from exercise to curling up and watching a movie.
Limit Your Exposure to Triggers
Although we should all stay informed about news updates, there is such a thing as too much news. It can be a trigger for panic, especially social media feeds that don’t always communicate facts accurately. Make sure you’re reading news from a trusted source and resist the urge to go “down a rabbit hole.” Check for updates once in the morning, once at night and turn on alerts for anything urgent. Set dedicated “no screen” time in your day and talk with friends or family about topics that have nothing to do with finances, coronavirus, or the economy. Consider it a mental vacation that helps you recover and recharge.
Stay in the Present
Anxiety is living in the future, making assumptions before they’ve happened. This is why mindfulness is a great tool to stay focused on the present. By using grounding techniques, you can pay better attention to the here-and-now. This can be gentle (e.g. counting your breaths) or more of a jolt to the system (e.g. splashing cold water on your face). If you start to feel really panicked, even having an out-of-body experience, the ability to ground yourself is really important. Don’t try to dismiss the feeling, just pay attention to what’s happening and bring tangible sensations back to your body.
Meditation is also a free and accessible resource that’s proven in study after study to improve mental health by bringing our attention to the present. You can find guided meditations on YouTube, podcasts, websites, and apps. You can now find guided meditation free of charge on our Talkspace mobile app. Some other good meditation options include Headspace, Waking Up with Sam Harris and Tara Brach. If you’re more into moving than sitting still, try a free yoga class (like the ever-popular Yoga with Adrienne).
Connect With Your Community
If you’re having a difficult time, you’re truly not alone. This outbreak is affecting millions of people in myriad ways. There’s no better time to lean on your community for support and give back that support when you’re able. We should be physically distant, but socially connected. Reach out to close family and friends, let them know what you’re going through. Sometimes we feel better simply by sharing our anxiety and putting our fears into words.
There are also community resources that are very practical. Instead of spinning your tires, unsure what to do, follow expert advice from financial professionals. Call your bank and any service providers to find out if they’re making special exceptions due to the coronavirus (e.g. here’s an updated list of banks offering relief) and check reputable organizations for COVID-specific resources (e.g. these tips from the New York Legal Assistance Group are helpful). For freelance artists, a group of people on Twitter started a thread that became this website full of helpful links. There’s also a website for gig workers which includes a map tool that helps you find other gig workers close to you.
The bottom line is that other people are going through what you’re going through and we’re all working on finding solutions, including governments on new policy solutions. A new financial stimulus bill, for example, will provide $1 billion in emergency grants for unemployment insurance. This guide from The New York Times explains how government benefits can impact your situation.
Focus on the Positives
You might be thinking, “I don’t see anything positive about my finances right now” and that’s completely valid. There’s no point in denying or dismissing the reality of your situation. For improved mental health, it’s important to see the whole picture and avoid hyper focus on a particular area.
Gratitude exercises are a good first step towards opening the door to positivity. In fact, the more you practice gratitude, the better your brain gets at recognizing positive things. Start by thinking about one person, place, or thing that you’re grateful for. Focus on the feelings that arise and hold them in your heart. Know that you can return to this place of appreciation anytime you become discouraged with the world around you.
Lastly, take a moment to appreciate yourself. You are going through a hard time and you’re approaching it with incredible resilience. Remind yourself of other tough times and how you overcame them. This will be another chapter in your book of accomplishments.
If feelings of overwhelming stress and anxiety inhibit your daily life, you may consider investing in your mental health by trying online therapy.