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Published 10 May 2023
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5 minutes

We Need to Talk about Financial Anxiety

With strains on our finances at every turn, it’s no wonder stress and anxiety is on the rise. Find out how to recognise signs of financial anxiety and practical steps you can take to tackle it.

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“Money worries follow us around, invading our thoughts, leading us to feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, ashamed or guilty,” says Kim Uzzell, finance coach and founder of My Money Movement. Yet we often keep it to ourselves. “Most people would rather talk about almost anything other than the state of their finances.”

Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off on 15 May, with an anxiety focus, so it’s a good time to unpack your money worries, manage financial anxiety and find out where to seek support if you need it.

What does financial anxiety look like?

Financial anxiety can affect us in different ways, from having sleepless nights and difficulty concentrating to cutting back on our social life to save money.

It could also mean you avoid checking your bank balance, leave bills unopened, or save obsessively ‒ or, at the other end of the scale, overspend and make impulsive decisions for temporary relief from how you’re feeling. 

“Financial anxiety can lead to difficulty sleeping, or waking in the night with money worries. Other signs you might spot are avoiding talking about money with your partner or friends, cancelling social engagements last minute because you ‘can’t afford’ to go, feeling guilty about spending money, or constantly looking for a quick fix,” says Uzzell. 

Alarmingly, millions of us are borrowing money to pay for essentials, such as utility bills and food, rent and mortgage payments, according to a 2023 survey by the government-backed Money & Pensions Service, with around half doing this for the first time. And a 2023 release from the Office for National Statistics showed that half (49%) of British adults who were behind on energy bills reported high anxiety levels.

“Money worries are a big cause of stress and a big cause of break-ups in relationships, too. And with the cost of living crisis that’s only getting worse. People who were just about managing are now finding it very difficult,” says Simonne Gnesson, founder and director of Wise Monkey Financial Coaching.

Money worries can affect anyone (and run deep)

Not being able to afford to stay warm or feed your family, or do things you enjoy, can affect anyone’s mental wellbeing. And it is a vicious circle: worrying about money can make your mental health worse, which in turn can affect how well you manage your money.

“We have to be open to the fact that money worries can and do affect everyone – all income levels, all job titles, all education levels, and all facets of society,” adds Uzzell. “There are levels of ‘ordinary’ income when people no longer qualify for benefits, including child benefit, yet the cost of childcare [and other increasing costs] affect us all.” 

Gnesson says we can also worry about what we’re not doing, such as “not planning well enough for the future, or worrying about your kids’ futures, or not putting money away in pension pots. 

“The biggest thing I see is people feeling immature when it comes to money. It is one area of their life they haven’t nailed.”

Our childhood experiences can also play a part, she adds. “If you notice there are arguments late at night or you see a parent with their head in their hands, stressed and worried and poring over bank statements, you’ll make an association with that at a very unconscious level. A lot of what we learn about money, our relationship to money, is mostly formed by the age of seven from those kinds of observations.”

How to manage money anxiety

“Recognise that if you are struggling with money worries or anxiety, whether low level or severe, you are not alone,” says Uzzell. Then, “commit to doing whatever is needed, whether that’s simply cutting back on your spending while you get back on top of things, opening up and having a conversation with your partner, or seeking help from specialist debt charities.” 

Free help and advice from specialist charities, such as StepChange, National Debtline, MoneyHelper and Citizens Advice, can range from helping you to budget and to prioritise which debts to pay off first to setting up a more formal debt management plan.

Depending on your financial circumstances, you may also be eligible for the government’s Breathing Space scheme. Arranged through an authorised debt adviser or charity, this could include stopping interest, penalties and debt recovery action for up to 60 days. 

In a recent NerdWallet survey, more than half (54%) of the 2,000 people polled said they would speak to their partner or close family first if they were worried about money. Although, 20% said the cost of living crisis has made them feel less comfortable talking about money – increasing to 41% for 18- to 24-year-olds. 

So what positive steps can you take to feel more comfortable talking about money and tap into the help available? Uzzell suggests finding a support or accountability buddy. “Whether in real life or online, having someone to talk to, challenge yourselves with, and going on a learning journey together can help with motivation.” 

Getting your numbers together is of course key, even if it’s daunting at first, she says. “There’s little benefit in guessing when it comes to money.” This might be through banking and budgeting apps, or using a free online tool or template to order your thoughts and categorise your spending.

There are also practical ways to help manage how you feel. These include breathing exercises, taking physical exercise, getting outside in nature and connecting with others, so you feel less isolated. Writing when you feel most anxious in a personal journal, as well as tracking spending patterns, may also help you identify triggers for your anxiety.

If anxiety is affecting your life, it’s important to talk to your GP to get access to the help you need. You can also self-refer online for NHS talking therapy services if you’re registered with a GP, though there may be long waiting lists for them. If you need urgent help with your mental health, you can call NHS helplines and free listening services, day or night.

Image Source: Getty Images

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