Fears about our collective physical health aren’t the only anxieties escalating in this moment. As the novel coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the United States, financial anxieties are on the rise, too.
As of April 2nd, a record 6.6. million Americans have filed for unemployed benefits, and the week prior saw the biggest jump in new claims of joblessness in the nation’s history. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has predicted that, by the end of this outbreak, the rate of unemployment in the U.S. could reach 20%, and the threat of economic catastrophe, even in light of the history-making $2 trillion stimulus package, looms large.
Whether you’ve just been laid off or are managing to maintain employment, if you’re anxious about your financial future right now, it makes sense you’d be. Until the outbreak is over and the state of the economy can be repaired — hopefully in a way that better protects the financial health of all Americans — thinking of money through a lens of anything other than uncertainty is pretty much impossible.
In the meantime, in order to protect our mental health in this moment, there are still some small things we can be doing to help assuage anxiety. To that end, we heard from therapists, psychologists, mental health professionals and more who shared with us the advice they’re offering the financially anxious.
“One of the best things you can do to manage financial anxiety is realize that it’s valid,” Claire Barber, a certified mental health consultant and relationship expert, said. “Many people are in the same boat and it’s a natural reaction to facing the unknown.”
Attempting to police your feelings, downplaying any of the negative ones, won’t make your anxieties go away. If anything, it’ll worsen them. Remind yourself that your concerns are valid, be gentle with yourself and hold space for your feelings free of judgement.
“When everything seems out of your control, it can be helpful to focus on the things that you can control,” Barber continued. “Put emphasis on your strengths and use this time as an opportunity to develop your coping skills rather than letting your anxiety spiral out of control. Whether that’s making a list of your current resources, engaging in breathing exercises, or taking the time to engage in activities that make you feel good, find what works to develop acceptance during this uncertain time.”
“The No. 1 most important thing you can do right now is share what you are feeling with a caring person. We all need to be seen, heard and validated for what we are feeling,” Adam Lippin, founder and CEO of HearMe.App, said. “With the spread of COVID-19 and its new classification as a pandemic, many around the globe may be experiencing fear, anxiety and an increased sense of isolation — both physically and emotionally.”
Speaking frankly about your financial concerns with others won’t only remind you that you aren’t in this alone. It can also help solidify the idea that this is a collective problem — and therefore, collective solutions must be coming. It isn’t your job to figure out how to navigate the financial consequences of this pandemic on your own.
Unless the purchases you’re making are ones you A. can truly afford and B. are benefiting hard-hit businesses in your community, now probably isn’t the time for retail therapy.
“While sheltering in place, it can be tempting to hit the ‘buy now’ button to release stress and obtain a bit of instant gratification. But, unless what you’re purchasing is essential, you’re likely better off to pass on the purchase,” Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and the author of “Joy From Fear,” said. “Although getting the item you purchased might give you a temporary boost, the mounting bills will stress you far more in the long run. If urges for comfort and instant gratification arise, give into them in healthy ways. Hug a pet. Call a friend. Have a video chat with a loved one. Strive to obtain comfort in ways that don’t increase your financial anxiety.”
“Call creditors and service providers to inquire about deferred payment options,” Andrea Woroch, a budgeting expert and money-saving coach, said. “Mortgage lenders, credit card companies and even your energy provider may be offering deferred payments for anyone experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus outbreak.”
It’s important not to wait until you’ve started missing payments, Woroch added.
“Call your creditors and bill providers now before the system is overloaded to figure out what you need to do to qualify for suspended or reduced payments,” she said. “This can help you determine which bills you need to pay in full and which ones you can defer for the time being. Figuring this out now can reduce your stress.”
And set aside that money as savings as much as possible. As Woroch pointed out, for many of us, our new shelter-in-place lifestyles are helping us live more frugally already.
“Figure out how much you’re saving right now while you’re not commuting or paying for extracurricular activities, dining out, etc., and put that toward a separate savings account for unexpected issues such as a potential job loss,” she said. “I recommend opening a high yield online savings account so you can earn something back for your savings.”
“Cancel all recurring purchases and subscriptions. Look at your credit card statement from last month and identify if you have any monthly recurring boxes, like makeup or Amazon Prime orders on repeat, that you can cancel,” Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said. “Only use cash as well when you go grocery shopping and use an envelope system. Don’t use credit cards or add up debit.”
“The one major piece of advice I offer anyone in this situation is to remain in the present moment as much as possible,” Amanda Stemen, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of FUNdaMENTALGrowth, said. “In the present moment, everything is okay. Anxiety is often related to attempting to predict the future, which is uncertain for every single human being at the moment (as always, but it's much more salient now).”
Stemen recommends bringing your attention back to the present moment by focusing on your breath or finding some other way to ground yourself.
“Notice the physical sensations you're experiencing in your body and how they shift and change, fading in intensity as you focus on them,” she said. “Then, when you're feeling more grounded and more in the moment, ask yourself: ‘What do I need now?’ or ‘What do I need to do right now?’ and take a small bit of action. Taking a small bit of action will reduce overwhelm and help you to feel like you're doing something. All journeys are made up of small steps.”
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