Strategies for health care workers to help address financial stress during COVID-19.

If you are worried about money right now, you are not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, it is a financial crisis too. Many health care workers have lost significant income, unexpectedly.

How financial stress affects mental health

The link between mental and financial health can be a vicious cycle: financial stress can lead to poor mental health, which can make taking action to protect your financial health harder.

People may engage in unhealthy behaviours to try to cope with financial stress, from avoidance, to overeating and alcohol and drug misuse, which in turn can worsen mental health. Ongoing stress about money has been linked to physical ill health too, such as migraines, heart disease and sleep problems.

Although it may feel overwhelming right now, there are steps you can take to help manage your finances, which in turn will protect your mental health and allow you to feel more in control.

Strategies to cope with and address financial stress

1. Acknowledge the feelings, rather than bottling them up: You may feel grief, fear, shock, confusion, anger and any number of other emotions right now. That is ok. It is important to recognise the losses and hardship you have experienced and acknowledge your feelings about it. Bottling your feelings up or trying to block them by telling yourself ‘others have it worse’ can get in the way of moving forward. Acknowledging your financial situation and your feelings about it is the first step. Then you can take action to move forward.

2. Share your concerns with people you trust. Talking about your concerns with your support network, such as trusted family and friends, or colleagues will help you feel less isolated and may provide a new perspective or ideas to get through this difficult time. You don’t have to go into details if you aren’t comfortable doing so.

3. Reduce unnecessary spending and high interest debt: be pragmatic and focus on what you can control. Are there ways you can temporarily cut your expenses? Shop around for cheaper insurance premiums, phone plans etc. Before you buy new things, take a moment to consider if it will improve your life or just cause you stress (from having less money). Spending less can help you feel more in control. Be creative without giving up on life’s pleasures: consider a clothes swap, puzzle or game trade with friends. Avoid credit card debt if you can.

4. Consult a financial counsellor:  Financial counsellors can:

        • suggest ways to improve your financial situation
        • see if you’re eligible for government concessions or support
        • talk to your creditors about repayment arrangements
        • help you apply for a hardship variation
        • explain the risks of bankruptcy and debt agreements and talk through the alternatives
        • refer you to other services for family support or legal aid.

5. Explore ALL available opportunities for financial support, delayed payments, payment plans and financial relief. Examples include: your bank, the government, your insurer, your utility providers, your phone company, and your internet provider. Bartering just became fashionable. For example, if you are renting, ask your building owner if they can reduce your payments during this time. A lot of landowners recognise the value of keeping good tenants and realise that it’s not a good time to look for new tenants.

6. Create extra sources of income if possible. Some industries are experiencing an increase in demand.

7. Upskill via online training or research so that when your work resumes, you have new knowledge and expertise. It’s a useful way to keep your mind occupied too.

8. Connect with your patients via email, social media and signage. Consider COVID-19 safe services you could offer, even if they provide limited financial return right now – play the long game.

9. If you have children, reassure them. Children can often pick up when their parents are under high levels of stress and may display internalising behaviours (like anxiety) or externalising behaviours (like aggression or misbehaving). Have age-appropriate conversations to reassure them that their basic needs will be met. Say things like, “This is not something that you have to worry about. That’s my job, as a grown-up. I’m working hard to make sure that we have what we need”.

10. Practice positive reframing:

        • Remind yourself that this situation is temporary and that you will recover. History shows that for every major drop in the economy, a period of growth follows, it’ll just take time.
        • Remember that you are not alone. Many people are also struggling with loss. Humans are resilient, and we have adapted and recovered from previous crises.
        • Remember that you are more than your job.
        • Notice those times, even now, when you feel joyful or even happy. It’s ok to allow yourself to be distracted and entertained, and to laugh.
        • Consider how and where you can enjoy any unexpected ‘free time’, for example, getting fit again, doing fun activities with your children, showing love and affection through your actions and behaviours, passing skills onto your children, talking about what matters beyond work and what you are grateful for, even now.
        • Focus on one day at a time.

Crisis Resources:

“Be Well Crisis Helpline” – Dial 211, enter your ZIP code, press 3.

Trained counselors 24/7 regarding stress, anxiety, loneliness or mental health strains due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Service is free and confidential.

The National Suicide Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.

It is staffed around the clock, is free, and offers confidential support to people in distress and their families and loved ones. It also provides prevention and crisis resources.

They have additional specific resources for LGBTQ people, youth, Native Americans, veterans, people with disabilities, and disaster survivors. They also offer help in Spanish.

For more information on this valuable service, click here.

Crisis Text Line: Text “MHA” to 741741.

They offer free 24/7 crisis support in the US. When you text, you will be connected to a live trained counselor.

For more information on the crisis text line, click here.