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  • Writer's pictureDr. Mel Tavares

Financial Stress and Mental Health

Financial Stress and Mental Health-Dr. Mel Tavares There’s a distinct link between financial stress and mental health and well-being. The ongoing banking collapses and ever-increasing inflation is only adding fuel to the fire of fear that has been burning for many since the pandemic began.

A February 2022 study done by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that 65% of respondents said money (or lack of) is a significant source of stress. There are many variables that play into why each person feels stress.

Simply put, the cost of living is the amount of money that would be required to cover your basic living expenses in a certain place. Typically, these expenses are considered to be your housing and utilities, transportation, healthcare and groceries.

Housing and food costs are on the forefront of concerns, along with heating and healthcare costs. After suffering through a historic high in 2021, inflation rates continue to climb. According to a January 2023 CNN Business Report, the average family is paying nearly $500 more a month for the same services at the beginning of 2022, a year ago. Although inflation rates are slowing in some budget areas, others continue to climb, particularly in the areas of food and housing.

The bottom line is that the current U.S. inflation rate is double what it was during the financial collapse of 2008. This means the cost of living has become an unbearable expense for many. This is forcing some families to make geographic moves to states with a lower cost of living. Many are unable to relocate, for various reasons and their mental health is suffering.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the average American household spends about $5,111 on living expenses each month. This comes out to about $61,334 per year. Of course, single people or empty nest couples will spend less on food, insurance for children etc. Still, that is a lot of money! Take heart, there are plenty of ways to cut costs and therefore your stress.

While inflation continues to surge, it is important to focus on what is in your control. This will improve your mental health substantially. You cannot control the perpetually increasing food prices, but you can control which foods you purchase. Selecting more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is much more cost effective than paying for the cost of meat and dairy. You can stretch those dollars even further if you can supplement with a garden. The bonus is that eating whole, unprocessed foods reduces the toxins in your system and boosts brain power that will improve your mental health.

According to the 2022 ‘Stress in America’ survey, money is the number one stressor for adults. By controlling impulse shopping and searching for sales or being willing to consider thrift stores, you can cut the budget even further. Controlling the impulse shopping now will decrease your stress and improve your mental well-being when you need to pay bills.

Although DIY (Do It Yourself) has become trendy in recent years, the roots are found in our ancestors. During the Great Depression, families learned to ‘make do’. My great-grandmother used to say “Use it up, make do, or do without.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement.

Doing things for yourself, upcycling or repurposing items allows your creative juices to flow and saves a lot of money, both of which will improve your mental well-being. As a DIYer, you can learn to make household cleaners, bake your own bread, change the oil in your car, and numerous other projects that you typically pay money for. Learning new skills saves time and money. If you do these activities with a friend or family member, you’ll be getting social interaction at the same time, laughing and encouraging one another as you work-all of which also will serve to lessen the financial stress and improve your mental health.

There are many other ways to lessen the financial stress, but I will only highlight one more. We all need time away from work and home. While some say they don’t need a vacation or a day out, I disagree. Like a frog in boiling water, the person who maintains the same routine and scenery week after week can become oblivious to the impact being made on their mental well-being. Nothing could be more needed during our time of crisis than to release some of the pressure.

Before you conclude I am speaking of the rising cost of living out of one side of my mouth, while telling you to spend money on getaways out of the other, hear me out. Not all getaways need to cost a lot of money. For example, if you plan an overnight at a hotel off-season and midweek and you will often save more than 50% of the peak season, weekend rate. My hubs and I recently stayed beachfront for $109 in a resort balcony room that costs nearly $600 in the summer.

While doing an occasional getaway is fun, our entertainment/vacation budget really only allows for day trips most of the time. For the price of a couple of gallons of gas, we can spend the day exploring and relaxing within a two hour radius. I tend to lean on the frugal side and only pay for something if absolutely necessary. Check your local library for available museum and state park passes, take advantage of ‘free’ entrance days, join the local park festivities featuring movies, concerts, and more. Invest in a picnic basket or a cooler and a blanket or chairs, cook some treats and foods that will make the day fun, and take a break from the stressors of life.

I find this passage of Scripture to be very comforting. Read it slowly and thoughtfully and meditate on it. Let the words sink deep into your soul. If God cares and provides for the birds and the flowers in the fields, surely He will take care of you.

Matthew 6:25-34 (Modern English Version) “Therefore, I say to you, take no thought about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they do not sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? Who among you by taking thought can add a cubit[a] to his stature? Why take thought about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They neither work, nor do they spin. Yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. Therefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is here and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (For the Gentiles seek after all these things.) For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you. Therefore, take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof.”

The cost of living and inflation will be what it is going to be. You can’t control that but you can whip inflation like it’s 1974. Take some cost-cutting steps, do what you can, trust God to care for you, and then just breathe. I’m breathing with you!


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