If you’ve been feeling stressed or anxious about money recently, you’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey found a staggering 95% of Australians are feeling financially stressed at the moment. But the good news is there’s plenty of help at hand.
Each one of us is unique, and financial stress can be triggered by many different situations ranging from insecure employment to mounting bills or poorly performing investments. Because we often equate success in life with income and material possessions, feeling we’re failing to reach our financial goals can set off negative emotions.
Our stress hormones trigger a “fight or flight” response, which is natural and can help us cope with emergencies. But when this drags on for too long, it wears us down and has been linked to increased risk of health problems ranging from anxiety, depression and substance abuse to a weakened immune system and cardiovascular disease.
National crisis support group Lifeline says warning signs that you or someone you know may be currently suffering from financial stress include:
- Arguing with people close to you about money
- Withdrawing from others
- Feelings of guilt about spending money
- Worrying a lot or feeling anxious
- Difficulties sleeping
- Tiredness and lowered energy
- Struggling to feed yourself and/or your family
- Increasing debt from credit cards or loans
- Receiving legal action for debt recovery
- Fear of eviction by being behind in rent or loan repayments
- Your income not covering expenses
R U OK?
Is someone you know or care about showing signs of struggling with financial stress? It’s not always obvious how you can help, but you can learn ways to raise this sensitive issue with them by visiting the R U OK website.
This harm prevention charity encourages us to stay connected and help each other through difficult times and provides many free resources to help you prepare and pick your moment to start that conversation.
R U OK’s work focuses on building the motivation, confidence and skills of the help-giver, and promotes four key conversation steps:
- Encourage action
- Check in
Free, confidential help
No one needs to deal with financial stress alone. Free, confidential financial counselling is offered by many community organisations, legal centres and government agencies nationwide.
Financial counsellors are skilled professionals who can give people a chance to unburden themselves and talk about how they are feeling.
When necessary, counsellors can also help them deal with traumatic situations like bills they are struggling to pay; being harassed by debt collectors; gas, electricity or phone disconnection; being evicted from home; or tax debts.
They can suggest ways to improve your financial situation, help you negotiate with your creditors about repayment arrangements, see if you’re eligible for government concessions or support, help you apply for hardship variations, explain bankruptcy and debt agreements, and talk you through your options.
To find a financial counsellor near you, check out the many resources listed on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s Moneysmart website (which also provides useful information on how to get free legal advice if you’re facing court action over a debt).
Getting through it
Remember, emotions and financial decisions are never a good mix. If you’re feeling distressed, try to delay making major decisions about investments or anything else important until you can think more clearly.
Here are some tips on how to get through a period of financial stress:
- Stay on top of your emotions
Write down your worries to help you work out which issues to tackle first.
- Look after your health
Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor if you have a pre-existing medical condition that could be aggravated by stress.
- Share your feelings with supportive friends and colleagues
Identify people you can talk to about how you are feeling and who will help you remain positive.
- Be honest with your family
Tell them about the situation and how it might affect the household budget. If your relationship with your partner is under stress, contact Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 for support, advice and counselling.
- Draw up a budget
Write down a summary of your finances and work out how much money you need to cover your costs. You may need to limit your spending for a while. Putting aside some money for bills, creating an emergency fund and paying for essentials first can all help ease the stress.
- Contact your bank or speak to your financial adviser
Most financial institutions have policies in place to assist customers experiencing financial problems. The Australian Bankers’ Association website has lots of information about dealing with banks.
Your financial adviser could also assist in working through financial concerns.
- Contact a social worker on the Centrelink Employment Services Line
Call 132 850 or visit a Services Australia customer service centre.
If you feel stress is getting the better of you, remember that you can speak confidentially with a trained mental health professional at Beyondblue at any time by calling 1300 22 4636, or alternatively chat online between 1pm and midnight.
Other support services that operate 24 hours a day / 7 days a week include:
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