Article and audio introduction by Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences
In times of crisis, there can be so many additional challenges to our daily lives. Right now, as we all deal with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of those challenges are extremely difficult, and managing stress can feel impossible. One of the most impactful challenges for millions of people at the moment is job loss. With the current social distancing restrictions, many business have been forced to close their doors, which has resulted in the layoff of workers all over the country.
Sudden job loss can wreak havoc on a family’s financial health. Loss of income creates additional challenges that most people are not prepared for, and financial pressures are some of the biggest sources of stress in people’s lives.
Feelings of anxiety and stress are normal during times like these. The good news is that there are several things that can be done to help address both financial stress and mental health in order to continue to make the best decisions possible during this challenging time. Some suggestions include:
Money is tight and tough decisions have to be made. Necessities such as food, shelter, and utilities definitely take precedence, but unfortunately for many, even some of these items are difficult to cover if there is little to no income coming in.
Most importantly, pay the ones you absolutely need before the ones you do not. That may mean letting credit card bills wait and paying for basic expenses instead. Decide what bills cover needs and which ones cover wants and focus on paying the needs first.
Despite the plethora of commercials about curbside service and contactless delivery, eating out is still more expensive than cooking meals at home. Shop for food at the grocery store and prepare meals as a family. Cooking is a great way to spend time together while practicing and learning new skills.
Many states have implemented programs preventing evictions during the COVID-19 crisis due to non-payment of rent or mortgage. These programs are temporary, but can definitely help families stay in their homes during these difficult financial times. Explore the options in your state to see if this type of program is available where you live.
As with rent and mortgage help, many utility companies are also providing programs and assistance to customers who are having trouble paying right now. Electricity and water service will continue regardless of ability to pay. Again, this is a temporary program, but is certainly worth taking advantage of if needed. Check your local regulations to see if this program is being offered in your area.
Many banks and other financial institutions may also be offering assistance, such as waiving late fees or allowing customers to lower their monthly minimum payments. Contact your bank to see if they can offer any assistance.
Prioritizing bills does not mean ignoring them completely. If you absolutely cannot pay, take the time to work with the companies to see if any sort of plan can be worked out. It is better to make them aware of the situation than to avoid them altogether.
Managing mental health
Right now, we all may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. With many of us thrown out of our daily routines and having to deal with unexpected hardships, it can be so easy to let stress and anxiety take over. However, tending to our mental health is just as important as tending to our physical health.
Here are a few ways to help ensure our minds stay as healthy as our bodies:
Good self-care. Self-care is not selfish. We cannot take care of others if we do not take care of ourselves first. Try to eat healthy (though it is okay to treat yourself to a comfort snack every now and then). Get plenty of sleep. Take frequent breaks outside or in a quiet place away from the chaos.
Coping skills. This can be challenging, especially if we used going to the gym or going to lunch with a friend as coping skills. In this time of social distancing, getting together face-to-face is not an option, but that does not mean giving up interaction altogether. You can still have coffee with friends, you just may need to do it virtually. The laughs and conversation are still there even if the proximity is not.
Meditation is a great way to cope with stress. And it does not have to be difficult or time-consuming. There are many meditation and mindfulness apps out there that can help get you started. Just five minutes of meditation can have a positive effect on stress and mood.
Physical exercise. No gym? No problem! There are plenty of creative ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine even if you are stuck at home. Many streaming services are currently offering free classes for aerobics, strength training, yoga, and more. You can even find classes on social media.
Emotional support. Feelings of stress and anxiety can make us feel isolated. We either do not want to admit we are having these feelings or we do not want to burden our friends and family, so we keep them bottled up. But this is unhealthy and can lead to even more serious problems.
It is okay to ask for help. Sharing our concerns and seeking support from the people around us can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and alleviate emotional pressure. It is important to remember that there are many other people with the same feelings. Reaching out to each other can only make us stronger and more resilient.
Stress Management: Ways to Cope (UF/IFAS Extension)
Protecting Your Finances During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)
COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
How Mindfulness Can Navigate the Coronavirus Panic (Mindful.org)