With millions out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are worried about their finances right now. According to our recent survey conducted by The Simple Dollar, 62% of Americans have at least one major source of financial anxiety for the rest of 2020, with paying for groceries, covering rent, and staying employed among the most pressing.
“Financial concerns typically rank at the top of most peoples causes for worry and anxiety,” says Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D. “Millions of people now question how they will afford to provide for themselves and their family, maintain housing, and other topics directly (and indirectly) involving financial security.”
We’re not here to tell you how to feel. Instead, we spoke with mental health experts about time-tested strategies to manage stress and how to apply them in a pandemic.
Focus on the things you can control
Let’s face it; the outcomes of the pandemic are mostly out of our control. And that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. “It becomes a vicious cycle that causes anxiety to increase,” says Hart Haragutchi of Blossom Counseling PLLC. “By taking concrete steps on things that you can control, that cycle is interrupted and can help reduce anxious thoughts and feelings.”
You can start identifying factors you can control by adjusting your expectations accordingly. Even if your finances are uncertain, a few proactive steps can help reduce feelings of uncertainty and improve your sense of control.
Michael Levitt, founder of The Breakfast Leadership Network says the key to managing financial stress right now is to get specific about how you spend money. “If you’re not driving to work (or anywhere), consider contacting your insurance company to let them know you’re not driving right now. Also, eating at home instead of food delivery will save you hundreds of dollars every month.”
Once you know how much of your money is already allotted to bills and other essentials, you’ll see how much you can put into a savings account. Building an emergency fund is more important than ever, and seeing that number increase (no matter how slowly) is something you can feel good about.
Remember to take care of yourself
You can let yourself worry to an extent. There’s no right way to respond to the stresses you’re feeling, but finding a productive way to manage them is crucial.
“If you need mental health services but have lost your health insurance or can’t afford a full fee, don’t give up,” says Haragutchi. Many mental health clinics are offering free or low-cost services as well as sliding scale appointments. Haragutchi suggests that you use an online therapist directory like Psychology Today.
“When you see a provider you might like to work with, give them a call and ask if they have sliding scale appointments. Many do, and are willing to work with you to find a fee that works for both of you.”
Other resources available during the pandemic:
- Open Path Collective — An online therapist directory, Open Path Collective lists therapists who will see clients for $30-$60 a session.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — SAMHSA keeps an updated list of its COVID-19 resources and informational guides.
- BetterHelp — Specializing in counseling through messaging, phone calls and video conferencing, BetterHelp is offering services at a discounted rate during the pandemic.
- NeedyMeds — Offering services to those who are uninsured or underinsured, NeedyMeds keeps an updated list of low-cost clinical services.
You can still plan for your future
It’s easy to get lost in the ever-changing news cycle and patterns of conflicting information regarding the coronavirus. While it’s important to stay informed, don’t let it bombard you or heighten the stress you’re feeling.
It’s easy to feel stuck or to fixate on what else can go wrong, especially when there’s no clear end in sight. That said, you still can (and should) plan for your future. A recent study from North Carolina State University (NCSU) shows that planning is a successful coping mechanism for anxiety during uncertain times.
The changes you make and the habits you develop now are going to ensure a stable life after the pandemic. Define what goals you have, and then map out what things you can do to work towards them.
Too long, didn’t read?
With 22% of Americans unsure if they can cover essential spending for the rest of the year, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Even though there’s no perfect way to alleviate anxiety during the pandemic, taking proactive steps to adapt your finances can help manage your stress and put you back in charge.
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Dr. Michael G. Wetter, PsyD, FAPA
Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D., FAPA, is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience, specializing in adolescent, adult and couples psychology.
Hart Haragutchi is a licensed mental health counselor associate with a private practice in Woodinville, Washington.
Michael Levitt is the founder of The Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout media firm and a leading authority in burnout recovery and prevention.