The cost-of-living and your mental health

30th Sep 2022
Prevention resources and tools
Antonis Kousoulis

Dr Antonis Kousoulis

Former Director of England and Wales

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This content discusses substance abuse and addiction (which may include mentions of alcohol or drug use), loneliness or isolation, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, which some people may find triggering.

By now, we’ve all heard about the cost-of-living crisis, and many of us are already feeling the pinch. To make things worse, it looks like it's going to continue for a while.

Choices between “heating and eating” and keeping on top of all the household bills and all the other things we have to pay for show no signs of letting up. And it’s starting to have severe effects on our mental health.

The first thing is to try not to bottle up your feelings. It can help take the heat out of things by chatting with someone you trust, like a family member or best friend. They probably have similar feelings, and it’s true to say that “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Some money (coins and notes) in GBP


It’s the not knowing that really increases our stress and anxiety. Not only about how we’re going to pay the bills next week, but through to next year.

The stress and anxiety can quickly lead to uncontrolled low moods and, for some of us, more severe depression and panic attacks.

If you’re starting to feel these symptoms, the first call should be your GP, and sooner rather than later.

Getting some control over your finances will help a lot

One of the main things that can add to our stress and anxiety is that pile of bills in the corner of the room. We know it won’t go away on its own, but we can sometimes be too frightened even to open the envelope!

Make sure that you’re getting any benefits you’re entitled to. There may be help that you don’t even know about, so a call to your local Citizens Advice (in England, Wales or Scotland) or Advice NI (in Northern Ireland) is a good first step. Your local council will be able to help advise you too, and make sure to look at the government’s ‘Help for households' information, as well as cost-of-living information from the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Your local council may also be able to help with emergency grants or loans. These are much more affordable and sensitively managed than your existing debts.

Getting a realistic idea about your income and outgoings can also help to get a perspective on your finances. Try writing everything down to get a true picture of where you are with things. This will also be really useful when you’re talking with Citizens Advice, for example. Better than trying to remember everything, and it's just a good idea to see it all organised on paper.

You could also try using a budgeting app to help get a better idea of your finances. There are lots of these available from your app provider. Just search for 'budgeting apps'. Citizens Advice online can also help with working out your budget.

Housing, food and energy costs

We’re all seeing the cost of food rising, and the people experiencing this more than others are those of us on lower incomes who end up having to spend more on food as a percentage of income.

Together with the cost of housing and energy, those of us who spend most of our time at home, older people, retired people, pensioners and people who look after children or have caring responsibilities, are being affected more than others. This may get more serious as we move into the cold winter months.

People who live in the countryside tend to suffer more from higher prices and increased fuel prices, where getting around by car is vital. If you live in a rural area, have a think about sharing a ride with a neighbour. This connection on your commute will be valuable company as well.

Many people are already aware of food banks. Still, there are similar kinds of support in our communities that run school uniform banks and toy libraries, where second-hand items are available for people who need them. Your local library is also an excellent place to look for community resources; many also offer activities for families (and, of course, lend books for that sleep remedy!).

If you are having problems with housing or homelessness, Shelter are there to help. They have a helpline, online advice and a webchat. In Northern Ireland, you can contact the Simon Community.

Energy costs, continue to be a problem for lots of us. Money Saving Expert's website has lots of practical information and advice.

Owing money

Many of us have debts that are a result of the recent pandemic, and they’re continuing to grow as interest rises take effect.

There’s also the constant worry that we might lose our jobs as the recession bites.

Many of us have been relying on credit cards, loans and overdrafts for our day-to-day expenses, and the way things are right now, this problem isn’t going away.

But, it’s reassuring to know that most banks, credit card companies and respectable lenders are very approachable. They would rather know about your financial problems and help make repayment arrangements rather than allow your debts to grow out of hand. Most local councils will also have arrangements to help with council tax payments. In Northern Ireland, you can check if you are eligible for support with your rates.

There’s absolutely no shame in finding and getting help. There are millions of people in the same boat. So, don't delay and get in touch with them as soon as possible.

If you need help managing your debt, the StepChange debt charity can give helpful advice. No matter how large or small your debt problem is, they can help. They will give you expert advice and recommend debt solutions to suit your situation.

Don’t forget about your own health!

When it’s a choice between eating or heating, our health could suffer too.

Many of us sometimes use drugs to block out “difficult” feelings such as sadness, fear, or shame.

No one wants to feel bad; for some people, drugs and alcohol offer temporary relief.

Unfortunately, they don’t stop the feelings from returning and could make things worse or even create other problems, including damage to mental and physical health, relationships, work, or study.

If you think you may be using drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, it could help to be aware of it but not beat yourself up about it. Being understanding and kind to yourself is just as important as anything else and is also good for your mental health.

Your next possible step would be to talk with someone you trust or one of the charities that offer confidential, free information and advice, including how to reduce the harmfulness of using drugs. Have a look at Talk To Frank, for example.

You could also look for other ways of coping with painful feelings, such as getting help with the situation causing them, if possible, and finding a trusted person to talk with. This could be a friend or relative, a colleague, a person working for a charity helpline, your GP, or a counsellor.

Many charities around the country offer free or low-cost therapy. Here’s more detailed information about getting help with your mental health from many potential sources.

Some people find it helpful to go to “anonymous” meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous, to share with others who have or had similar experiences. Some of these meetings are also now online.

Eating on a budget

This is easy to say but not always easy to do.

Getting motivated and inspired to cook and eat healthily on a budget can be hard, especially when you're feeling mentally low.

The Association of UK Dieticians have some great ideas to help with cooking at home on a budget. Most supermarkets also have ideas and inspiration for cooking on a budget, as does the BBC 'Budget recipes and advice'. At least have a look. You don’t know until you’ve tried!

If you are having problems buying those food essentials, then the Trussell Trust are here to help. They can help you find your local foodbank or provide advice via their helpline.

Getting a good night’s sleep

This is a tough one. With all the worries that we might have, our sleep tends to be affected. Stress, anxiety, and general worry all make this a challenge.

Lack of a good sleep will also make everything feel much worse. But there are things you can do to help get a good night’s sleep. These tips actually do work, so don’t give up and try them out:

  • Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day creates a routine, and your body clock will thank you for it too. So, set that alarm!
  • However tempting, try to avoid those afternoon naps. They feel good at the time, but they won’t help you get a proper night’s sleep.
  • Keeping the bedroom curtains open during the day and closed at night will also help your body clock know what’s going on.
  • Now, here’s the challenge. Mobile devices are the enemy of a good night’s sleep. Hard as it may sound, hit the off button, and don’t keep your phone by the side of your bed. If you don’t know what to do with your thumbs, apart from jiggling them, let’s go back in time and read a book or magazine. You may soon find yourself dozing off.

We also have some great information about getting a good night’s sleep.

Older people seem to be affected more than others, but Age UK has some very useful advice that could help. You don’t have to be old to benefit, so everyone should have a look.

Offering help to others

While millions of us are finding things really hard, others are just about managing to keep their heads above water. If this applies to you, then you have some great skills and experience that you could share with others.

If you’re confident managing your finances, you’ve probably learned some lessons along the way. Passing these lessons on to others is a great way to help.

Volunteering is also a really practical way to help others. Think about contacting your local food bank to see if they need help. You could also see if you’re able to donate food to them. The Trussell Trust operates the largest network of food banks, and your local council will also have a list of those in your area.

You could pass on your unused clothes to a local charity. Many of them will come and collect your donations, so it’s pretty easy. These acts of kindness can make everyone feel better, including you!

Loneliness and the stigma of poverty

Getting out and about for some social activity is one of the first things to suffer when we’re stressed and anxious. We can also feel bad about ourselves when we don’t have any money to go out. The stigma around this can also stop us from looking for help.

Our theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was loneliness, so have a look. Our content is filled with stories of people coping with being lonely and making connections.

As we’ve said before, there is absolutely no shame in finding and getting help. There are millions of people in exactly the same boat.

If you’re in employment, see what support your employer can offer

Most of us are feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, whether in work or not.

Many employers know about this, and some are offering extra support, so don’t be afraid to ask. Contact your HR department, which will treat your questions with complete confidentiality. You could also ask your union representative for advice.

There’s no news but bad news

We all know that the news is mostly bad, and social media can make the feelings of doom and gloom even worse. Too much of your favourite social media channel can also affect your mental health.

After hearing all about political events and government actions, we can start to feel fear, anxiety, or a loss of control over our lives and plans. We’ll start to worry about our safety and our loved ones. If we have lived through similar times in the past, it could start to bring back painful memories.

Have a look at our page on bad news and mental health.

Social media is a great way to stay in touch with people, but inevitably, people share stories or their feelings about what’s going on in the world, which can leave us feeling anxious.

Try to keep aware of your mood and feelings when you’re watching TV, listening to the radio or online, and if you start to feel down, reach for the off switch.

Me time

Most importantly, don’t forget about yourself. Have a bit of time to dwell on the things about the day that made you feel good.

If it works for you, try some mindfulness exercises. Find a quiet place, sit, or lie down and close your eyes. Think about the ‘now’ and your feelings, your body sensations, and your surroundings.

If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.

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