Let’s be frank. Prior to COVID-19, our collective relationship with our finances was far from healthy.
At the end of 2019, Canadians were carrying a record amount of debt, a majority of millennials couldn’t afford a home, and we were worrying about our money for an average of two hours a day. All of this had a huge impact on our emotional wellness.
So it’s no surprise that a recent survey by Borrowell revealed that 74% of Canadians are feeling stress brought on by the pandemic. More than 40% report their biggest financial worry is how to pay for necessities, such as food and rent, and 32% say they have no plan in place if funds run too low to pay their bills.
Reading results like these, and seeing the growing number of layoffs due to COVID-19, it’s getting harder to challenge negative thoughts. My financial anxiety is through the roof.
In an effort to normalize the emotions brought on by coronavirus, such as anxiety, frustration, despair, and hopelessness, I reached out to some experts on how to deal with our emotional and financial health as we navigate this unfamiliar terrain.
Focus on financial wellness
First of all, “Now's not the time for personal finance experts to point fingers and say, ‘I told you so,’” says Kassandra Dasent, financial wellness engineer and CEO of Bridgetech Enterprises.
This is in response to anyone spreading the message that debt is bad no matter what. Dasent believes that having a roof over your head, maintaining access to healthy food and healthcare are far more important things to focus on at the moment than debt.
“Most of us have never really experienced something so drastic,” explains Dasent. “Our older generation, like my mother, they've been through the Great Depression and the Spanish flu so they know what it means to be destitute. And it's a very scary feeling.”
“The judgment and pointing fingers aren’t necessary. So for those who are on the receiving end of that, really ignore it.”
From a mental health standpoint, Dasent encourages people triggered by coronavirus to share their fears and concerns with someone they trust.
“It's not healthy to keep this bottled up inside and try to process this on your own,” she says, “especially if you’re unsure of the next best steps to take based on your individual situation because really no two situations are alike.”
For example, if you feel overwhelmed with debt and your creditors aren't willing to play ball, get a certified debt counseling organization involved, so it can be the middleman for you and help you negotiate what you need in order to get a reprieve.
Dasent also encourages people to separate their self-worth from their net-worth.
Your worth should never be tied to your bank balance, how much you owe, or how much you make. They're extremely separate
Work with professionals, Dasent says, especially those who have seen recessions and seen markets go up and down to be able to help you make the right decisions.
Even if you’re on the financially healthier side, that doesn't mean that you can't look at your current expenses and see what can be cut.
“Deploy your bare-bones budget,” Dasent says. “Meaning anything extra needs to go.”
“I'm not saying to give it [all] up. I'm just saying to look at it and figure out what is going to help contribute to getting you through this.”
For example, if you've got Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music, you might want to cut down two out of three.
The best ways to relieve financial anxiety
Danielle Alexandria, a financial empowerment coach and certified trauma integration practitioner says it's completely normal for people to be feeling fear, anxiety, or even despair and depression right now.
“Our society tends to say, ‘oh these feelings are uncomfortable, so I don't want to feel them,’” says Alexandria. “So we suppress them, or we distract ourselves, or we keep busy, or we turn to food or alcohol or TV because we don't want to feel what we're actually feeling.”
But this is a unique circumstance. Living in lockdown and practising social distancing makes it even more difficult to cope because there's limited opportunity to really distract ourselves.
It's actually very positive to acknowledge what you're feeling. We're almost being forced to be confronted with this and learn how to work with our emotions
To her, the first stage is actually accepting what's happening and the next step is to remember that emotions are temporary.
“Anxiety specifically is a fear of what might happen in the future. But it isn't here yet,” Alexandria explains. “Learn the discipline to bring yourself back to the present moment.”
Look at what you can do now in the present to help alleviate some of the financial anxiety you’re feeling. For example, if your income has been impacted in any way by coronavirus, you might qualify for the income support benefits provided by the government.
“We've been through several recessions before and we always recover,” she says. “Overwhelmingly, the evidence is positive and we need to keep reminding ourselves of it.”
Alexandria suggests you incorporate the following into your daily schedule to quell some of the anxiety:
- Deep breathing
- Get fresh air and sunshine
- Meditation. There are numerous free videos available on YouTube
- Work with a therapist to help you work through your fears and anxieties
“Keep reminding yourself we are going to get through this and you're not alone,” Alexandria says. “The government is doing so much to help Canadians and you see individuals stepping up and doing what they can, so there's a real sense of community building to support and help one another. That alone should quell some anxiety.”