The COVID-19 pandemic is something most people alive today have never experienced. Across the globe, this unprecedented situation has left many people with a kind of stress; they do not quite know how to cope. Given the uncertainty of this strange time, the physical and mental impact has been heavy. On top of that, the significant financial implications have added yet another layer of worry.
Financial worry is among the top concerns of many of us as we navigate the pandemic and the “new normal” that is arising from it. One current survey from Tulane University found that 88 percent of participants feel very worried about the financial strain of COVID-19 on the economy. With both the near and long-term future being so uncertain, finding healthy ways to cope with financial stress should be a top priority.
Understanding your fears
The first step in coping with the financial stress from COVID-19 is understanding where your fears are coming. In general, there are three primary drivers of personal economic anxiety.
The first is a lack of work and, therefore, a lack of income. Without income, how will we maintain a place to live? How will we keep ourselves and our families fed? On top of that, we have no control over how long these losses will continue, as the circumstances of social distancing and its duration are still unknown.
Then there is worry about potential health-related costs. What if we get the virus and have to be hospitalized. What if our health insurance doesn’t cover it? How much is it going to cost? How will we pay for it? Will it leave us bankrupt? This anxiety is exasperated by the fact that our source of income may be unstable as well.
The third is the overall uncertainty of the economy. The health crisis has shut down society, and no one has any idea how long this is going to last, thereby causing an economic crisis as well. When will we have a stable income again? What will the “new normal” look like, and how will it affect our finances? Is full-time work a possibility in our foreseeable future?
Coping mechanisms for pandemic-related financial stressors
Financial stress comes from worrying about money, and unchecked stress can easily turn into a mental health issue. It is essential to maintain a positive outlook to minimize stress, and these coping mechanisms can help.
Cut all non-essential expenses
We may not have much control over our financial circumstances right now. However, where we do have power, it is vital to seize it. Instead of panicking, evaluate where you can cut costs and do it. Non-essential expenses, such as student loans and credit card debt, may be able to be put off until the economy stabilizes.
Contact the places where you own money and try to work out a deferment, debt forgiveness, or even a payment plan that could lighten the current load on your finances. That way, it will be one less thing you have to worry about and instead focus on the essentials, like paying the mortgage, rent, and putting food on the table.
You can also make a budget that will help you stretch the money you do have for as long as possible. Planning this out can alleviate the stress associated with worrying about how much money you have and how to spend it. The budget means you will have all this already mapped out, and this sense of control can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms.
Use the resources available.
While you may not have the income you are used to for supporting yourself and your family right now, there are some resources available to help keep you afloat. Knowing what they are and how to get them is paramount in dealing with financial stress related to COVID-19.
If you are unemployed or underemployed because of the pandemic, there is unemployment insurance likely available to you. The requirements for unemployment insurance are less strict in the fact of this economic crisis, so many people who would not normally quality will qualify during this time, if
*you have lost your job, file for unemployment
*your income has been reduced due to decreased hours at your job, file for unemployment
*you are a freelancer or gig worker and have less work due to the pandemic, file for unemployment
In these cases, you will most likely get it. The process for filing is different in every state. In most places, the majority of the filing can be done online. Find out more about the process for each state here.
National and local assistance programs can also help with food and bills if you are struggling. For example, on a national level, the Food and Nutrition Service has upped their food stamp offerings. Local assistance programs by the state are available as well, which include things like health care and medical assistance.
If you have run out of other alternatives, you might also consider getting a loan. This might be from friends or family, from retirement savings, or even through a traditional lender or a credit card. If you decide to withdraw early from a workplace retirement plan, like an IRA, the standard 10 percent penalty for taking it out too soon is now waived because of the pandemic.
While taking on debt should be a last resort, difficult times often call for doing what you have to do to survive. Taking a loan can put off financial stress and provide the necessities until you have secured a stable income.
Establish a routine that includes self-care
Routines can help keep you mentally healthy. That is one of the reasons social distancing and societal shutdowns have had such a negative impact on mental health. Aside from the compounding stress worrying about finances, health, and having limited social contact, many of us have lost our routines in this pandemic as well. Daily habits are crucial in feeling a sense of purpose and control, both of which are essential aspects of mental health. Creating a routine, such as going for a walk or cooking meals at the same time each day can help.
Self-care should also be considered when making a routine during the pandemic. Eating healthy, getting exercise, and making sure to get a healthy amount of sleep are invaluable in times like these. In addition, incorporating some specific relaxing activities, like reading, taking hot baths, spending fun time with pets or kids, learning a new skill, or engaging in any form of preferred recreation, can have huge benefits on your stress levels.
Sitting around, worrying about financial woes does not make them go away. Staying busy with enjoyable activities will leave you better off both in the short and long-term.
While financial uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic remains high, finding healthy ways to cope will only leave you better off. You are doing yourself a favor by maintaining a positive attitude during these strange times, no matter your financial situation. Remember, this too shall pass.
Tulane University. (2020). Predictors of COVID-19 Resilience Study. Retrieved from: https://tulane.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3aweWnEaUBepGQJ
Mayo Clinic. (2019). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
University of Cambridge. (2018). Sense of control and meaning helps protect women from anxiety, study suggests. Retrieved from: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/sense-of-control-and-meaning-helps-protect-women-from-anxiety-study-suggests
US Department of Labor. (2020). How Do I File for Unemployment Insurance? Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/unemployment-insurance
Career OneStop. (2020). Unemployment Benefits Finder. Retrieved from: https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/UnemploymentBenefits/find-unemployment-benefits.aspx
Food and Nutrition Service. (2020). FNS Actions to Respond to COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19
Carlson, Bob. (2020). IRA And Retirement Plan Changes In The CARES Act. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobcarlson/2020/03/28/ira-and-retirement-plan-changes-in-the-cares-act/#54e9ca7534f5
Lieber, Mark. (2018). Maintaining a daily rhythm is important for mental health, study suggests. CNN Health. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/15/health/circadian-rhythm-mood-disorder-study/index.html
Tello, Monique. (2020). 6 self-care steps for a pandemic — always important, now essential. Harvard Health. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-self-care-steps-for-a-pandemic-always-important-now-essential-2020041619563
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