The effects of the cost of living on our Mental Health

By Sheila McMahon

Mental health Counsellor and CEO of Mind Management For You, Sheila McMahon, reflects on the current cost of living crisis, the knock-on effects on our mental health, and what we can do about it.

So, we have just been through a pandemic and we’re now facing huge rises and uncertainty around the cost of living. Yes, this can have detrimental effects on our mental health. So how do we keep sane?

It can feel like we’re being bombarded with it from every angle and make us feel apprehensive and anxious about what’s coming in the next few months. It can cause ‘Paralysis by Analysis’ as all this information can feel too much and cause our brains to shut down. It can feel like ‘we can’t think straight’, and sometimes this is the case, as we can feel like we are being pulled into all this uncertainty and helplessness.

When we feel like we’re being bombarded, we need to be aware of how much watching the news, talking to friends about it and how seeing it on social media affects us.

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Claim our personal power.

We can do this by limiting how often we watch the news or even not watching it at all!

We can also set boundaries for ourselves by turning off our phones at certain times or leaving it in another room for a while. You can also turn off notifications so you’re not being pinged all the time.

Take it step by step.

There is a lot of uncertainty around exactly how high the increases in our bills will be. As Martin Luther said, ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just to take the next step’

The next step might be to speak to someone about your concerns. That can be a friend, a neighbour, or a financial advisor* about options around support. You might decide to watch programmes by Martin Lewis to find out his latest advice and tips.

Keeping a sense of humour.

I decided to ask my business networking group how they cope with it all. Without hesitation someone said, ‘Drugs’. The way he said it made me laugh. Humour helped so many people get through the pandemic and this is another situation where we can use humour to cope with it. I recently read:

‘A UK ticket holder has scooped a record jackpot of £195 million on the EuroMillions Lottery, the biggest National Lottery win of all time. When asked what they plan to do with the money, the winner admitted they were going to splash out all in one go. “I’m going to buy some groceries, fill up the car and put whatever’s left towards my next energy bill”. They continued, “I hope I win again soon, otherwise God knows how I’m going to get through the winter”.’

Heat or Eat?

I spoke to another business group member who remembers a time of living through hardship when he and his family had to choose between heating and eating. But they got through it. Most people will fall on hard times at some point during their lives but that doesn’t mean it has to be forever. Also, those hard times don’t define you. It’s like the saying ‘What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger’

Ironically, experiencing hard times can highlight the value of money. It can create an appreciation of money and can create healthy habits around the importance of saving.

Saving for a rainy day.

Some of us will be familiar with this expression, some won’t. Life is unpredictable and we never know when we need those extra funds. The current financial situation can have more of an impact on someone who doesn’t have rainy day funds. Saving is a crucial part of our mental well-being. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, saving can make you feel more in control.

Beliefs around money.

What are your beliefs about money? What is your relationship like with money? Do you control money or does money control you? I often come across clients who want to give their children everything, as they never want them to ‘go without’ like they had to. They have great intentions, however, if the child always gets what they want then they will naturally continue to expect this. Then often the parent will blame the child for being ungrateful. Sometimes going through tough times can teach us valuable lessons for life.

Think outside the box.

During the pandemic, people produced ways to deal with it, to connect with each other and inspire others. Only the other day while I was at the gym, a woman said to me: “I will be spending a lot more time here in the winter to save on my fuel bills.Someone else said to me: “If we can’t afford to put on the heating, we’ll be wearing extra jumpers.” Then someone else said: “I would rather have increased food bills than be in a war with Russia”.

So yes, this situation could actually be worse and for some, it can be helpful to be mindful of that.

Shift your focus.

If you are focusing on the cost of living increases all the time then of course it’s going to increase your anxiety. It’s important to give your mind a break from it and you may need to limit how much you talk about it with friends.

Having issues come up from time to time is just a part of life and we get to choose our attitude towards them. Find someone who has the attitude you would like and mirror it. Be curious about what thoughts they have to go with their attitude. Most of my clients strive to have a ‘don’t care’ and ‘deal with it as it comes’ attitude.

Ask for advice.

There was a time when humans had no heat or electricity. They relied on a fire to keep themselves warm. People who have lived through tough times will have a wealth of information on what they did to survive. You may decide, if you have a garden, to get a fire pit, sit around it, roast marshmallows, and tell stories while you keep yourselves warm. Imagine the potential to connect as a family, or with friends and neighbours by doing this. If you have close neighbours, you may decide to have a fuel buddy system where one night you all hang out in one house and turn off the heat in the unoccupied house for that night.

During the pandemic some families got closer as they spent more valuable time with each other. This crisis could have the same effect, depending on how we respond to it.

You are stronger than you think.

We are stronger than we think. We have gotten through a pandemic, and we can get through this too. I have lived in the UK for twenty years. I decided to do a twenty-year timeline and reflect on what I had done during this time. I was so surprised at what I had achieved.

I asked myself: ‘If I told myself 20 years ago what I was going to achieve, would I have believed? Probably not!’

When we reflect on what we have achieved over time, whether it’s 5, 10 or 20 years, it can make us realise that we are stronger than we think and that we have more resilience than we realise. So when a fuel increase happens you can be reassured that you will find ways to manage it.

Sh*t Happens!

If there is one thing we do know, it’s that stuff happens! It’s a part of being alive. It is unrealistic to believe that things will be perfect all the time.

So how can we manage this?….

Expect shite to happen!

Even as I write this article my laptop is shutting down and restarting again telling me there is a problem. Because I am focusing and accepting that shite happens, I am not driving myself crazy and know it will get sorted!…

… I took two days off from writing this to get my computer fixed. I know it needs to be finished today. I have not had the time I would have liked to work on it, but I say to myself:
‘I am doing my best and that is good enough’.

In every situation, all we can do is our best and know that that is good enough.

Making comparisons.

One of the common themes I come across in the counselling room that causes issues, is the behaviour of making comparisons. The pressure from the media can make people feel they need more things, live above their means, and must keep up with the latest trends. As a result of striving to do this, they can feel less of a person or unhappy, as they never feel happy with what they already have. When I did my counselling training, we did a section on the brain-washing side of the media and how certain adverts purposely set out to make you feel insecure so that you will buy their product. As a result, the world can then feel very false, judgmental, and people constantly not feeling good enough. The media wants you to feel like you must ‘Keep up with the Joneses’. You can choose whether this behaviour is helpful or unhelpful for you and your relationships. You can choose not to care what other people think!

I have clients who have it all financially and are still not happy. They are not satisfied with their relationships. They have beliefs that money is the ultimate priority in making a person happy.

Spread the love.

At the end of the day, we all just want to feel loved! When we go through tough times, we find ways to pull together as a community and spread love. When we help each other, instead of competing with each other, we spread love. When we help one another, we help ourselves too because it makes us feel good.

Let this be another period in time when we look back and reflect on how we got through it and what we did to help each other.

Sheila provides her mental health awareness training online and face to face. For more information go to

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