How to take the stress out of living on a reduced income due to the impact of coronavirus
1. Plan your budget
If you’re living on a reduced income, it’s important to plan your budget to get the most out of it. Doing this might also help to ease any stress you have about your income.
First, work out your income. Include any monthly income from employment, benefits, tax credits, pensions, maintenance and any other income. Add these together to get your total income.
Next, write down your total expenses - everything that you need to spend money on each month. This includes rent or mortgage, utilities bills, other costs such as council tax, food, your phone bill, travelling expenses, money you spend on debt, like loans, credit cards and child care costs, for example. Make sure you include everything. Then add up all of these things.
Then, do a quick sum: your total income minus your total expenses. You will either have a surplus or not enough money to pay all of your expenses. If you have a surplus, you can plan what you want to spend it on. That might include saving some of it.
To help, you can use the free Lloyds Bank online budget calculator.
You may not have enough money to pay all of your expenses. To begin with, look at your expenses to see if there are any you can cut or reduce. If you still don’t have enough money to pay your expenses, it’s best to get debt advice. You can get free expert, debt advice from Mental Health and Money Advice.
2. Talk to someone about how you are feeling
Talking about how you are feeling can have big benefits and help reduce stress. People who care about you like friends and family are usually happy to listen and support you. However, you can also find more information about mental health help or advice through the Mental Health UK website.
3. Look after your mental health
You can better cope with stress, or help reduce it, by doing the following things:
- Get enough sleep. Having enough sleep is really important to good mental health. Find out more about the importance of sleep and tips on how to sleep better from the NHS website.
- Practise mindfulness and meditation. It can improve your mental health to pay more attention to the present moment. Find out more about mindfulness from the NHS website.
- Eat healthy foods and have a balanced diet. This can be good for not only your physical health, but for your mental health too. Find out more about eating a balanced diet from the NHS website.
- Keep physically active. Exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It can increase the levels of serotonin and endorphins which are your body’s natural ‘happy’ chemicals. Find out more about keeping physically activity from the NHS website.
- Connect with others. Face-to-face contact has reduced for everyone during the coronavirus crisis. However, you can find new ways of connecting with other people from Mental Health UK.
For more information about ways to help yourself manage stress, take a look on the NHS website. If you’re still finding it hard to cope, your GP can offer advice, along with access to talking therapy and medication.
4. Improve your cooking skills
One big part of everyone’s budget is buying food and providing meals. If you’re living on a reduced income it’s useful to improve your cooking skills, as there are many benefits to this such as:
- Cooking your own meals is often cheaper than buying takeaways, ready meals or ready-made sauces, for example.
- Home cooking can be both healthier and tastier than takeaway or processed foods.
- The process of cooking a meal can be fun.
- You can have a sense of achievement when you’ve cooked something, and this can be good for wellbeing.
- You can use up food, so that nothing is wasted.
Many people like to cook as it helps them to reduce stress.
Keep in mind that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and many recipes are simple and cheap - there are hundreds or recipes online for healthy meals on a budget to choose from. Why not also try cooking large batches of food, as it can be much cheaper to do this and it can be kept fresh whilst frozen until you need it.
5. Use mindfulness or breathing techniques
You can improve your mental health and reduce stress by paying more attention to the present moment through practicing mindfulness. This helps you to focus on how both your mind and body are feeling, and to accept those feelings with awareness but without judgement. It can also help you to be more resilient and to deal better with issues in your life.
Some mindfulness techniques can be simple but effective, such as the 5-4-3-2-1 practice:
- Look around you. Pick 5 things and study them closely, their shape, their colour, their details. Do this one at a time for each of the 5 things.
- Close your eyes and pick out 4 things you can hear, like birds singing or traffic.
- Then choose 3 things you can feel. It can be anything, the clothes you are wearing, a pen, a coin.
- Now, pick out 2 things you can smell. It’s fine if you can only smell one thing.
- Lastly, concentrate on one thing you can taste. Your tongue is fine.
This simple exercise can ground you in the present and help to calm you. This can reduce your stress levels.
Breathing techniques can help to slow your breathing, which can calm your thoughts and reduce stress. The following 4-5-8 method is very simple:
- The numbers in the name -- 4-5-8 -- refer to the number of seconds when breathing in, holding your breath and breathing out.
- Start by sitting up straight in a comfortable position or lying down.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds. If you can’t breathe in through your nose, use your mouth.
- Hold your breath for 5 seconds.
- Breathe out slowly for 8 seconds.
- Repeat this cycle 10 times, or as many times as you want. While you do it try to concentrate on your breathing. You can alter the second counts to suit you.
To find out more about mindfulness from the NHS website.
You might also like to try the ‘stress bucket’ exercise on the Mental Health UK website.