In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, businesses across the country are closing their doors. In many states, emergency restrictions now prohibit dining in at restaurants and bars, as well as any large gatherings. Other states and counties have also passed regulations temporarily closing any businesses not essential to life and ordering residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
These temporary laws are meant to protect lives by “flattening the curve” of COVID-19. Though these measures may seem drastic, they’re necessary to keep already-overburdened hospitals from being completely overwhelmed with new patients.
In the meantime, that leaves untold Americans without jobs. Economists predict millions of Americans will be jobless by April. Certain essential professions, including grocery and delivery workers and health care workers, may see some growth. But as confirmed COVID-19 cases increase and more states continue to close non-essential businesses, you may also face a financial impact if your workplace or small business closes and you can’t telecommute.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF LOSING INCOME
If you’ve already lost your job or believe you may in the near future, you may suddenly be facing more stress than you ever imagined, especially if you have a family to care for and/or your partner has also lost work.
You might be avidly following news of potential stimulus checks, hoping your state government will eventually do more to provide relief. At the same time, you might feel terrified of what will happen to you, your home, and your family if the pandemic continues to spread and prevent you from working. Much of America is in the same position. While that may bolster your compassion, it likely does nothing to lessen your personal stress.
While you may worry about contracting the virus, worries about your financial situation and immediate future may compound the situation. Financial worries, like most other sources of stress, can have a significant impact on your physical and emotional health. You might notice:
- Increased irritability or a short temper
- Feelings of nervousness or worry
- Mood swings, including anger and sadness
- Persistent low mood
- Appetite changes and stomach issues
- Muscle tension or pain
- Fatigue, sleeplessness, or both
In time, these symptoms can worsen and eventually contribute to more persistent anxiety or depression. You might also have thoughts of hopelessness or suicide.
FINANCIAL STRESS AND COVID-19: COPING TIPS
It’s completely all right, and normal, and healthy, to mourn your losses. A global pandemic is frightening and upsetting enough without it upending your entire life. You may feel grief, fear, and any number of other emotions. Don’t try to bottle up these feelings or block them by telling yourself “Others have it worse.” That’s true, but you matter, too.
Part of acceptance involves acknowledging your situation, and your feelings about it. Then you can take actionable steps toward improvement when those steps become possible.
Focus on what you can control
You may not have any power over a virus or the economy, but you can work to manage your reaction to it.
Panic and increased fear are common responses, and it’s understandable to experience these emotions. But try to avoid letting despairing thoughts trap you in a cycle of distress. It’s true you don’t know what will happen—no one does. But it’s more helpful to manage each day as it comes.
- Mindfulness practices, like meditation, can help you learn to acknowledge and accept unwanted thoughts without letting them impact you negatively.
- Limiting your news exposure to a set amount of time each day can help you stay informed but avoid becoming overwhelmed by a constant barrage of increasingly bleak updates.
- Reviewing your existing financial resources can help you get a more realistic picture of your financial situation.
- Looking into unemployment, temporary rent assistance, utility payment relief, and other similar services in your state can help you access available financial assistance.
- Stock up on two weeks’ supply of groceries and essentials, if you’re able to do so, but avoid panic buying or stockpiling extras you may not need. This not only strains your existing resources, but it prevents others also in need of purchasing items.
Remembering to take care of your health in times of stress isn’t always easy, but it’s important to stay well. The mind-body connection means your emotional health will benefit when you’re in good physical health.
Focus on wellness by:
- Eating balanced, nutritious meals when possible. But avoid criticizing yourself for indulging or eating what’s available. It may not be possible to stick to your ideal eating patterns right now, especially with limited income.
- Exercising when possible. Even if your state has issued a “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home” order, you’re still permitted to exercise outside, as long as you have no symptoms and keep a minimum distance of 6 feet from people not isolating with you. Going for a jog, walk, or solitary bike ride can help you burn off tension and excess energy and improve your mood.
- Staying active at home. If you or someone in your household has any symptoms, don’t go outside. As long as you feel well, exercise indoors. You can try a guided yoga or workout routine—many companies have offered free streaming of workout videos for the duration of the outbreak.
- Continuing to attend therapy. If you can’t see your therapist in person, try telemental health over video or phone if necessary.
- Practicing yoga, meditation, journaling, and other wellness practices. If you have some free time, why not try something new? If you already engage in these practices, they may help improve your mood and help you regain a sense of calm and control.
- Prioritizing sleep. Sleep is always important, but it becomes even more important when you’re facing stress and uncertainty. Good sleep helps you recharge and feel more prepared to face each day.
- Avoiding excessive use of alcohol and substances to manage distress. You may feel a little better in the moment, but you could also feel worse—alcohol can often worsen feelings of anxiety or depression. Even if alcohol doesn’t have this effect, you might eventually need to drink more in order to cope with mood changes and stress.
It can help to think of steps you’ll take to get back into the workforce if you can’t return to your previous job. Having a plan can sometimes offer reassurance and a sense of hope. But it’s also important to avoid spending so much time planning that it increases your anxiety and stress.
HOW TO HELP THOSE WHO HAVE LOST INCOME DUE TO COVID-19
If you’re on the other end of the spectrum—you haven’t lost your job and have enough income to weather the pandemic—you may wonder how best to help those in need.
First, make sure to only buy what you need. If you’ve already stocked up and have more than a month’s supply of non-perishable foods, cleaning products, soap, toilet paper, or other essentials, consider donating your surplus resources, to neighbors who may be struggling. Prioritize older adults in your community, since they should avoid going out whenever possible and may be in particular need.
If you haven’t suffered serious financial losses and have a relatively stable income, consider purchasing your takeout or delivery from small, local businesses that may not survive this pandemic without continued support. Tipping generously can also help these businesses and their workers.
Consider buying gift cards from your hairstylist, massage therapist, and any local, small business you regularly frequent. This will help them meet their financial needs now and help increase their chances of reopening after the pandemic.
Consider donating money, if you’re able, to your local food bank, youth or homeless shelter, or animal shelter. Call ahead to find whether they prefer goods or financial assistance, as most will prefer a cash donation at this time.
By Crystal Raypole
Eventually, the worst of this outbreak will pass. How we get through it in the meantime depends on how we come together and take care of each other. If you’re struggling, remember you aren’t alone—seek support by reaching out to neighbors and loved ones or find a therapist today with GoodTherapy’s directory.