Written by UKCP psychotherapist, Susan Tupling
As an experienced clinical psychotherapist, I find that I am unusually busy around Christmas. On one level, we know that Christmas should be a happy time filled with togetherness, but most of my clients have Christmas on their minds for the wrong reasons.
The causes of stress at Christmas
When we are pushed together, with ongoing issues and feuds, it can be hard to handle. The pressure of the ‘perfect’ Christmas can bring out the worst aspects of our society: waste, greed, consumption, materialism. And for those of us without plans, we can feel terrified of the loneliness. However, one of the biggest causes of stress around this time of year is money.
Our relationship with money
Our relationship with money can be complex and I truly believe that it is one of the last big taboos. Recent research from Salary Finance shows that less than half of UK employees are comfortable talking to anyone, apart from their partners, about money. However, people with low financial wellbeing often don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone at all. It seems that people are more worried about money than any other area of life including career, health or relationships.
One thing is certain: our financial wellbeing and our mental health are linked. Those worrying about money are over four times more likely to have depression and/or anxiety. One in five UK adults admits to drowning in debt and money worries, with many saying that their mental health has deteriorated as a result. And that creates a snowball effect. One in ten of those in debt admits that poor mental health has made it difficult to manage their money and pay off bills.
Of course, financial worries inevitably put a strain on relationships. This can affect our connection with our partner, but also increases our tendency to withdraw from friends. And this distance or trouble in our relationships can contribute to deteriorating mental health. In fact, money worries are the biggest cause of marital strife and the number one reason for marriages falling apart. It becomes a vicious cycle. And Christmas can be the touchpaper.
The financial pressure of Christmas
Nevertheless, from late November onwards, we are bombarded with temptation to spend. All those pretty lights and messages to entice us, and the sheer choice we have, can be overwhelming. Invitations to drink, eat, connect, get together. There is huge pressure on many of us to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas – whether that is from social media, family norms or our own high standards. And all of this involves spending.
The resulting stress can cause us to spend even more. Either because we have not been good at planning a budget and keeping a list of our spending or perhaps we turn to ‘crisis spending’ as a form of coping when we are in a low mood. As spending can give you a temporary high, you may spend money on yourself or others to make yourself feel better.
Whilst people can generally set budgets, not everyone has developed the ability to stick to them. And many people fall into the dangerous trap of spending what they haven’t got.
Whilst not everyone celebrates Christmas, the same argument applies to any significant event. It goes without saying that getting out of debt and being better at saving are the top priorities. In addition, here are our top tips to help look after your financial and mental wellbeing this Christmas:
- Get help. No matter how large the debt, positive action can be taken. If you have money worries, no matter how large or small, make sure you get access to free advice as soon as possible.
- Be aware of any tendency to engage in ‘crisis spending’ – spending motivated by emotional or psychological, rather than material need. And learn to spot the early warning signs of poor mental health which may lead to this.
- Get organised. Write down a budget for Christmas that includes gifts, sundries, and keep a track of spend against your budget. A simple notebook will suffice but you could also use a spreadsheet.
- Talk to others. Talk things through with someone you trust. This might include a friend or family member, or professional organisations like Mind or the Samaritans.
- Understand your behaviour. Understand the triggers and warning signs that make it harder for you to manage your budget. Think about when your spending is more out of control and why. Think about what aspects of finance make your mental health worse.
- Put yourself first. Prioritise your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Take action to manage stress or loneliness. Make sure you sleep as best you can, eat well and get some exercise. Money issues can affect our self-esteem and bring up emotions such as shame or guilt, so be aware of this and perhaps seek help to manage it. It can be all too easy for any of us to overlook what’s really going on with our finances and our mental health at this time of year. And both can impact on our wellbeing and our lives in general. A big dose of self-awareness and some preparation and planning can make all the difference. Psychotherapy can offer a safe space to explore these feelings, you can look for an accredited therapist on the UKCP website.
You can also find support by contacting:
In an emergency, call: 999
NHS (England), call: 111
NHS Direct (Wales), call: 0845 46 47
The Samaritans 24 hour helpline, call: 116 123
The Money Advice Service website
Susan Tupling is a UKCP psychotherapist and a qualified British Wheel of Yoga teacher who specialises in wellbeing and resilience.