With Britain being chucked from the frying pan straight into the fire, the cost-of-living crisis is on most people’s minds this winter. October brings with it the most recent hike in energy prices, and in the months beyond we have plunging temperatures and Christmas to think about. Back in February debt Charity StepChange said that ‘cost of living pressures’ entered the top five reasons for debt amongst their clients and it’s stayed there ever since.
This winter we’ll all be turning to tips and tricks to try and save money. Even with budgeting, some people will be feeling the pinch, and that anxiety will add to the mental health crisis that we are already facing.
This World Mental Health Day – which was on October 10th – I focussed on key issues that may be caused by the cost-of-living crisis and how we could tackle them.
Anxiety over money
The foremost issue is perhaps the simplest – worrying over affording necessities. Many people are already aware of food banks. Charities such as Northeast Homeless and Feeding Families are also available for those in need – Northeast Homeless also run their Christmas Meal for the vulnerable at Central Station again this year. Still, there are similar kinds of support in our communities that run school uniform banks and toy libraries, where second-hand items are available for people who need them. Gateshead West Pre-loved School Uniform Scheme is one such charity, who also supply all kinds of clothes. Your local library is also an excellent place to look for community resources; many also offer activities for families. In addition, ASDA recently announced a £1 meal deal in their cafés for the over 60s throughout November and December.
And remember there is no shame in buying second hand or thrifted items.
Some pubs across Northumberland – The Olde Ship, The Percy Arms and The Anglers Arms to name a few – have begun initiatives to help. Including stocking up on firewood to provide warm spaces. Each pub has also introduced a book-sharing library and will be offering free hot drinks to anyone who donates a book to it. Visitors will be welcome to stay as long as they would like with no obligation to buy food or drink. The Anglers Arms, north of Morpeth, will be giving free soup to those aged 60 and over between the hours of 12noon and 4pm. And Thermos flasks and hot water bottles can be filled up free of charge upon request.
Loneliness is that unwelcome feeling of lack of companionship and this can occur for a multitude of reasons. Whilst it is associated with social isolation, people can and do feel lonely even if they are in a crowded room. It occurs when we have a mismatch between the quality and quantity of social relationships that we have and those that we want.
We combat it with one conversation and one act at a time. We check in on those around us, pop round for a cuppa and ensure that people know that we are welcome to chat with them if need be. Simple things you can do are trying to stimulate your mind and do activities that you enjoy. Small activities can give you energy and positive feelings. One thing I like to do is simply go for a walk, plug in music or an audiobook and just walk any feelings off. Whilst this may get more difficult with the changing weather, it’s also uplifting to see new scenery and have that physical activity. Nature has a calming effect on us – in Japan there is an act called ‘forest bathing’ where going to a forest or wood and experiencing all the different scents and sights have a healing affect.
Taking care of yourself is also essential. We need to check our own relationship balance just as much as our bank balances and think about whether we’ve got the connections we need to keep going. Is there anything you can do to maintain the connections you already have? Can you strengthen them or build new ones to have that feeling of companionship?
It is easy to stay pessimistic, especially during bleak times. But to aid in mental health struggles the key is to look for the silver linings. Or to sing it, ‘always look on the bright side of life’. Turn off the news and take a deep breath. Reassess your feelings and know that whatever you’re feeling isn’t permanent, even if it feels like it is.
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is making mental wellbeing for all a global priority.
If you can help, then there are opportunities to do so. As aforementioned, helping others can be free by just offering your companionship and friendship to other’s. Talking out your problems can help you break worries down and make it easier to find solutions. Lend a listening ear or a helpful hand to those who need it – maybe you have extra clothes or food that you could give away to others who need it. Being kind costs absolutely nothing.
It is also important to not pass judgement. For example, alcoholism and drug use is on the rise as some people use that as an escape from issues. Instead of passing judgement, let them know that help is available, either by assisting them personally or by going through mental health and addiction services.
If you are in the position to help out financially then various charities and services are there. Donations go a long way to keep those charities going, either in physical money or by donating items to contribute to their cause. In summary, these coming months are going to be tough, but it’s important to keep track of your mental health alongside that. On a personal perspective take care of yourself and your wellbeing by understanding your feelings and taking measures to tackle them. Remember not to take life too seriously and remember the fun you can have despite these bleak times. Also remember that you are not alone in this and together we will get through it.