How To Cope With Inflation Stress, According To Mental Health Experts

Inflation is at a 40-year high, and it's hard not to worry or feel anxious about the cost of living, unexpected bills and more.
Inflation is causing financial concerns for many people.
urbazon via Getty Images
Inflation is causing financial concerns for many people.

You are probably well aware that inflation is the highest it’s been in decades. It seems that everything is more expensive right now, from groceries to utility bills to new cars.

And not only is inflation daunting, but some experts have warned about a possible recession next year, which makes us feel even more worried about the uncertainty that lies ahead. (Oh, and not to mention that we are still living in a pandemic.)

It’s safe to say that things are stressful right now. And if you’re feeling a high amount of anxiety about inflation, you’re not alone.

The American Psychological Association found in a recent poll that 87% of respondents listed inflation as a “significant source of stress” in their lives, as Michele Tugade, a professor of psychological science at Vassar College, noted.

And how could it not? Money loss ― whether it’s layoffs, rental hikes, or expensive necessities ― is stressful. Money equals safety for many people, said Dior Vargas, a mental health advocate in New York. There’s a certain level of comfort that economic security brings, “if you have an emergency you will be able to survive and still [have] the standard of living you’re used to,” Vargas said.

When fears of job loss or increased rent loom, it’s easy to worry. Here’s what you can do if you’re feeling stressed about inflation or a possible recession.

Acknowledge you’re stressed, and get specific about what’s triggering it.

“Stress can be managed by taking pause, recognizing and acknowledging the emotions arising due to fears and anxiety related to inflation,” Tugade said.

It’s crucial to understand the root of your emotions by asking yourself questions like “how does this feel in my body?” and “what is this emotion telling me about the situation?” she said.

For example, identify where the anxiety is bubbling up in your body ― your stomach? Your chest?

Also, think about what made the anxiety come up ― was it a news report about tech layoffs? Was it browsing the aisles at the grocery store?

“Staying in an anxious mode can produce wear and tear on the body and have [harmful] effects on our physical and mental health,” Tugade said.

Doing this assessment is a form of mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness can help us cut back on overthinking and create clarity around the situation, Tugade said. If you’re able to truly understand the reasoning behind your stress or anxiety, mindfulness can even help you start problem-solving.

If you're feeling anxious, try to understand the root of the emotion to keep yourself from overthinking.
LaylaBird via Getty Images
If you're feeling anxious, try to understand the root of the emotion to keep yourself from overthinking.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, find an activity that doesn’t take a lot of thought to execute.

Whether it’s re-watching your favorite movie, going for a run or doing dishes, mindless activities are a helpful way to distract yourself from stressful matters like inflation, Vargas said.

Mindless activities mean something different for everyone, but you likely know what helps you feel more at peace. The next time you’re feeling anxious, take a step back and do something you don’t have to think about.

Create micro-moments of joy.

Just the phrase “micro-moments of joy” sounds pleasing, right? Luckily, it’s easy to add this anxiety-reducing practice into your life.

“In the midst of stress and anxiety, one useful strategy is to pay attention to the small things that bring big results... I call these ‘micro-moments of joy,’” Tugade said. These moments can include watching the sunset, zoning out to the flow of a nearby creek or just taking time to admire nature.

Even small bursts of positive emotions like gratitude, joy and serenity can help during stressful times. “Having gratitude can soothe feelings of stress in ways that have important benefits for healing and stress reduction,” she said.

Plus, it’s hard not to feel a little more relaxed when you’re admiring Mother Nature.

Create a calming environment.

Your living quarters can affect your mental health, Vargas noted. “Having a clean space does help me,” she said.

Vargas said she spends time cleaning her house (which, as a bonus, doubles as a mindless activity) during times of heightened stress. Once she’s done, she’s left with an environment that reflects a sense of calm.

When you're stressed about money, it can be helpful to focus on the small, positive things in your life.
Boy_Anupong via Getty Images
When you're stressed about money, it can be helpful to focus on the small, positive things in your life.

Prioritize social connections.

“One of our greatest personal strengths is our desire to connect with others,” Tugade said. “Rather than retreating into isolation, which can produce growing feelings of loneliness and depression, find ways to connect with others.”

She noted that these connections can be in-person, but don’t have to be. You can connect with loved ones via Zoom, on the phone, through text or on social media.

“Reaching out to others means more than we realize,” Tugade said. It can build community and create a sense of purpose, which, in turn, helps balance out any stress triggers, financially-driven or otherwise.

Try journaling.

Vargas said that she turns to journaling during times of stress. “It’s a way for me to separate myself from my feelings,” she explained.

If you’re feeling anxious, take some time to journal. Write down whatever comes out, though it can be particularly helpful to write about the emotions you’re feeling in the moment.

It’s easy to bottle up our feelings, Vargas noted. Journaling is a way to combat that.

Be nice to yourself.

Don’t discount your emotions. These are stressful times and it’s important to show some self-compassion. There are benefits to doing so.

According to Tugade, “research shows that self-compassion is one important key to building resilience from stress.”

Beyond self-compassion, recognize that you are doing the best that you can. Just by acknowledging your personal vulnerability, you can initiate your body’s self-soothing and relaxation response, she said.

Supportive touch like putting your hand on your heart, giving yourself a hug or cradling your face are other ways to show yourself compassion, Tugade added.

“The sense of touch can release oxytocin,” she said, which activates a part of the nervous system that creates a sense of calm.

Focus on what you can control.

“When I feel anxious about the future, I re-center myself in the present and try focusing on what is within my control,” Aimee Martinez, a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles, previously told HuffPost.

In terms of controlling your money, this can mean setting up an automatic transfer to a savings account, opening a high-yield savings account or canceling streaming services you don’t use.

Additionally, “creating a budget is really helpful,” Vargas said. It’s a nice way for you to take stock of what you’re spending money on.

And, remember, bad things don’t last forever.

Nothing good lasts forever, but nothing bad lasts forever either, Vargas said. If you find yourself in a panic about the future, try to be optimistic.

If that doesn’t work, connect with loved ones and find a community that you can lean on during hard times, she said.

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