Worldwide economic turmoil and fears of more to come are affecting people’s mental health. Those in recovery from addiction are advised to take positive action and increase their vigilance so as not to be distracted from their primary focus – to stay sober and help others to happy sobriety.
The Cost of Living Crisis and Mental Health
If you feel your mental health is suffering due to the cost of living crisis, then you are not alone. In a June 2022 report from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, 59% of those asked in a recent survey felt the same as you. It’s hardly surprising – lacking money for the next meal, struggling to pay the gas bill, worrying about next month’s rent or the kids’ clothes – they’re all guaranteed to cause anxiety and sleepless nights. But for those in recovery from addiction, such feelings can be dangerous triggers to relapse. It is important to remember that even if the world is in recession there is no reason why your recovery should not keep advancing.
Indirect Consequences for Mental Health
In addition to direct mental health issues, financial hardship tends to increase loneliness and isolation, relationship problems, feelings of depression, and sleep disturbance. Dietary and nutritional needs also start to be neglected. In such situations, people are more likely to embrace or return to addictive behaviour. It is vital that people in recovery are aware of the dangers and respond by taking positive action to maintain sobriety, whatever challenges may appear.
Financial Problems and Mental Health
Besides mental health issues, financial difficulties cause practical problems too. Sometimes people are simply not able to afford to travel to attend mental health therapy sessions. Lack of funds can also be used by people in active addiction as a reason to delay seeking help.
Doing Nothing Is Dangerous
For people in recovery from addiction problems, financial anxiety and fear about the future can be dangerous because the feelings remind them of their addicted days. Addiction problems and financial worries are always closely linked. They represent parts of the vicious cycle of addiction that is so hard to break. The temptation in the present situation is for those in recovery to revert to the victim mode and do nothing about it all, a response likely to lead sooner or later to relapse.
Recovering People Have Advantages
Paradoxically, though they may not realise it, recovering people are actually well-placed to deal with such moments of crisis because most have already been there – to hell and back – as a result of their addiction.
Through the Twelve Step Fellowships, they now have experience in recovery of prudent money management, support from like-minded people and a forum to air their anxieties. In addition, they have the facility and belief to be able to hand their problems over to a Power Greater than Themselves. ‘I can’t but together we can’ is a great approach to any perceived crisis. They also have the formula to follow which helps them to hand things over and relax. It’s called the Serenity Prayer.
The Serenity Prayer
The first line of defence for many people against any moment of challenge, when sobriety is at risk, is this simple prayer. It is designed for those facing difficult choices who are uncertain what to do, which is why it is so popular in recovery circles:
‘God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Its author, American pastor Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that the prayer “may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don’t think so. ” He was not an addict of any kind, but he knew a challenge when he saw one. His response was to keep it simple – do what you can and don’t worry about what you can’t.
No wonder that AA co-founder Bill Wilson said of the prayer: ‘Never had we seen so much A.A. in so few words.’ (AA Grapevine, January 1950). Perhaps neither of them fully grasped at the time, the extent to which it would be used.
Financial Crisis and Cost of Living Problems Are Not New
One has only to revisit American President Franklin D Roosevelt’s Inaugural address in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, to see how it still resonates today: ‘.. the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’
Yet little more than ten years after that speech, America was unquestionably the greatest economic power the world had ever seen. Anxious folk in early recovery might draw comfort from those words about fear.
Crisis or Challenge?
You may be terrified for the future, or you may think the economic situation today is simply less serious than it seems. Whatever your view, you as an individual are powerless to change world events.
But the economy, like charity, begins at home (the word itself stems from the Greek word for home). The fact is that on a personal level, if you have a place of shelter and food and safety, then you are probably better off than a lot of other people in the world.
You will survive.
Let the Bank of England and the Prime Minister worry about the big picture. Of course, many people are truly suffering deprivation and deserve every possible support, but it does not help to catastrophize.
We are facing a challenge, but we can overcome it. Whoever coined the phrase ‘cost of living crisis’ was not helping because words like ‘crisis’ often make things worse.
Whatever you feel about the present economic situation, all you can change is your response – the way you do things yourself.
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So, What Can You Do?
The two main issues that you can manage are your anxiety about personal finances and your recovery itself. Neither should be ignored.
Practical Steps to Address Financial Worries
Here are a few ideas to ease your financial anxiety:
- Assess your financial position realistically and honestly (remember FDR’s speech) – being an ostrich and hiding from the truth only makes things worse.
- Ask for help and advice (the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good place to start) and discuss potential difficulties with your bank and possible creditors as early as possible, before they become unmanageable.
- Prepare a budget of your daily income and expenditure.
- Research money saving tips. Websites such as Money Saving Expert are good.
- Work together as a family or other groups to reduce costs and make savings for example, share transport.
- Connect with others, especially the Twelve Step Fellowships for support, advice and possible shared savings.
- Be open to new ideas.
Advance Your Recovery
Always remember that no matter what else is going on, your priority must be recovery. With this in mind, ask yourself each day – what can I do today to further my recovery and make it stronger? Here are some more suggestions:
- Make a gratitude list – there are always things to be grateful for – sobriety, fellowship and life itself, for a start. Filling your heart with gratitude leaves no room for negative thoughts.
- Remind yourself that recovery is a journey with difficult moments and good ones too, but everything passes.
- Be aware of potential threats to your recovery in the present situation – events that might trigger negative thinking (such as a phone call from your bank) and plan a response – a person you can talk to at any time, for example.
- Help others and do service – it will make you feel good about yourself and give you a sense of purpose.
- Hand it over – some problems are too big for us. What matters is our response – we always have the power to choose how we view a problem and there is always a positive side to any situation.
- Don’t isolate – cost of living problems might lead you to stay at home, cold, hungry, fearful and lonely whereas what you really need is warmth, companionship, a sense of belonging and some tea and biscuits – all of which can be found at a Fellowship meeting.
Meeting the Challenge
This cost of living challenge may seem an insurmountable problem, but didn’t our addiction seem that way once? Yet, we prevailed, and we can continue to prevail. We learnt, if nothing else, that recovery requires active change – simply playing victim, blaming others and worrying gets us nowhere. And nowhere is not a good place to be, for good mental health. Keeping our recovery out of recession means that we have to do positive things. Working daily on recovery through affirmative action is not just a choice we ought to make, it is essential. Then we are getting somewhere.