There’s nothing like financial insecurity to create intense stress. Money was the dominant source of stress for 44% of Americans prior to the Covid19 pandemic. I imagine that it now soars to the top of the list for most of us. Many Americans have large amounts of credit card debt and/or student loans. About 1 in 4 Americans do not have any savings for an emergency. People seeking unemployment claims in the US are past three million, a record-breaking number, due to workers being laid off or business closings. Unemployment is a crisis within a pandemic crisis.
People with poor financial health tend to have poor physical health in that they are less likely to see a doctor and don’t utilize preventive health measures like exercise and good diets. This makes people with pre-existing conditions more vulnerable to viral infections. Additionally, people with greater financial stress have more symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who don’t have financial worries.
Uncertainty stresses us out and unfortunately getting to the end of this pandemic is going to be more a marathon than a sprint, so the longer a lock-down persists, the greater the uncertainty that we will survive it.
A 1994 research study out of Quebec, developed the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale. It demonstrates that humans prefer certainty to uncertainty. People would rather get an electric shock now than possibly later, and they show greater nervous-system activation when waiting for an unpredictable shock than an expected one. Stress maxes out when uncertainty is at its highest.
Individuals differ in the amount of uncertainty they can tolerate well. Being overwhelmed with uncertainty will result in physical and emotional symptoms. Emotional symptoms may include feelings of shock, panic, grief, or anger. Some of us will experience a sense of disorientation, indecisiveness, avoidance, lack of motivation, increased alcohol or drug use, or an inability to concentrate. Although we may have more down time, we may be unproductive.
However, some uncertainty can be an impetus for creative problem solving and growth. The amount of stress you can handle without becoming overwhelmed is called your “stress tolerance.” It’s the ability to cope with adversity and bounce back. The higher your stress tolerance, the more you will be relaxed and composed when faced with difficulties. You will be less carried away by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
In the face of uncertainty, we have two options. First, we can seek to control that which is in our power through action. Rely on your support networks, seek professional coaching or financial advice, and utilize federal or state assistance, if possible.
And second, we can practice the art of surrendering to that which we cannot control. We can learn from monks and people who meditate to surrender. Take comfort in the reality that you are not alone. Remind yourself that this will eventually pass.
If you are overwhelmed, therapists are ready to provide support through phone or video counseling.
If you have stress related to financial hardship, I am offering a free online 6 week support group. Please contact me.
Gail L. Gabbert, D.Min., LMFT, CRADC
Interactions Therapy Center, Inc.