Written by Faz Parkar, Clinical Lead, Onebright

People can be worried about many things, but given the current economic circumstances, some people may be worrying too much about finance. Typically, this can present as many “what if?” type questions that lead to several worries in a snowballing effect.

Some people may feel comfortable sharing their worries with other people and ask for reassurance or even help, whilst some people may feel embarrassed about doing so, and so it is largely a preoccupation that other people may not know about because they cannot see it and they do not hear about it.

What are the signs and symptoms of excessive worry?

Sometimes we may have a very real reason to worry. If a doctor tells us they would like to meet to discuss test results, or if we receive a final payment reminder through the post, for example.

The problem is not necessarily worry; the problem is excessive worry. How often am I feeling nervous, anxious or on edge? Do I find it hard to stop or control my worry? Do I find it hard to relax? Do I feel like something awful is going to happen?

If the answer to these questions is quite a lot of the time over a 2-week period, then you may be experiencing a clinically significant level of anxiety. If we are feeling this worried and anxious and spending hours or more per day worrying, then it is very likely that we are going to find it hard to concentrate and focus on the present.

Long-term worry can cause us to feel mentally and physically exhausted. In the context of the workplace, we may notice a reduction in productivity or what others may term “presenteeism”.

Other signs may include physical symptoms of anxiety, for example, physical tension, nausea, headaches, feeling hot or sweaty, increase in heart rate. When our anxiety levels rise, we often try to cope, and sometimes we end up avoiding things or using reassurance-seeking behaviours.

In the context of finance, this might involve avoiding opening letters that look like they might be demanding money, or avoiding phone calls or home visits from people or companies we are in debt with. Or we might be asking for a lot of reassurance from family and friends. Asking for help can be problematic when we excessively seek reassurance and become overly dependent on others.

How to help an employee who is absent from work / less productive at work due to financial worries?

Employers should speak to employees they believe are struggling with stress and worry to find out what the cause is, and to support the person in the most effective way. Consider signposting employees to organisations which specialise in money and debt advice, such as https://www.gov.uk/debt-advice

Consider how you can support employees financially. If your organisation is unable to provide pay increases and bonuses, you could look at other ways to provide support, such as discount vouchers and rewards. Also consider salary sacrifice initiatives, such as electric car schemes and cycle-to-work schemes.

Ensure you have an open culture, one where employees feel safe to speak openly with their line manager or HR leader about their concerns and how they feel. Listen to the individual and ask them how you can best provide help and support.

What can individuals do to help stop worrying?

It is worth considering whether you are in financial difficulty or are worrying about financial difficulty. If we are in financial difficulty, then we may consider a more practical approach. If we are worrying excessively about financial difficulty, then you could look at implementing the following strategies:

Schedule time to focus on your worries

Two to three times a day (10 to 15 minutes each) focus on your worries. Essentially, you want to try to organise and structure the worry into a few discrete periods in the day rather than worrying throughout the whole day. This helps break the cycle of one “what if” worry turning into an excessive number of worries.

Write down your worries

During worry time, write down your worries. Be specific but also brief, e.g. what if I cannot pay my gas bill? What if the gas company turns off my gas supply? If the worry is about something in the future and you cannot do anything about it now, then worrying about it is pointless. We want to try and let go of this worry. If on the other hand there is something you can reasonably do today, or this week, then do it.

Reflect on why you think worry helps?

Worry does not stop bad things happening. Worry does not make us feel less upset if what we worry about occurs in real life. Worry and problem solving are two different things. The more anxious and worried you are, the harder it will be to use your thinking part of the brain because of the flight, fight or freeze response. Worry makes it harder to problem solve and there may be better ways to show that you care.

Coping with uncertainty is often the problem that creates the excessive worry.

Try to build some tolerance and acceptance to the fact that you do not know what the outcome is of your current financial predicament.

Reducing avoidance and reassurance seeking behaviours can be a good way to start building this tolerance. An example might be opening the final demand letter and reading it or even calling the company to discuss the debt, even though we do not know the outcome of that conversation.

How we see problems influences how we deal with them. If we view problems as danger and threat, we are very likely going to avoid them and then the problem is going to be harder to solve. We want to try to see the opportunities that may be present, so that we are more likely to approach the problem instead of avoiding it.

A step-by-step approach

1. Define the problem clearly

2. List all possible solutions, no matter how stupid they seem. Do not limit your ideas, be as creative as possible

3. Review the advantages and disadvantages of each potential solution

4. Pick one

5. Plan to implement the solution

6. Implement the solution

7. Review it. If the action has resolved your problem, then the problem-solving is complete. If the problem still exists, then review your other options and repeat steps 4 to 7.