Financial stress behind mental health insurance claim spikes

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Financial stress behind mental health insurance claim spikes.

New research reveals that financial stress is a hidden mental health trigger for Australians to submit insurance claims, part of a trend alarming the life insurance industry.

The financial stress burden faced by Australians is, according to analysis by Rice Warner, a major factor in the escalating numbers of mental health-related claims that insurers are wrestling with.

In a report commissioned by an Australian start-up, Financial Mindfulness, to examine the viability of a program to reduce personal financial stress, it was estimated that well over half of mental health-related insurance claims are due to financial stress.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that 60 % of mental health claims have financial stress as a primary or secondary contributor,” Rice Warner consultant Heather Brown wrote.

Other research also commissioned by Financial Mindfulness in July 2017 found that Australians under financial stress suffered severe impacts on their mental and physical health and relationships.

While musculoskeletal conditions are the biggest category of claims for both IP and TPD claims, it is widely acknowledged that mental health is the fastest growing cause of insurance claims. Many agree because decades of stigma is lifting.

Rice Warner’s Group Insurance Claims Experience Study, a huge research project into 140,000 claims across 16 superannuation funds from 2011 to 2014, revealed another stunning finding, about the leading causes of IP claims in particular.

Mental health issues were the leading cause of IP claims during most Australian prime child rearing and career-building years (25 to 45 years). IP insurance premiums are worth an estimated $4.1 billion in annual premiums.

The types of insurance most affected by mental health claims are Total and Permanent Disability and Income Protection. 20% of all IP claims are due to mental health issues or suicide, while the figure was 15% for TPD.

According to Financial Mindfulness Founder and CEO, Andrew Fleming: “The trend of mental health insurance claims lead us to believe that this is the number one issue facing the life insurance industry.

What is the major reason behind mental health claims? Financial stress.

“Financial stress is having a major impact on Australians mental health.

Recently we announced our results from a detailed survey on Financial stress which highlighted the severity of the problem.”

More than one in three Australian’s surveyed (38%) worried about money “all the time”.

Those who identified as being financially stressed, said anxiety (66%), depression (64%) and social isolation (55%) were the consequences of financial stress.

Financial stress devastating Australians

Financial stress devastating Australians

Financial stress devastating Australians, close to 1 in 3 Australians suffer from significant financial stress, which has for the first time been comprehensively examined in new research by CoreData.

The results show financial stress leads to anti-social behaviour, relationship conflict and breakdown, isolation, sleep loss and symptoms of depression.

Most of us are aware of financial stress; the phrase appears daily in media coverage of money issues. But how money worries diminish Australians’ quality of life hasn’t been fully understood – until now.

But how money worries diminish Australians’ quality of life hasn’t been fully understood – until now.

Australian start-up Financial Mindfulness commissioned global research firm CoreData in July 2017 to question 1000 Australians about what financial stress does to their relationships and their physical and physical and mental health.

CoreData dug deeper into the issue than anyone ever has in Australia, creating the first ever personal Financial Stress Index, based on responses to 17 questions.

The results show nearly one in three people (30.4%) are suffering from significant financial stress and they are struggling compared to those who are not financially-stressed. Women were more likely to be more financially-stressed than men (33.4% v 27.6%).

Dr Nicola Gates, chief scientific advisor for Financial Mindfulness, said significant financial stress was “a lot more common than I had believed”.
“Worse 80% of them report severe discomfort – psychological and physical discomfort as a result,” Dr Gates said. “Financial stress is an issue that needs to be talked about in order to reduce stigma and shame, and to bring about intervention.”

35 cent of respondents suffering financial stress admitted using drugs or alcohol to manage negative feelings associated with personal finances during the past month. That level of abuse was a remarkable 18 times higher than people not under financial stress.

More than 66 per cent of those suffering financial stress said money worries directly led to feelings of fear, anxiety and/or depression – three times higher than people unaffected by financial stress. “Financial stress, like other stress, is a significant threat to our mental health and can lead to mental illness,” Dr Gates said. “For example, financial stress can cause a person to feel shame and develop a sense of failure which may lead them to become depressed.”

One of the most surprising findings was that financial stress is felt broadly, and not only experienced in low-income households. Respondents on salaries of up to $150,000 a year with investments of up to $750,000 were only marginally less financially-stressed than those who earned up to $90,000 with investments of up to $350,000.The findings also showed that financially-stressed Australians reported:

  • Their physical health was affected nearly six times as much as those not financially stressed (60.8% v 10.5%).
  • Arguing about money with family/partner nearly four times as much (75.8% v 21.4%).
  • Feeling at least considerably irritable / having angry outbursts over their money twenty times more (52.2% v 2.6%).
  • Having problems sleeping at eight times the rate of those not financially stressed (71.3% v 8.7%).
  • More than a third (35.2%) used alcohol or drugs to deal with financial stress.
  • 52.4% have trouble concentrating (vs. 3.3%), 16 times higher.
  • 37.8% have been hurtful towards themselves or others, 17 times higher.
  • Nearly nine out of 10 (88.0%) avoid social functions reasonably often, four times higher.
  • Worrying about money “most of the time”, at six times the rate of those not stressed (71.0% v 11.7%)

The results of this press release appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Standard.

Financial stress devastating Australians
Marion Russell from North Narrabeen, Sydney

Financial stress is widespread for Australians

The Sydnety Morning Herald

Financial stress is widespread for Australians.

Financial Mindfulness released its latest Financial Stress Survey and the results showed just how much damage financial stress is causing. The Sydney Morning Herald covered the story.

Nearly one in three Australians is feeling financially stressed, with damaging effects on mental and physical health and social relationships.

The CoreData/Financial Mindfulness Financial Stress Survey of 1000 people found 30 per cent of people reported financial stress, and the problem affects all socio-economic groups.

Marian Russell, from North Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches, knows the feeling well.

Her husband, Zac, 28, works long hours as a carpenter while Ms Russell, 24, looks after the couple’s two children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1.

Marian Russell with her two children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, at Warriewood beach. Credit: Daniel Munoz

The family lives pay cheque to pay cheque and struggles to pay off a debt they acquired when they bought a vehicle for Zac’s work.

“This week we literally had $30 after all the bills were paid. It’s sad but we’ve got to be thankful we’ve got food in the cupboard,” Ms Russell said.

“It’s taking its toll, not just on our relationship but emotionally, on myself. I have anxiety and depression and it doesn’t help not having my husband around because he has to work six days a week to keep food on the table. It’s a lot of pressure for a young mum.”

Ms Russell said her husband found it hard to switch off from work and the couple rarely get to go out together. Her husband’s family live nearby but are away until the end of the year, so free babysitting is off the cards for now. They got married in the registry office because money was too tight for a wedding and Ms Russell has shelved her plans for study.

Marian Russell had to take her children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, out of swimming lessons because of money worries.

Marian Russell had to take her children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, out of swimming lessons because of money worries. Credit: Daniel Munoz

Her biggest fear is not providing for her children. She cancelled their swimming lessons because it cost too much, a decision that weighs heavily given the family live so close to the beach.

Ms Russell said she would like to contribute financially but if she went back to her former work in retail, the cost of childcare would leave the family only $10 a day better off. “I would love to work but it’s not worth it,” she said.

Instead she sells her art online, under the name LunaTribeDesign on Instagram and Facebook, providing some “pocket money” and a much-needed emotional boost.

Ms Russell said they were lucky to live in a good rental property but she doubts they will be able to get ahead while living in Sydney.

The financial stress survey found money worries were widespread across all socio-economic groups. Clinical psychologist Dr Nicola Gates, who was involved in the study, said people on high incomes reported financial stress as well.

“It can be over-commitment but also things can change profoundly for people,” Dr Gates said.

“A client in my practice had a recreational sport accident … he came off his jet ski and hadn’t set himself up well with insurance, so the family lost the major breadwinner just like that. So where do the school fees come from? How does the mortgage get paid? People’s financial position can be more precarious than they realise.”

Dr Gates was aware financial stress was a problem for her clients but was surprised the survey suggested it was so high in the general population.

Potential reasons include the high cost of housing, lack of wages growth, perceptions of job insecurity and the fact financial literacy has not kept up with the complexity of the financial system.

Financial stress is very prevalent and there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment around financial stress and as a result people don’t really talk about it,” Dr Gates said. “Shame is a particularly acute risk for mental illness.”

The psychological burden of stress has a physical effect on the body, with lack of sleep and lowered immunity. And people often cope with financial stress in ways that can damage their health and relationships.

Thirty-five per cent of financially stressed respondents have used drugs or alcohol to manage negative feelings stemming from their money worries, while 38 per cent have been hurtful towards themselves or others.

Almost nine in 10 financially stressed respondents regularly miss social events because of money worries, compared with only one in five of those not financially stressed.

More than seven out of 10 people who are financially stressed regularly lose sleep because of money issues, compared with less than one in 10 of those who are not financially stressed.

And more than half of financially stressed respondents report considerable difficulty concentrating due to money worries, compared with only 3 per cent of those who are not financially stressed.

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Updated September 4, 2017 — 11.29am first published at 12.15am in the Sydney Morning Hearld

Financial stress: 9 out of 10 suffering

Using mindfulness

Financial stress: 9 out of 10 suffering.

We asked you, our Financial Mindfulness Facebook family – across Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom – to take part in a survey about financial stress in your life. The results are in.

Financial stress, which comes with a strong set of beliefs, is a huge factor in your lives. Monthly bills – such as credit cards and other regular payments – disorganisation, income and unexpected expenses are the major causes of your financial stress.

Constantly stressed about money

One of the most striking findings of our July 2017 survey was that an extraordinary 94 per cent of respondents experienced financial stress – defined as “feeling discomfort and/or worry about making financial decisions” – at least “fairly often”.

A surprising 35 per cent experienced this kind of financial stress “all the time”, while just over a quarter were affected “very often”.

We also asked you a series of questions that haven’t been widely posed to the public before about financial stress. Your answers showed the seriousness of people’s struggles around money.

Why does financial stress hurt our concentration?

Because other studies have showed that financial stress can cause issues with concentration in our daily lives, we asked exactly what about your financial worries affects your concentration.

“I can’t stop thinking about debt and [my] financial struggle,” was a typical response we received to one of the questions we posed. “Thinking several things at once and always having the uncertainties and insecurities present in [my] mind. Focus is clouded with fear,” said another woman.

Similarly, this: “I cannot concentrate since money is always on my mind. Worrying about how to pay all the bills and keep the kids fed make it difficult to focus.”

Another wrote of the damage that a lack of knowledge was having for her and her partner: “Just being disorganized, my boyfriend and I have no control over our finances and we do not know where to start. We are trying to [get help] but we’re still not dedicated to [the] advice.”

Why do we deliberately avoid thinking about the problem?

We know financial stress comes with self-defeating beliefs. Our survey showed the fears behind these beliefs.

“If I think about it too much I panic,” was a typical response, while another admitted suffering from “head in the sand syndrome”.

Responses to this question revealed some real emotional distress when dealing with money: actually facing their financial problems was “too overwhelming”, “exhausting”, “too embarrassing”, “too stressful”, “I want it to go away”, “seems impossible, “it scares me and hurts”.

That makes a response like the following totally understandable: “I run away from things I don’t know how to handle.” This response seemed a bit more worrying: “It’s good to avoid thinking about it because the more you think about it, you give the problem more energy.”

From so much worry, it’s a short step to this: “It makes me depressed and not want to do anything or see any people.”

We asked about mindfulness too: what do people think it is? Interesting the least popular choice was “meditation”. The most popular was “being more aware”, followed by “making conscious decisions more often.”

How would a life without financial stress look?

We also asked exactly how people would even know if their financial had reduced, a reasonable question given the pervasiveness and complexity of the problem.

Easily the most popular option was “I would not worry about money as often”, which got more than twice the votes that “I would feel calmer making financial decisions” then “I would pay bills and meet my repayments without a problem”.

Way down the list was “I would have more money”, suggesting absence of financial stress is not about wealth.

You want to try to solve financial stress with mindfulness

Happily for us, a huge majority of respondents would try our program – which is a personalised financial stress reduction program, delivered by an app.

An overwhelming 86 per cent said they would trial a free app or web-based platform that combined financial education, mindfulness sessions and goal-setting in an attempt to reduce their financial stress.

Mindfulness practice reduces time off work for anxiety sufferers

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Mindfulness practice reduces time off work for anxiety sufferers.

Working with someone who is extremely anxious isn’t always fun, but it’s worth remembering stress hits everyone, including us. Anxiety disorders are by some measures the most common mental health issues in the western world, even more common than depression.

Previously research has shown sufferers of anxiety – which could be defined as continuous feelings of stress or worry – typically take more sick days at work and use more mental health services than average workers.

But mental health problems are so common they are basically unavoidable in the workplace, affecting at least 45 percent of all Australians in their lifetimes and possibly more, according to charity Sane Australia. Undetected mental health issues can also be triggered by major life events and financial stress events.

Hence the move to expand corporate wellness programs beyond physical health, and embed mental health programs and tools in them. Mindfulness is one such promising tool.

Mindfulness has been shown in many studies to positively affect symptoms of depression, insomnia and anxiety but now there is proof of improvements that could directly benefit employers: rates of absenteeism in anxiety sufferers fell after establishing a meditation practice.

A team of seven researchers, led by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, split a 57 subjects diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder into two groups, with half doing eight weeks of “attention control” training while the others did MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) training.

Those that did the mindfulness cut their time absent from work by nearly two-thirds, while the control group actually increased the amount of time they took off work.

The measurement scrutinised in Hoges’ latest research paper – called Effects of mindfulness meditation on occupational functioning and health care utilization in individuals with anxiety – was “partial days missed” and not full days. Why?

“This may be the most sensitive measure of how anxiety disorders impact work performance, as employees … may come late to work, or leave early depending on their mental state,” her report said.

For those who continued practicing mindfulness in their own time, the reduction in absenteeism continued and there was a similar decrease in visits to mental health professionals.

The report concluded: “Mindfulness meditation training may improve occupational functioning and decrease healthcare utilization in adults with GAD.”

Hoge recently published research from a similar experiment which found a group which had undergone mindfulness training “felt” less stressed and had lower levels of the stress hormone ACTH in their blood than people who did stress management training.

If you need to speak to someone about your anxiety call Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Sane 1800 18 7263.

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Beyond Blue

The staggering costs of personal financial stress at work

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The staggering costs of personal financial stress at work.

For a while we’ve known that financial stress has an impact on our productivity at work. But how much worse financially sick staff fare compared to their financially healthy colleagues will come as a shock.

It’s clear absenteeism and presenteeism is rife amongst employees feeling financially stressed.

American employees under financial stress were nearly five times as likely to be distracted at work as those without money worries (48% v 10%) according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) 2017 Employee Financial Wellness Survey of 1,600 fulltime employees.

Spending hours dealing with personal financial issues during work hours was a very common occurrence, with nearly one in three employees affected in this way. Just under half (49%) of millennials (aged 21 to 35) spent 3 hours or more in work time each week sorting out their money own problems, while the figure was 46% for Generation Xers (36 to 56 years old).

The problem was bigger for staff self-reporting financial stress: they were nearly twice as likely to spend three hours a week sorting out their money issues at work as those not under financial stress.

This group was also more than four times as likely to have trouble keeping up with credit card payments and twice as likely to take a day off work to sort out a personal financial crisis.

Twelve per cent of all employees self-reported “missing work occasionally” because of their personal money woes. The major issues affected by financial stress was health (cited by 28% of respondents) although it wasn’t defined as mental or physical; relationships (23%) and productivity (22%).

Overall, “more than half (53%) of employees report that they are stressed dealing with their financial situation and nearly half (47%) say that their stress level related to financial issues has increased over the last 12 months,” the report found.

These issues are also clearly getting worse for the two generations who dominate the workforce – Generation X and Millennials – and quickly. The report showed all the above issues had gotten worse in 2017 compared with 2016, for example, in 2017 there was a 9% rise on 2016 numbers in Gen Xers self-reporting their productivity was affected at work (23%).

The survey also asked respondents across the three main generational groups at work to define the meaning of “financial wellness”. To do this they were given several options and asked to pick the phrase that most closely matched their idea of “financial wellness.”

The option “not being stressed about my finances” was one of the most-cited definitions, especially by millennials who nominated lack of money stress ahead of “being debt free”.

This arguably means millennials especially saw worrying less as a defining characteristic of wellness, suggesting interventions including mindfulness – moment-by-moment awareness – could have use in improving employee financial wellness.

Each generation rated “not being stressed about my finances” as a bigger contributor to financial wellness than being able to meet day-to-day (or month) living expenses and being able to retire when they were ready.

It’s no wonder millennials felt so much stress financial worries; the report showed a big jump in the percentage of 21-to-35 year olds who carry balances (stay in debt) on their credit cards (a huge 70%, up from 53% in 2016).

Comparative data showed that is nearly a 100% rise from 2013 in Millennials locked into debt on their cards.

The proportion of millennials struggling to meet minimum monthly repayments has also skyrocketed in recent years, up to 39% in 2017 from 23% in 2013.

Sixty-three per cent of Generation Xers carried a credit card balance.

Employees want help with their financial stress

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Employees want help with their financial stress.

Does it strike you as strange that the biggest stressor we face isn’t talked about in plans offered to help with our stress?

In recent years employers have recognised the personal stresses experienced by staff can affect productivity and the bottom line, due partly to the sheer amount of our lives we spend at work and no doubt partly due to increased workloads.

In response, workplace ‘wellness’ programs are everywhere these days, especially in large companies – acknowledging the impact of unhappy staff on the bottom line.

Now there’s evidence from the United States that workplace wellness programs might be missing the mark but not addressing one of the biggest causes of issues in the personal lives of workers – their personal finances.

A new online survey of 511 American employees, done in mid-April by Four Seasons Financial Education, found people wanted financial stress addressed in their corporate wellness plan but 70 per cent of those whose company did offer something said assistance on personal finances was not included.
It’s not just in the US that this mismatch is happening.

Financial wellness is not commonly an element in corporate wellness programs in Australian workplaces either.

Corporate wellness programs have longed focused largely on physical wellbeing, so they offer health checks, fitness classes, nutrition, massage and team bonding. Few look at mental health, although mental health problems are experienced by a huge number of people.

According to the Australian Psychological Society, 26 per cent of Australians report having “moderate to extremely severe depression symptoms”.

Metlife Australia’s 2016 Employee Benefits Trends study showed the top three concerns employees had were related to mental health: work-life balance, depression and anxiety, and stress.

“Only a small proportion of employers recognise work-life balance, depression and stress as important health issues for staff,” the report found.

According to AMP’s Financial Wellness Report, based on interviews with 2000 employees in 2016, 24 per cent of employees feel financial stress. While there is no suggestion personal finance issues create mental health issues for everyone, there is undoubtedly a correlation.

While some new generation wellness programs branch into stress testing, yoga and meditation as a way of combating stress, few acknowledge the importance of improving mental health or drill down to examine the leading causes of stress for workers.

The Australian Psychological Society’s 2015 Stress and wellbeing report, which came from online interviews with 1731 Australians, found : “[Personal] financial issues are rated as the top cause of stress over the five years, while also of concern is the increase in the number of people turning to gambling to manage stress (now one in five).”

Furthermore, the report concluded: “31% of employees say they have taken unexpected time off to deal with a financial issue and 41% admit being distracted at work because of financial worries.” The study surveyed 300 managers and 500 fulltime employees.

One of the report’s four calls to action was “Win minds and hearts by encouraging emotional and financial wellness.”

Mindfulness could complement CBT interventions for depression

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Mindfulness could complement CBT interventions for depression.

Anyone who has been truly depressed understands how vast the difference is between knowing it’s helpful to talk to people and regularly being able to connect with others.

Depression, and its nagging stablemate, anxiety, often render a person so exhausted and full of self-doubt that it feels impossible to escape the prison cell of their own thoughts.

Anhedonia is a common symptom of depression, which is the loss of the ability to experience pleasure – emotional flatlining. A mindfulness practice could hold a key of sorts to that prison and even help sufferers to begin experiencing more fulfilling relationships in their lives.

But such a healthy change might not come about by doing a mindfulness alone, although multiple studies confirm its effectiveness in alleviating the symptoms of depression. The idea here is that mindfulness could complement and even enhance the effectiveness of specific Cognitive Behavioural Therapy interventions for depression.

The positive effect of ‘daily uplifts’

New research done in New York, by Lisa Starr, of the University of Rochester and Rachel Hershenberg, of Stony Brook University and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that positive events in real-life conditions had a greater positive impact on sufferers of depression than in laboratory conditions.

They wrote: “experiencing or even just anticipating uplifting events in daily life was related to feeling less depressed that same day”. The researchers called these “interpersonal uplifts”, such as participating in fun activities with friends or family.

“It’s the social activities—positive, everyday experiences that involve other people—that may be most likely to brighten the mood of those struggling with depression,” Starr wrote on the University’s of Rochester’s website. “The same is true for the expectation of good things to come,” although Starr noted people with depression are actually less likely to anticipate positive experiences. The study included 157 young adults, a third of whom had depression ranging from mild to severe. Sandra Knispel, writing on the University website concluded: “In other words: If you’re feeling seriously blue—make a concerted effort to do something fun with friends.”

Overcome negative thinking with mindfulness

Of course the advice ‘just do something fun with friends’ is easy to say but might feel impossible to do if you are bound by negative thinking, especially about yourself.

This is where mindfulness could help enormously, says Marc Richardson, psychologist for Financial Mindfulness who also works private practice in Sydney.

“Self-recrimination does lead to greater levels of worthlessness which compounds our unwillingness to engage in those interpersonal events which have really clear effects on brightening the mood. It’s hard to access those events when the overwhelming sense is ‘I’m worthless’.

“Mindfulness is about lifting our level of awareness and that improved awareness would give us the ability to notice the negative thoughts which are such a big part of depressive symptomology.

“Mindfulness has the capacity to act as a circuit breaker to rumination on negative thoughts, allowing us to catch those negative generalisations and challenge them, and make us more willing to engage in those activities we know are beneficial.

Richardson explained how that process could also help anxiety sufferers too.
“Depression is closely aligned with anxiety and in both people tend towards living in a future-oriented state rather than a present state. They will typically worry a lot about what might happen next, almost with an impending sense of doom.

“Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and allows us to connect with the here and now rather than identify with our negative projections.”
Richardson believes a mindfulness practice could allow us to make decisions to follow through with, or perhaps even plan, those ‘daily uplifts’, such as meeting with family and friends for healthy fun activities.

“The more people engage in mindfulness, the more self aware they will be. That greater capacity to be present will surely improve our capacity to be in relationships.”

What ‘fun’ activities?

If you are depressed or anxious you might well ask ‘what sort of activities?’ In the end that will come down to you: who do you feel happy around, what do you like doing that lifts your mood naturally? You are best advised to talk to a therapist or loved one, or journal, to work this out. But here are some suggestions:

  • Arranging and having a coffee/tea and a chat with a trusted friend once a week
  • Phoning a family member you have a good relationship with once a week
  • Volunteering somewhere in your local community for 4 hours a week where the work involves helping someone who is likely to be grateful for the company / help
  • Taking the opportunity to chat in a friendly way to someone on public transport, if that opportunity presents itself)

Send yourself a valuable gift: get mindful

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Send yourself a valuable gift: get mindful.

Why do we spend money to feel good now, even if it’s clearly going to have negative consequences later? And why do we seem to make better decisions if they are planned and not impulsive?

The answers are complex, but just so you really get the idea, first imagine yourself under a lot of stress. Maybe you are working and studying, so you’re always flat-out busy, and there’s no end in sight. Or perhaps one of your parents is gravely ill and it’s hard to communicate about this with siblings you don’t get on with.

So you should feel really stressed.

Then without thinking, say which of these following suggestions sounds like a great idea a/ now, or b / in five years time: buying two pairs of the same fancy shoes you like because they are on sale, or selling your car today for $500 less than you could probably get because a buyer is ready with the cash and you want a weekend away.

You probably favour option a/ in most cases, meaning you want the ‘reward’ now.

Why? Because, according to behavioural scientists, “present rewards are weighted more heavily than future ones. Once rewards are very distant in time, they cease to be valuable,” so says

This was the finding of landmark research done in 2002 by Shane Frederick, George Loewenstein and Ted O’Donohue, and published in the Journal of Economic Literature.

Interestingly, when the reward is delayed, we are more prepared to wait to receive a greater reward. Research shows if given the choice between $100 in a year or $120 in 13 months, we will probably wait.

All this suggests if we plan for the future we are likely to make better decisions about money.  But it depends what that future event is, and how far off it is.
If it’s a skiing holiday in the Canadian Rockies, we will probably swing into action. If it’s retirement at age 70 (as the Australian Federal Government proposes from 2035), that feels somewhat less urgent, even though few would argue it’s more important.

In a 2014 report on savings, the Reserve Bank of Australia showed “younger households place more weight on saving for large purchases and emergencies to smooth near-term consumption rather than saving for longer-term (retirement) consumption.”

“Keys to managing decisions like these are to make those far-off outcomes feel closer,” Peter Sokol-Hessner, assistant professor in the department of psychology at University of Denver, told The Huffington Post.

He suggested “to imagine how you’ll feel when you can use those retirement funds, how grateful you’ll be that your younger self sent this gift into the future.”

If that sounds like a fairy story, there is research to back up the idea that we are more careful as ‘our future selves’. A study run by UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2011 found when people visualised themselves as 70 and were asked to imagine what they’d do with a $1000 windfall, they put more than twice as much money towards their retirement as those who were asked to visualise themselves now. They were more likely to choose short-term options like planning an extravagant outing or buying someone a gift.
So where does mindfulness come in?

Let’s be clear: a mindfulness practice, even one focused on money, isn’t going to directly impact your Canadian Rockies ski fund, let alone your retirement savings.

But if undertaken consistently, a mindfulness practice could help change the decisions you currently unconsciously make about spending.
For instance, you may decide to do extra research before selling your car or home, looking more carefully at trends and brainstorming other ways to find ready cash.

It does that by increasing time between your thoughts: that well-worn but accurate metaphor of busy thoughts as clouds against a blue sky that represents an untroubled mind.

“Thoughts are like clouds,” says Financial Mindfulness’s Chief Mindfulness Officer Tomas Jajesnica.

“When you can see more sky and less clouds you start to move out of an immediate, involuntary response state and towards the type of thought where you could think about your ‘future self’.”

A big benefit of a regular practice is a buffer against the power of marketing, he says. Think about the hype involved around the release of the next stage of a sought-after apartment development: it’s in the interests of a real estate agent to get you into a feeding frenzy state with other potential buyers, so the stage sells put, the project can go up and the next stage goes into marketing overdrive.

“But it’s not just effective in dealing with real estate,” Jajesnica says.
“A lot of marketing works on the idea of scarcity and urgency; some saying ‘quick, there’s only 100 in stock’ , or ‘hurry, it’s a brand new order’, or whatever. Marketing works on you by getting you to make a decision right now.

“A mindfulness process will help you to buy things rather than just be sold to.
“It’ll allow you to come from your own space, consider the consequences of your actions and respond by making decisions, rather than be manipulated by marketing.”

Why isn’t mindfulness working for me

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Why isn’t mindfulness working for me.

Mindfulness, in theory, sounds great. The deal seems to be roughly this: if I sit still and listen to my breathing for 10 minutes each day I will be calmer, certainly cooler, possibly richer and definitely an all-round better person.

So how come it’s not working, you might ask, because you probably feel like none of those things after a few days doing mindfulness meditations.

However, that starting point of using mindfulness meditation to find self-improvement is, apparently, backwards.

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are,” the world famous American meditation teacher and author Pema Chodron said.

Chodron was a stressed-out schoolteacher called Deirdre Blomfield-Brown until she was crippled by depression following the end of her second marriage in the 1970s. So how does she, one of the world’s foremost experts do it?

“You just sit down with yourself,” Chodron told Oprah in a 2008 interview.
“It’s a way of being completely open to whatever is happening in your mind, and you realize your mind is wild and crazy and all over the place. The instruction is so simple: Just keep coming back to your breath. Then you say,

“This is almost impossible!”

“It isn’t, but I know how hard it is.”

Initially it will be hard, so like anything, practice makes perfect.
In general terms, if we feel like quitting after a few days we are expecting too much too soon.

“You might call it beginner’s uncomfortability,” says Marc Richardson, psychologist with Financial Mindfulness.

“I tried to learn the guitar literally every time I picked it up I would sweat because I was so uncomfortable. Trying anything new is uncomfortable and to experience full benefits one would need to engage for quite a while.”

Are there strategies, though, for dealing with the specific problems if they persist? Some of the most common include: I’m thinking too much, I can’t do this, I can’t sit still, I don’t have time, it hurts.

Here’s what British mindfulness expert Shamash Alidina wrote about some of these problems in Meditation for Dummies.

I can’t do this:

“When people say this, they normally mean they can’t focus … mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to develop that focus! It’s completely normal for your mind to wander off when you’re meditating.

However, as soon as you’ve noticed, bring your focus back to the object of attention specified in the meditation (often your breath).

Each time you’re training your mind to be more focused in the future. Remember, you can’t fail at meditation. As long as you try, you’ve succeeded.”

I can’t sit still:

“Some meditations require you to be … still for half an hour, but many don’t require this. You [can do a] body scan meditation lying down. And mindful yoga, walking or tai chi is meditation in movement. [A] three-minute mindfulness exercise is a great practice to do daily.”

I don’t have the time:

“If some of the busiest people in the world can find time to stop and meditate, even if it’s only five minutes, you probably can too. You can do mindfulness meditation at any time. You can wash the dishes mindfully, you can walk your dog mindfully or you can even have a mindful shower.

So that takes no time at all out of your busy day.”

What about ‘It hurts’?

Tara Healey and Jonathan Roberts, writing for are clear on this:

“Being in a lot of pain is not a mark of doing it right. It can take some work, though, to find a position (or a few positions) that don’t lead to intense pain … try out different postures and supports … a hugely important lesson of meditation is that even comfort is, well, bound to eventually become uncomfortable.

“For this reason, once you find a suitable posture and support, it’s a good idea to avoid making too many adjustments.”

Getting fully into the meditation itself can help: “People have found that as they relax that inner tension, it often results in less bodily tension.”

As for I’m thinking too much, well that one is addressed by realising practice makes perfect. You accept the thoughts you have without judgement, and gently set them aside. Thoughts are normal and they will come and go, hence the widely-used analogy of allowing thoughts to pass like clouds against a blue sky.

The more you meditate, Chodron told Oprah, “the more you have a lightness about what’s occurring in your life … it’s not about becoming indifferent to life’s experiences; it actually allows you to be much more present with whatever arises.

“You’re fully engaged, but you see it from a different perspective.”
In other words, you will be able to cope much better with what life throws at you.