The 10 biggest barriers to peace of mind in 2021

Call it what you will, peace of mind, inner peace, sanity, contentment, serenity – that feeling of freedom from when your brain just won’t shut up and in bad moments you feel only marginally less negative about the world and others than you do about yourself.

In a world full of fear about the pandemic, your job, financial stress, the planet, walking home late at night, whether your kids are safe, the next interest rate rise or maybe that secret we pray never sees the light of day, most of would rather spend time with a sustained, quiet satisfaction than on a speedboat with champagne and celebrities.

It’s a different feeling from ‘happiness’ – though most of want that too.

Happiness is great but in truth it is usually a passing state, although certainly one to be grateful for. Nobody is happy all the time and if they claim to be, well, good luck to them. Contentment or peace of mind is true freedom. So how do we break the chains that hold us back from freedom of the mind in 2021? Here are some ideas.

Worrying excessively about Covid

By this we don’t mean to say it’s not a real thing, actually, quite the opposite. When we accept the evidence of reliable and dour scientists and public health experts and just do what they suggest, the surprising effect is we have less to worry about. That’s because we are not fighting it anymore – and fighting is very often based in worry and fear. We suggest keeping yourself, your family and your workplaces as Covid-safe as reasonably possible, doing what is asked by authorities – and outside of that, concentrate on living your life. Make your time count for and with those that matter.

Too much screen time

If scrolling through Facebook a few times each day, or news websites, makes you feel connected, or if you have Netflix and just wanna chill, good for you, do it. But if you do it again, and again (and again), sorry to break it to you, but you are not living a healthy life. Period. And as for social media being sociable? Give me a break, Facebook is about as ‘social’ as a phone plan “cap” that somehow makes you spend more. When used for a specific task, with time limits, social media can be fun and creative but used unconsciously and habitually it is empty, pretend connection. Hit the X on that tab and go get some real face-time with friends, or write someone a letter. If they are across oceans, ring them up to talk and if you can, start saving to go see them.

Putting up with financial stress

No, we are not about to suggest some wealth maximisation (aka get-rich quick) scheme. We are suggesting that continuing to live with worries about money is going to make you sick and/or keep you that way. Financial stress is the biggest stressor for people in the United States and Australia, and as yet, employers aren’t doing much about that – although that is sure to change as corporate wellbeing programs catch up. In the meantime, do something about your low financial literacy, learn how to keep and stick to a budget, learn how to be mindful with money. Do something about your fears over money. Be grateful for what you already have rather than always wanting more. Try to stop spending money you don’t actually have yet with too-easy tools like Afterpay or ‘pay-on-demand’. If you really need more money, then take some action: study, look for a different job and if you have the time maybe do some more work in the evenings or at weekends.

Comparing yourself to others

When did this very human trait ever work out really well? Everybody has a bad day and sometimes everyone just looks fitter, richer, like they have more friends or are just more ‘together’. They might be, but they may have very serious problems you cannot see on the surface. You might see someone worse off and feel grateful, but deep down you may also feel a bit empty from witnessing someone else’s suffering. And why were you comparing in the first place? Perhaps from a lingering sense ‘is this all there is’? Stop distracting yourself from your own life and try practicing gratitude every day. It’s not hard it just takes commitment. Write a gratitude list. World famous monk David Steindl-Rast suggests we can only be happy when we are grateful and we can do this by reflecting on the valuable things in life that we have been given – not things we paid for or earned. Watch his wonderful TED Talk on gratitude here.

Caring too much about others

Kindness is a really nice quality at face value, we need more of it in the world. But if you secretly wish you didn’t have to do so much for others, or expect something in return for your good deeds you may be just be avoiding the difficult reality of your life and even co-dependent. Co-dependence is a word similar to the phrase ‘Global Warming’, in that it sounds much friendlier than what it actually is. Global warming is really dangerous climate instability, which is a bit more than feeling cosy in winter. Co-dependence is adjusting your behaviours to please others, no matter the cost to your wellbeing. People who think co-dependence is healthy are usually thinking of interdependence. “The healthiest way we can interact with those close to us,” according to Barton Goldsmith of Psychology Today, “is by being truly interdependent. This is where two people, both strong individuals, are involved with each other but without sacrificing themselves or compromising their values.”

Being busy, staying busy

If you need something done, as the saying goes, ask a busy person. While you’re at it, give them a gold star but whatever you do, just don’t ask them how their mental health is. If you are busy all the time, what is all that white noise doing inside your head? Do you feel calm, at peace? Never forget you are a human being not a human doing. Busy-ness can feed anxiety, that nagging chatter in your brain that undermines your self-esteem. You need to stop, at least once a day, take stock, and rest with your own thoughts. Try mindfulness meditation as a way of learning to still the mind and accept your thoughts without judgement. From that you may learn it’s ok to be still and that you are still valuable – perhaps even more valuable – if you don’t do quite so much. You’ll probably be easier to be around too.

Staying in a job where you don’t want to excel

Maybe it’s because you aren’t respected, the boss just cut staff numbers, or froze wages again but parks his new sports car in the basement. Maybe you are doing law or medicine or IT because you think it makes your parents happy. Whatever the reason, you feel resentful at work but you stay anyway, usually because you think financially you are trapped, or that a career change would disrupt your life too much. But getting stuck in a job you hate is a slow death of the soul, one that invariably impacts on your mood and can lead to acting out with (or internalising) anger or with impulse spending or even addiction. Plus you just may be holding yourself back from a bright new chapter in your life. How will you ever know if you don’t try? At least allow yourself to dream or brainstorm what might make you a happier person.

Treat your grudge like a tiny kitten

Who isn’t angry deep down about someone who harmed them in some way? Not everyone, sure, but a lot of people. If you get into a pattern of almost protecting that grudge every day, even nurturing it, guess what – it’s going to grow. After a while you’ve held it so close that you begin showing it off, like an 8 year old with new roller skates. A resentment is not a pet, it’s a poison. Ever heard the saying ‘holding a resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to get sick?’ It kinda is. Take action to deal with your resentment, work out your part in it, talk to them with a will to build bridges. And remember honesty without compassion is cruelty, or at least an invitation to an argument.

Doing nothing if you know you have a problem

You know what I’m talking about. That anger you hold, your unprocessed grief, your money problems (whether spending too much, ‘under-earning’ or just ignoring finances), your pattern of bad relationships, your secret addiction or unhealthy behaviour. In recent years , Prince Harry has come out about the effect hiding his sadness about the effect of Princess Diana. “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” London’s Telegraph reported Harry as saying. Nobody is perfect or strong enough to deal with life’s train wrecks on their own. Pretending to be fine is going to stop working at some point, perhaps disastrously. But then what? Don’t waste any more time, start right away. There are different price points for counselling and support groups for all kinds of life issues from eating disorders to post-traumatic stress. No matter what you think of yourself deep down, you deserve help. Imagine someone saying you didn’t deserve help – how would you react? So step outside your own head and go help that person – you.

Accepting reality

We touched on it above a few times: ignoring and resisting problems actually causes more grief and suffering than facing them. That’s easy to say when it’s not us having that excruciating conversation, such as asking your lender for a hardship variation on your mortgage, or laying out the facts to the boss who doesn’t like you why you really do deserve a raise, or admitting to your partner that you haven’t been entirely honest. Yes, uncomfortable conversations are difficult and painful. Especially when they are with ourselves. That might include actually following through to construct a budget and seeing the source of your financial problems. But after the conversation is over, you have the beginnings of new, much healthier behaviours and habits. Yes, you have to follow through and things might get harder before they get easier, but you no longer be need to be burdened the solvable problems. You just need to get moving and do something, beginning with the smallest of steps. The most important of those is to get real. Pretending that truly unsustainable situations – whether emotionally, financially, mentally or physically are fine and don’t need to change will just cause you unnecessary pain and drama. Being real can sometimes hurt a bit, but as a way of thinking and understanding the world it’s both a relief and an effective change to make.

If you are experiencing distress in your life and live in Australia call: Lifeline 131114, Mensline 1300789978 or Beyond Blue 1300224636; regarding debt problems, the National Debt Helpline may be of use on 180 0007 007 , or go here for a list of hotline numbers relating to different crises.

Six great New Year’s Resolutions to improve your finances in 2021

These days we know there is a correlation between our financial wellbeing and our general wellbeing. We know that toxic levels of financial stress impacts us in many different ways, it affects our relationships, our self-esteem, our social life, our productivity at work, even our physical health.

That’s why it’s appropriate to set New Year’s Resolutions for our finances — and also our related behaviours.

There’s every chance 2021 will be another tough year with COVID still a major problem, with businesses under pressure, unemployment a big worry and a wide range of ongoing social impacts. Uncertainty and fear only add to the unavoidable problems presented by the pandemic: we still need to have positive goals and intentions for 2021, then deal with what happens as it happens.

Here are some suggestions to help you kick off 2021 in a positive way.

BECOME SELF-AWARE OF YOUR FINANCIAL POSITION

A great way to break through the murkiness of money problems is to answer some simple no-nonsense questions. Even if it’s a little scary, you should be clearer afterwards and probably more motivated too.

  1. Are your savings going up or down? What direction are your finances are headed in?
  2. Have you had trouble paying basic bills and/or making normal repayments?
  3. What are your financial goals?
  4. Do you fully understand your finances?
  5. Are you ok with being in the same position financially a year from now? Five years from now?
  6. Do you ever feel distracted because of your finances, including during work hours?
  7. How often do you spend money on things you don’t need and/or aren’t healthy for you? When did I last do this? How many times in the past month has this happened?
  8. Are you financially healthy but feel stressed and/or down about it anyway? Why is that?
  9. Do you ever experience conflict or feel anger because of your finances?
  10. What steps are you taking to address your financial issues? If none, what is holding you back?

Spend at least 30 minutes on this and try to share the answers with someone you trust, and also put your answers into a journal so you can refer to them later.

TRACK YOUR SPENDING

“Spend less, save more” is on just about everyone’s list of New Year’s Resolutions, ever year. It’s a great goal, but a more specific objective that will help you work towards that goal is to carefully track all your spending – on a daily basis. Use an app, or write it down on paper – whichever suits you best.

Do it for a week, then a month. Clear patterns will emerge which will help you to keep a realistic budget. Keep doing it – this is one of the best habits anyone who feels financial stress can build.

REDUCE THE NOISE

There are just too many distractions in the world today. To have any hope of living more mindfully, and sustaining financial resilience and overall wellbeing, we need to reduce the white noise in life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Reduce your social media use. Cut back and make the time you spend on social media more meaningful. For example, congratulate friends on life events and achievements instead of getting dragged into debates. Post pictures and stories of something you are proud of. If you really struggle with social media, turn off notifications and set digital wellbeing timers.
  • Be wary of online news. There’s an old saying that still holds true in the news business: if it bleeds, it leads. News organisations have a vested interest in bad news and scandals and that cannot be good for anyone’s state of mind. Be aware of that before you click: news sites count on a natural human curiosity to witness dramatic events.
  • Plan your distractions. It’s ok to switch off and escape mentally for a while, in fact it’s essential with the pressures in life. Plan ahead for how to ‘escape’ and make an agreement with yourself to eliminate or minimise unhealthy behaviours and stick to your limits. For example, watching a movie or two episodes of your favourite Netflix show is very different from bingeing until 2am. Try one glass of wine on a Friday instead of two each night. Listen to a podcast on a walk instead of snacking.
  • Monitor and reduce screen use. Are you seeing far more human faces on screens than in person? Does your screen use feel compulsive? Do you wish you could turn something off but can’t seem to? Do you have blurred vision, neck pain, headaches, irritability and trouble sleeping? These are all signs of excessive screen time.
  • Don’t reply to everyone. It was true of email 10 years ago and it’s true of all forms of digital communication today. We are not saying ignore people in need, but answer what you have to. You can’t always please everyone.
  • Aim for 5 minutes of complete silence each day. No screens, no music, no audio at all, no talking. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned idea but just try: it’s powerful. In that 5 minutes notice how your body feels.

UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU CANNOT CHANGE

Resisting or trying to control things that are not in our direct control is the cause of a lot of human misery. What does this have to do with financial resilience? A lot of people spend money to change the way they – or someone else – feels.

Understanding what you can’t change takes practice. Give this a try: can you actually change the fact that COVID is still in play and affecting your suburb and your company? Of course not.

Here are some other things you also cannot directly change:

  • Other people’s opinions and decisions;
  • Other people’s behaviours, including their flaws, habits and problems;
  • Final decisions and rulings made by companies, and governments;
  • The job market;
  • The housing or rental market;
  • The cost of buying anything;
  • Money that has already been spent; and
  • Debts that have been fairly accrued.

What do you think you have been trying to change that is actually beyond your direct control?

Here’s a list of things that we can change (even if it is difficult to do so):

  • Our own decisions and opinions;
  • Our own behaviours and how we react (including good and bad habits);
  • How we spend our time;
  • Our loneliness, including any tendency to repeat our mistakes (we can ask for help);
  • What we spend our money on;
  • Our level of savings and the direction of our finances;
  • Our financial literacy;
  • Debts that have been unfairly/illegally accrued

TAKE HAVING FUN MORE SERIOUSLY

True, it seems counter-intuitive to be “serious” about fun. What we really mean is to make having fun a priority. There is some science that shows how important fun is:

  • It improves relationships;
  • It relaxes and makes us more confident;
  • It is good for our health – reducing potentially harmful hormones like cortisol and noradrenalin and improving our immune system response;
  • Fun invariably leads to laughter, which also has a host of positive physiological affects including raising mood;
  • It improves satisfaction levels at home and in the workplace.

So how do we have more fun? Try thinking of fun as “play”.

Play isn’t just important for children, though it’s often best with children. Play with your kids, get down on the ground with them – inside or outside. In their fort, in the dirt. It’s good for everyone involved.

If you don’t have kids, play with your dog. If you don’t have a dog, sing bad 80s music at the top of your lungs, jump in the ocean regularly, rediscover things you loved doing as a teenager. Push yourself out of your comfort zone a little, perhaps with dancing, or taking up a craft or hobby that sounds enjoyable to you.

Gentle exercise, especially when shared with others, is often good fun. It doesn’t have to be competitive – that’s a personal decision: some people find competition fun, some don’t. Go with your gut.

Whatever you do for fun, make it regular – at least once a week.

MAKE SELF-CARE A DAILY HABIT

Self-care is being written about here, there and everywhere for a reason: it’s not just a cliché or a passing fad. It’s a very broad term to cover the actions that keep your mind and body healthy. Here are 12 suggestions for valuable self-care that anyone can do:

  1. Face up to basic responsibilities, like booking doctors and dentist appointments;
  2. Keep your receipts for tax time. Your self-esteem will grow, and you will feel more in control;
  3. Exercise at least 3 times a week, even if you can’t face high-intensity activity. Just go for long walks;
  4. Don’t eat mindlessly, think about your food. Avoid huge servings, especially late at night. Eat more vegetables than processed foods. Sugary snacks and drinks are not your friends! They are bad for your teeth and lead to weight gain;
  5. Go to bed on time and at the same time each night. 7-8 hours’ sleep is about right, less or more might affect your health;
  6. Do a quick mindfulness exercise each day. Guided meditations are easiest and often free on YouTube or apps;
  7. Get out of your own head by helping others.
  8. Always have something to look forward to a holiday, a dinner, a movie, a concert, especially something that ‘makes the heart sing’;
  9. Find a community you identify with – separate from work and family – and connect with them at least once a week.
  10. Reach out to trusted friends when you feel lonely. It’s never a burden to hear from a friend expressing their vulnerability, it actually builds trust.
  11. Set aside an hour each week for honest self-reflection: look at your progress with your finances and on your goals, assess your self-care and bad habits, estimate your screen time. Are you having enough fun? Or too much? Are you wrestling with things you can’t change? Record these facts, thoughts and feelings in the same place each week.
  12. Don’t forget to be positive, grateful and kind to yourself!

SET GOALS FOR 2021

Just setting a few modest goals can have positive impacts on our mental wellbeing, as well as the more obvious benefits that come from even partially achieving them.

It’s important to not overwhelm your list with a ‘to-do’ list aimed at transforming every area of your life. That is a recipe for beating yourself up. But you should put some thought and some detail into the few that you do come up with.

The SMART acronym – Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Action-oriented), Realistic (or Relevant) and Timely – is a popular, effective and useful tool for goal setting.

Here are some steps for goal setting:

  1. Reflect on what you have learnt from 2020;
  2. Reflect on what worked well for you in 2020;
  3. Try to remember what your goals were this time last year – are they still relevant?;
  4. Think about what story you’d love to tell about your life at the end of 2021;
  5. Brainstorm 6-10 ideas for goals, some hard, some easy;
  6. Trim that list back to 3-4 that feel right and/or really important (don’t pick the 3-4 most difficult!);
  7. Apply the SMART acronym to each; and
  8. For long-term goals, make sure you break them down into smaller goals, e.g. “To save $20,000 and invest” can’t be achieved quickly for someone on an average income. For most people it would only be possible with a series of smaller goals, such as:
    1. Calculate how much you need to save each week to reach your savings goal;
    2. Make a realistic budget of all your expenses;
    3. Work out how much income you need each week to reach the savings goal;
    4. Adjust the savings target if necessary;
    5. Evaluate your progress after 1 week, 3 and 6 weeks. Make necessary adjustments; and
    6. Seek help and advice on investment options.

Some general tips on goal-setting:

  • Goals work best when they are clear and specific;
  • Having several highly ambitious goals is probably not realistic;
  • Having at least one challenging goal has positives and negatives, but produce better overall results than having only modest goals;
  • Goals need to be reviewed regularly and adjusted accordingly; and
  • When you evaluate your progress and find you are on track, give yourself a modest reward, but not one that undermines your efforts so far.

Financial mindfulness

The term mindfulness is used a lot in relation to meditation and psychological therapies to describe being aware and paying attention. But what is financial mindfulness?

Financial mindfulness is simply described as having awareness and paying attention to your finances and financial behaviours. It means more than being money smart or financially savvy, as it includes the capacity to regulate emotional responses that can lead to unhelpful financial behaviour and financial stress.

It not necessarily about having a good financial position or good financial health, but an active process of being aware of and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and financial behaviours in a way that is helpful.

Financial mindfulness is related to the term financial wellbeing, which is broadly defined as “satisfaction with your financial situation”. Financial mindfulness does include financial wellbeing, but also includes financial stress, their symptoms and behaviours.

Financial mindfulness is a practice that can lead you to financial wellness.  Wellness refers to the mindset formed from the way a person evaluates their finances and how it makes them feel. Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to your finances and taking appropriate positive action so that you can achieve financial wellness.

To summarise, Financial mindfulness, is an active process of paying attention to your finances, financial behaviours, attitudes and beliefs around finances. It is keeping awareness of your thoughts, feelings, actions and financial environment in mind so that you can make better financial choices.

Financial mindfulness helps you to focus on what you need to do, empowers you to make sound decisions, and ultimately invest in your financial wellbeing. Click on the link below today and download our free app to learn more about financial mindfulness and how it can assist you in increasing your financial wellbeing.

 

  

Financial stress is widespread

Money worries are common. They existed before COVID-19 and now with changes in our employment and society, financial stress has become more widespread.

The Australian Psychological Society reports that financial stress is one of the major causes of stress in adults, and recently published research on the Financial Stress Index (FSI) from Financial Mindfulness, indicates an escalation of financial stress symptoms due to COVID-19 including negative impacts on relationships.

Financial stress is personal and impacts all areas of our lives. It is something we experience regarding our financial situation today or our financial future. It also involves our thoughts about money and finances and what we do in terms of spending and saving, and how we manage our finances.  Financial stress can arise during short term specific financial demands such as change in employment, or from a chronic and long-term financial concern, such as increasing debt with interest repayments or difficulty repaying a home mortgage.

The problem with financial stress is that it does not just impact our finances, it can have a significant effect on our wellbeing including our physical and mental health along with our relationships, work, behaviour and potentially our environment.

Some signs that financial stress is affecting your health, work and relationships include arguing with the people closest to you about money, becoming aggressive to others,  difficulty sleeping, feeling downhearted, overwhelmed, angry or fearful, mood swings, tiredness, loss of appetite, and withdrawing from others.

While these reactions affect your overall wellbeing, if they continue for a prolonged period of time, they could turn into serious health issues.  The important thing is to seek appropriate help.

People from all walks of life may experience problems with their finances at some stage in their lives. It is not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed about, especially as those feelings can stop people from getting the assistance they need.

Financial mindfulness means being aware and paying attention to your finances, and that may mean seeking help. The help required will vary from individuals. It may be practical financial support, or learning budgeting skills, or seeking assistance to manage the stress of money worries.

The first step to being financially aware is to determine how stressed you are by your finances. Our unique Financial Stress Index (FSI) designed by a team of Neuropsychologists and financial experts works out your financial stress levels and potential symptoms. You can start this process by downloading our app and completely your FSI.

 

  

Money doesn’t make you happy… but bad debt makes you sick

Instinctively we know having lots of money doesn’t make us happy; you only have to look at the permanent scowls on the faces of any number of banking moguls or major CEOs.

Research backs up the motherhood statements too. Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, of Princeton University found, essentially, that after an income of US$75,000, earning more money does not increase happiness.

In 2010, the pair studied the survey responses of 450,000 Americans and found that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness”, aka emotional wellbeing.

It seems equally obvious that people with lots of debt are not happy, but the extent to which this is true is shocking.

In 2016, Australian investment advice company Acorns Grow Australia surveyed 1000 people and found 70 per cent suffered depression and anxiety because of their money worries, while 76 per cent had trouble sleeping for the same reason. More than half assigned physical health problems to financial stress.

In 2013, University of Southampton researchers Thomas Richardson, Ronald Roberts and Peter Elliott found unmistakable links between severe unsecured debts (such as credit card debt, student and personal loans) and poor health, especially mental health, by reviewing 65 previous studies.

Those with unsecured debts were 3.24 times more likely to suffer “mental disorders” than those without unsecured debt and 2.77 times as likely to have depression. They were 2.68 times more likely to be problem drinkers but a scary 8.57 times as likely to be dependent on drugs. Sadly, people with debt are 7.9 times more likely to take their own lives.

Back to the Acorns survey results, a third of Australians aged between 25 and 44 had “abused” alcohol because of financial stress, while 20 per cent coped with money worries by using illegal drugs. It did not say how many turned to prescription drugs to manage.

“The majority of studies found that more severe debt is related to worse health,” the Southhampton university team found. Their research was published in the Clinical Psychology Review.

Australia has a world-leading level of personal debt, although most of it (92.8 per cent, according to finder.com.au) is related to wealth creation or an asset, such as a home loan. The average household owes A$250,000 (including around A$20,500 of bad debt). While in the US bad debt accounts for an alarming 26.3 per cent of household debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Citizens of both nations – and people throughout the so-called ‘first-world’ – cite money worries as at or near the very top stressors in their lives.
The Southampton university study didn’t go into which came first – poor mental health or money problems. But the links are clear and so is the message: heavy financial stress will either make you sick, or keep you that way.

The study also didn’t go into what to do about severe financial stress – but there’s plenty of advice out there. The traditional options include consolidating debt, budgeting and financial planning, or studying or working longer hours to try and land a more lucrative role. The latter approaches can come with their own problems: the stress that results from overwork and social disconnection.
One widely praised and usually inexpensive option is to develop a regular mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness, defined by some as moment-by-moment awareness, helps to still the mind and improve messy and negative thinking. A huge amount of research worldwide has shown mindfulness positively affects a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, memory loss and sleeplessness.

If you need to speak to someone urgently about your mental health and live in the United States, try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or if you live in Australia, phone Lifeline (131144) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636).