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.
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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 financially stressed. 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.”

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).

Australian employees want mental health at work taken seriously

Australian employers don’t understand their employees’ major life concerns, according to a study of 500 workers and 300 bosses released in November 2016.

Insurance company Metlife’s  Employee Benefit Trends Study found that Australian bosses dramatically underestimated the importance of staff concerns about mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress and work-life balance while overestimating fears about physical health.

Financial stress played a big part in employees’ worries. A huge 41 per cent of employees admitted being distracted at work because of financial worries, while 31 per cent admitted having taken time off work to deal with “a financial issue”.

“This highlights a need for employers to step in with professional support and education to help boost their staff’s financial literacy, giving them peace of mind about their future security,” the report concluded.

The top five financial worries for staff were: job security, and not having enough money to live comfortably in retirement (both 55 per cent); having more time with my family, and financial security for my family if I’m not able to work (both 53 per cent); being able to cover medical expenses from a major illness (52 per cent).

Employers were asked what they believed their employees’ major health fears were and 88 per cent thought medical problems would top the list, with emotional problems identified by 69 per cent of employers.

Only six per cent of business managers nominated depression and anxiety as an issue, while 11 per cent identified stress and nine per cent believed work-life balance was a big issue.
Employee’s actual health concerns were the other way around however: 84 per cent mentioned emotional wellbeing, and 70 per cent named medical issues.

Depression, anxiety and stress were much bigger issues for employees than managers realised: 38 per cent of staff mentioned work/life balance, nearly a third (32 per cent) said depression and anxiety were major concerns and 29 per cent nominated stress.

The study conclusions included the claim employers could “win hearts and minds by encouraging emotional and financial wellness”. Employers could “enhance employees’ ability to take control of their financial wellness by offering professional support and education”.

Metlife’s research also found employees were prepared to split the cost of customised benefits programs, including: medical or health insurance, flexible work arrangements, income protection, employee awards and incentives, and health and wellness programs.

Single Women Leading Men in US Home Ownership

The latest research into women’s struggles with money, Mary Pilon of US business website Bloomberg notes, can make for dreary news.

“Women earn less than their male counterparts, pay harsher workplace penalties for pursuing parenthood, struggle more with debt, and save less for retirement,” Pilon wrote of the situation in the United States, although she could easily have been writing about Australia.

Crucially, women also lose years from their careers by raising children, they do mountains of unpaid (and often unappreciated) domestic work and to top it all off – when facing financial strain – often give birth to under-weight babies.

Many also still face nagging historical stereotypes that women can’t manage money – despite evidence showing women shoulder more financial decision-making and responsibility in families, marriages and relationships than ever before. Sound like a recipe for financial stress?

Forget ‘dreary’ – the news about women and money can be downright depressing.

But according to new research from the National Association of Realtors, single women in the US are leaving single men in the dust for home ownership compared to single men.

The NAR says 17 per cent of American homebuyers are single women compared to single men, who make up just 7 per cent of the market.

Pilon spoke to “30-something” Michelle Jackson who bought a one bedroom apartment in Denver in 2007 which she plans to renovate and is even considering buying a second property.

“I’m so happy,” Jackson said. “It’s completely changed how I feel connected to the place where I’m living. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Jackson’s motivation could easily echo the story of many Australian women: “I wanted to have my own place,” she said.

“A lot of people in my circle of friends were women purchasing their homes when they got married, but I still felt like I wanted to build my own wealth and buy.

“If and when I met someone, it’s something that just added to what I bring to the relationship. It didn’t make sense to wait.”

In Australia single men still lead single women when it comes to applications for mortgage finance, according to Aussie Home Loan data reported by domain.com.au in 2016, but the gap is closing. Aussie Home Loans data said 12.34 of mortgage applicants were single men and 11.22 were single women.

Swinburne University social researcher Andrea Sharam said historical discrimination against Australian women in the loan approval process was shifting.

“It’s appalling to suggest women are more financially illiterate than men,” Sharam told domain.com.au.

“I think younger women in particularly are now thinking about housing as something they do as a part of their life plan … it doesn’t matter if they get a partner or not.”