Coping strategy for students struggling with cost of living crisis
Trying to make ends meet amid the cost of living crisis is taking its toll on students’ mental health.
There’s no hiding from today's financial pressures – we’re all feeling the pinch which seems to be more of a punch at the moment.
And those seeking to learn beyond school – whether a student in higher or further education or studying for an apprenticeship – are not immune either.
Added to the mix of issues that can face anyone living away from home for the first time, money matters have left many struggling.
"The cost of living crisis is having a major impact on the mental health of students and apprentices,” according to research by the National Union of Students (NUS) published earlier this year.
Surveying 3,417 students and apprentices, the union found 90 percent said that the current cost of living crisis was affecting their mental health, including a third who claimed it was having a major impact.
Respondents were said to be anxious and depressed, unable to sleep and worried about how they would manage to feed themselves and their families.
More recently, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), singled out day-to-day living costs as “the most urgent and pressing issue for students in 2022.”
A report from the NUS, in collaboration with the HEPI, and published off the back of research showing that a third of UK students have £50 or less to live on per month after paying rent and bills, warned: “Students and learners are facing a devastating set of economic circumstances that are impacting their health, their well-being and their ability to study.”
Financial stress can feel all-consuming and isolating but, according to one expert, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.
“When we’re experiencing difficulty, it’s natural to feel alone in our feelings,” said Samantha Snowden, mindfulness meditation teacher at Headspace, the mindfulness and mental health app.
“But the reality is many others are experiencing this challenge too. Take a moment to bring compassion to the situation by acknowledging the real challenges associated with the high cost of living. Notice and name feelings like despair or frustration that may be present. Then, from the voice of a dear friend, offer yourself words of kindness and affirmation like, ‘of course you wish this was different’ or ‘I see how hard this is to accept’.”
Samantha suggests then looking for any opportunities that this challenge presents.
“For example, needing to live with others may help you learn the ins and outs of living communally as you negotiate expectations and learn more about what each of you need and want to live comfortably,” she said. “There’s also an opportunity to learn ways to live more sustainably by hosting clothing exchanges, potlucks and events where you make your own toiletries.
“Lastly, come up with some grounding phrases that provide a sense of reassurance and relief from the stresses that may arise. Some of my favourites include: ‘may I make the best of the situation that’s presented to me’; ‘may I remember that I’m not alone’; ‘may I tap into gratitude for the people and resources that I have in my life.’
“Remember that things are changing all the time. And though this crisis seems everlasting, we can acknowledge that it will shift in some way, at some point.”
Managing studying while faced with newfound freedom and pressures can leave the basics – such as sleep, a healthy diet and exercise – neglected.
“Taking care of yourself with the addition of an increased school workload can feel daunting,” said Samantha. "It’s helpful to reframe your studies to include them in ways that you are taking care of yourself. Clarifying your values and putting up boundaries help you to make wise decisions and live in alignment with what you truly care about.
"Start by taking time to reflect on your values – you can even write a personal mission statement that you read regularly to remind yourself of what matters most to you. Once you know what to prioritise, it’s easier to know what to say ‘no’ to and ‘yes’ to.
"Clarifying your goals will help you to steadily move toward them, minimizing guilt or regret.
“It’s important to remember that adolescents don’t have enough tools and life experience yet to navigate the highs and lows of life. When experiencing intensely difficult emotions for the first time, they may assume that this is how life will be going forward. This can be dangerous as they may begin to believe negative thoughts like ‘nothing matters’ and ‘things will never get better’.
"It’s up to us as adults to get teens the help they need by connecting them with skilled and empathic mental health providers and peer support.”
For information on Headspace, including a course on managing financial stress; content on how to talk about money; and a discounted offer for students, visit: headspace.com.