COVID’s Impact on Financial Stress Lingers for Many

Our Mental Health Tracker Paints a Complicated Picture of Recovery

For the August edition of the Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker, Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief discusses the struggles of those who have dealt with job loss and other financial stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To find out what previous surveys said about the state of mental health in the U.S., check out our previous releases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every aspect of our lives, and with that, contributed to stress in each of them, from personal relationships and parenting to work and the other hassles of daily life. But through our own resilience and the efficacy of vaccines, this summer has seen us adapt and take steps toward a sense of normalcy.

In the latest edition of the Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker, we found that Americans are feeling less affected by COVID-19 in their everyday life than they were just a few months ago in the spring. Whether we are truly feeling better about how COVID touches our daily lives or have simply grown accustomed to its effects, something has changed.

There is one stressor, however, that persists—and it’s a big one.

Between April and July, we found little to no difference in how COVID-19 impacted financial stress amongst American adults. In the spring, 33% of folks reported that COVID had a moderate to extreme impact on financial issues. And now? Practically the same at 32%, even as other COVID stressors have diminished 5% to 6% across the board.

This and further insights from our latest survey give a hint as to how the recovery is actually going, and who may have been left behind.

The Trickle Down Effects of Stress

Much of the difficulty of experiencing stress or anxiety in our lives comes from the way that those feelings can affect us in various ways—both mental and physical—throughout the day.

If you’re stressed out in the evening, it can prevent a good night’s sleep. When you’re tired and groggy the next morning as a result, perhaps you don’t wake up early enough to exercise. That lack of energy can last through the workday.

All of the above might have you feeling a lack of accomplishment that can stick in your mind, leaving you even more stressed and less able to sleep than the night before.

Add money into the equation, and all of those feelings may be heightened. With 27% of people citing finances as the biggest source of stress in the prior 30 days, it’s critical to be sensitive to this issue. In comparison, only 16% cited COVID-19 as their biggest source of stress.

Why Financial Stress Lingers

Unlike some issues you might face, financial stress often demands clearer solutions that aren’t attainable through self-care alone, or even through treatments like therapy or medication. Job loss provides a stark example:

  • 36% of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic say financial problems are their biggest source of stress, compared to 24% for those who didn’t lose a job.
  • 62% of folks who lost jobs say the pandemic is still having a strong impact on their finances, compared to 31% for those who kept their job.

Difficult financial situations can put a strain on relationships, make it harder to put food on the table or pay the bills, and decrease your feelings of self-worth. In essence, a money problem becomes an everything problem.

financial stress illustration

Verywell / Joshua Seong

As such, people who lost jobs during the pandemic are feeling the effects beyond the direct financial component, with only 26% saying they have mentally recovered from that loss. In the prior 30 days:

  • Nearly half (46%) struggled with sleep
  • 39% were less interested in leaving the house (for reasons beyond safety concerns)
  • 39% saw changes in their eating habits
  • Over a third reported feeling more irritable (33%) or were less interested in spending time with friends and family (35%)
  • Over a quarter had trouble focusing (29%) or felt their productivity was reduced (27%)

In each case, people who had not experienced job loss were much less likely to report the same issues. There has been no shortage of stress and anxiety for many of us during the pandemic, but joblessness and the resulting financial complications can cast a particular shadow over one’s life until they are resolved.

Who’s Actually Recovering?

A lot of Americans feel like they have mentally recovered from their experiences during the pandemic. While the latest survey data may not reflect the full force of August’s Delta variant wave, it nonetheless illustrates some inequities with regard to exactly who is feeling better.

A bird’s eye view tells us that nearly half (45%) of people have either very much or completely recovered, mentally speaking, from the pandemic. Another 27% have recovered somewhat, and 28% have recovered a little (17%) or not at all (11%).

But who are the recovered? Our survey tells us that the following groups are the likeliest to say they’ve mostly or completely recovered from COVID-related stressors:

  • Older (71% of Silent Generation and 62% of Boomers)
  • Wealthy (62% of those with household income over $150,000)
  • White (53%)
  • Male (51%, compared to 39% of women)

Those who were, by and large, doing well before the pandemic are more likely to feel that sense of normalcy that we all crave.

Gen X and Millennials lag far behind, with 40% and 37% saying they have recovered. Only 21% of Gen Z feel the same. As with lower ages, those in lower-income brackets are still struggling.

Less than half of people with a household income below $75,000 feel they have mostly or fully recovered. For reference, the median annual household income in the U.S. is around $63,000 according to data from the Census Bureau.

COVID-19 is a physical health crisis. It’s also a mental health crisis. On top of that, it is a financial crisis, especially for those who are just entering the workforce, dealing with mortgages and child care costs, and who don’t have a lifetime of savings to fall back on in tough times.

Money doesn’t solve everything, and won’t inherently protect you against COVID, but for those aspects of our daily lives that we often worry about the most—where and how we live, staying healthy, supporting our families—financial means can help reduce stress in the best and worst of times. In a global pandemic that puts a unique strain on us all, financial means represent a life raft to navigate these choppy waters.

For many, uncertainty and stress go hand in hand. Do I buy groceries or pay the rent? Can we afford to add to the credit card bill? How long will the eviction moratorium last? Will unemployment benefits be cut off?

It didn’t take COVID-19 for these financial questions to begin troubling millions of Americans. But it has forced many to ask them for the first time, and to keep asking them, even as millions of others feel the worst of the pandemic is now in the rearview mirror.

To learn more about managing your health and stress in 2021 and beyond, register for “Your Money Your Health,” a virtual conference hosted by Verywell Mind and our partner finance website Investopedia on Sept. 21, 2021. The event is free, but spots are limited. Sign up today!

Getting Help for Financial Stress

Over the last month, 23% of Americans say they’ve considered going to therapy, but a number of barriers are preventing folks from taking that step. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost is cited as the most common reason.

That said, most respondents who are in therapy have health insurance that covers it. With health insurance often tied to full-time employment, this represents yet another potential disparity for those dealing with job loss and financial stress at this time. A therapist may not be able to fix financial issues, but they can help you learn coping strategies to better manage the stressors affecting you on a daily basis.

Press Play for More on Money and Mental Health

On this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, we discuss five strategies for addressing your financial and mental health.

Of course, that is no help to those who lack insurance and/or can’t afford therapy. Fortunately, there are a number of free or low-cost stress relief strategies available to anyone, including the following:

Mental self-care doesn’t have to be pricey, and while it may not solve a financial crisis, it can better prepare you to face the ongoing stressors of daily life in this difficult time.

Methodology

The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker is a monthly measurement of Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around their mental health. The survey is fielded online, beginning April 28, 2021, to 4,000 adults living in the U.S. The total sample matches U.S. Census estimates for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region.

Was this page helpful?