People around the country are feeling the pressure as household budgets come under strain due to the rising cost of living.
Increasing energy prices, inflation, National Insurance contributions and more expensive shopping bills mean that many of us are having to make difficult decisions when it comes to our monthly spending.
With uncertainty about the cost of heating homes and how to eat healthy, regular meals on a tight budget, it is a concerning time for our health and wellbeing, and the strain of these worries may lead to stress and anxiety, or a feeling of isolation and helplessness.
If you are concerned about how to best protect your physical and mental health during these difficult times, please read the following advice and guidance to further resources.
Protecting your mental health
Financial worries and health concerns can impact mood, leading to stress and anxiety, as well as a loss of motivation. Sharing your worries or concerns with a trusted friend or family member can help you to decompress, as well as allowing you to feel emotionally connected to those around you, minimising feelings of loneliness. It is also important to check in on others, particularly older or vulnerable people who may be suffering in silence. Connecting with neighbours, family and your community is the best way to protect your own mental health and support others in need.
Exercise can also play a key part in protecting your mental health. Getting outside daily can boost your energy levels, alertness and can contribute towards a positive mood. Regular physical activity can increase your self-esteem and can reduce the risk of stress, anxiety and depression.
If you are struggling it is important to reach out for help, and there are services which can help you.
The Cardiff and Vale Recovery & Wellbeing College provides free educational courses on a range of mental health, physical health and wellbeing topics. Courses take place online or in-person at venues across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan and are led by people with lived experiences of mental health difficulties. Topics covered include understanding anxiety and depression, physical activity for recovery and how to manage stress.
Open Access courses – Stepiau
If you have reached crisis point and are struggling to cope, you can call Samaritans free on 116123. You can also visit the Samaritans website for more support.
Eating on a budget
Many families are currently feeling the impact from the rising cost of living, and continuing to buy healthy foods can become strenuous on a tight budget.
Eating a healthy balanced diet and regular meals is essential for anyone to maintain good health including a healthy body weight and can help you feel your best. Ensuring that you are getting the right nutrients can strengthen your immune system and protect you against serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Here are a few things you can do to help your food budget stretch a little further and maintain a healthy diet during these challenging times:
Cooking at home and from scratch is a good way to save on your shopping bill, and can be healthier than pre-packaged food or ready meals. You can find more information on nutrition and healthy eating choices through Nutrition Skills for Life.
Plan your meals for the week ahead to help budget your shopping list.
Buy whole foods in bigger quantities i.e. a large bag of uncooked rice as opposed to packaged microwave rice pouches.
Double-check sell-by dates in supermarkets to avoid items going off quickly at home. How you store your food can make a difference to how long it lasts. Many foods including bread, milk and cheese can be frozen until you need them.
Batch cook meals so that they can be reheated later in the week.
Use your leftovers for lunches to avoid waste. The Love Food Hate Waste portion planner is a great way to find out the correct portion sizes for your meals so you are not throwing food away.
Cupboard staples such as rice, pasta, lentils, tinned fruit and vegetables can create lots of quick and tasty meals at low cost.
View further tips and recipes for eating healthily on a budget:
View budget dinner recipes on the BBC Good Food website
The Healthy Start scheme is a Government initiative that provides eligible families with vouchers worth £4.25 every week to spend on milk, fresh, frozen, and tinned food, and infant formula milk. Visit the Healthy Start website for more information and to check eligibility.
Further support can be provided for those struggling to afford food by the use of Foodbanks. Local foodbanks are an emergency provision that can provide families with three days’ worth of emergency food. Referrals to foodbanks can be done through your GP, health visitor and school/social workers. Find your nearest foodbank here.
With energy bills becoming more expensive, many people may make the decision to reduce the use of their heating. A lack of heating can be dangerous for older people and those with underlying health problems, so it is important to take your individual health into consideration when making this decision. A cold environment can also lead to issues with damp and mould in homes, which can trigger respiratory issues, particularly in those with existing conditions like asthma. If you think that your health is deteriorating, speak to your local community pharmacist or consult your GP.
If you cannot turn the heating on, here are some tips for staying warm:
· Use a hot water bottle to keep your hands and feet warm and wear slippers to protect your feet from cold floors.
· Wear multiple layers of clothing as this helps to trap warmth close to the body.
· It is important to stay active, and doing gentle exercise can help to keep you warm. Try to move around at least once per hour. Visit the Move More Eat Well website for more information about how to stay active and healthy.
· Walking is a low-impact activity that has many health benefits. Why not try one of the many walking routes we have across our sites.
· Eating regularly provides energy and will help keep you warm, and drinking hot drinks helps to raise your core temperature.