The Pandemic’s Financial (and Emotional) Toll on Americans

Unfortunately, no matter how hard some people work to be financially responsible, obstacles outside their control can sometimes prevent a person’s ability to keep up. In fact, Prudential’s 2020 Financial Wellness Census found that both before and during the pandemic, nearly half of Americans perceived their financial mobility as fixed. This means many don’t feel it’s within their power to improve their financial future, even in promising times.

Now that the pandemic has thrown the country into an economic tailspin, discouragement and anxiety are running high. Amanda Clayman, Prudential’s Financial Wellness Advocate, says that despite these unusual times when so many forces can seem to be outside your control, there are actions and mindsets you can put in place to help you feel mentally well and still hopeful.

Clayman offers the following tips:

1) Practice self-care: The pandemic has created a perfect storm for burnout, endangering financial futures and threatening personal health. This stress can diminish your ability to think soundly. “We’re impulsive, tired and discouraged,” Amanda says. “The mental reserves meant for self-discipline are gone, affecting how we think and act.” Making room for self-care can revive your decision-making skills and provide the clarity needed to de-stress. Clayman encourages everyone to “Take care of yourself physically, mentally … however, you need to avoid burnout. Take a walk, a bath or just give yourself a moment to breathe.”

2) Stay connected: Despite being apart physically or perhaps because of it, you still can lean on your personal communities for support. Begin by considering which communities fill an emotional need, and recognize that these needs may have changed since the pandemic. For example, if you are living alone, you may be craving more interactions featuring lively discussion than usual. Then get creative with methods of staying connected and strengthening bonds. Clayman says, “Zoom calls, FaceTimes and conversations across the street may not be the same as a hug and conversation over coffee, but it’s still vital and rejuvenating human contact, even if it’s unconventional.”

3) Act with purpose: Cultivating a sense of purpose can help you internalize that your actions matter. Systemic economic and societal challenges are dominating the news cycle, adding to a feeling of helplessness. It may seem counter-intuitive but this may be the best time to be self-centered. You may not have the power to fix the outside world but you can still reflect on what gives your life meaning and put purpose at the center of how you allocate your time and money. According to Clayman, “When so many external things seem to be holding us down, our purpose reminds us that we still have our own power to have a positive impact on the world, the people around us, and our own future.”

4) Set attainable goals: When you start to feel empowered to move forward, you can set some simple, achievable goals to tackle. It is important to remind yourself what is and is not in your control before setting expectations. Clayman advises to “realize that you don’t need to solve your challenges overnight. Find the things that you can do and do them one at a time.”

Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census sheds light on a sobering fact: Too many people are feeling that financial mobility is not within their control, whether in good times or bad. This sense of stagnation, or in some cases, regression can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Conversely, focusing on what can be controlled — however small a task — can have the opposite effect of making you feel resilient and empowered. You can work to prevent burnout by controlling how you care for yourself, connecting to your personal communities for support, cultivating a sense of purpose and setting some achievable goals. By owning your power over these aspects of life, you can find a path toward resilience and hope for the future.