By Dr Eugene Brink
When the term “wellbeing” is mentioned, images of svelte runners or bikers and wholesome food immediately enter our minds.
But wellbeing is much more holistic than that and its numerous aspects are all interconnected.
We live in turbulent and problematic times. People are losing their jobs, everything from healthcare to food are getting more expensive, and the South African economy is plodding along.
As a result, South Africans are hugely indebted and many are financially distressed. This financial stress – and the resultant inability to even pay bills and aspire to buy the things you want – trickles (or rather cascades!) down to our physical and emotional wellbeing. The financial uncertainty of not knowing whether you will merely scrape by each month does something to the body and mind. They cannot be separated and siloed.
The prevalence of financial stress
The latest Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor Report for 2019 shows an average of 25% increase in South African households suffering major stress due to money issues. “There should be no surprise that we noted a significant increase in the number of households experiencing financial stress. Lower-income households are under the most pressure but it is certainly significant that middle- to upper-income families are showing higher levels of financial stress as well,” says Lynette Nicholson, research manager at Old Mutual.
42% of respondents said they struggle to make ends meet each month, while 73% said they are constantly worried about having enough money.
Stress resulting from financial challenges affects 26% of Americans most or all of the time. Unexpected expenses, the need to save for retirement and out of pocket health-care expenses are major culprits, says Brett Whysel, a Forbes financial and leadership contributor.
Financial stress is harmful to your mental and physical health as well. “Employees with high financial stress are twice as likely to report poor health overall and are more than four times as likely to complain of headaches, depression, or other ailments,” says Whysel.
He says financial stress is also associated with high-risk behaviour including drug and alcohol abuse; overeating; sedentary behaviour like web-surfing and watching TV. This, in turn, could compromise one’s physical and financial wellbeing. “The potential feedback loop then is financial challenges leading to poor health, directly and indirectly via unhealthy behaviours. Poor health can worsen money challenges and financial stress by increasing medical expenses, reducing productivity at work and making it harder to make good financial and medical decisions,” he says.
A 2015 survey conducted by one of the largest banks in America showed that 81% of respondents found other goals much easier to achieve when their finances were in fine fiddle, while 70% stated that good financial health had a positive impact on their physical and emotional health.
“Time and time again, I see clients come in feeling uncomfortable and completely out of control with their income and spending. After all, the second most basic human need (according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943)) is safety, which financial security falls under. Stress, sleepless nights, fighting with your partner – all these things stem from insecurities. On the flipside, I’ve also witnessed the physical relief that clients feel once they’re clear on their budget/finances,” says financial planner Regina Taarnby.
Nancy Reardon, Chief Strategy and Product Officer at Maestro Health, stresses the critical link between physical health and financial health. “An employee who can’t cope with financial pressures at home may develop health issues down the line. Emotional wellbeing is impacted by both financial and physical health. Yet not all employees have the capacity to emotionally cope with the ups and downs of life without it impacting their day-to-day work lives,” she says.
Examining these opinions and facts, a cogent and definite link is established between financial wellbeing, on the one hand, and emotional and physical wellbeing, on the other. Hence, it is of paramount important for companies to provide assistance and advice to their employees when it comes to money matters – their bottom line depends on it. It is equally important for individuals to see to it that their financial affairs are healthy and to seek help if necessary.
Brett Whysel, 27 June 2018, “3 Vicious Cycles: Links Among Financial, Physical And Mental Health”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettwhysel/2018/06/27/3-vicious-cycles/#4ee8296b540d.
BusinessTech, 15 July 2019, “Here’s what stressed-out South Africans are willing to sacrifice to cut monthly costs”, https://businesstech.co.za/news/finance/329137/heres-what-stressed-out-south-africans-are-willing-to-sacrifice-to-cut-monthly-costs/.
Invest Blue, 2019, “The connection between financial health & physical well-being”, https://www.investblue.com.au/knowledge-centre/fact-sheets/the-connection-between-financial-health-physical-well-being.
Marcel Schwantes, 6 May 2019, “Why You Need to Invest in Your Employees’ Well-being (and How to Do It)”, https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/why-you-need-to-invest-in-your-employees-wellbeing-and-how-to-do-it.html.