How to prioritise your health in a cost of living crisis
We explain practical ways to prioritise your physical and mental health during the UK’s cost of living crisis.
Are you wondering how you’re going to manage taking care of your (and your loved ones’) health as we edge further into the UK’s cost of living crisis? With prices continuing to rise, we look at practical ways to take care of yourself on a budget – from what is a priority to looking at what you can afford to cut out. Importantly, we highlight how you can retain the health benefits of some services while potentially reducing the cost.
We go through:
- What is the cost of living crisis?
- How can I prioritise my health on a budget?
- Five free ways to take care of mental health
- How to prioritise health in the cost of living crisis
- Organisations that can help
What is the cost of living crisis?
The cost of living crisis refers to the prices of everyday essentials rising faster than our incomes, meaning we have less money to spend after paying for those essentials. Ultimately, it's the fall in our real disposable incomes, adjusted for inflation and after taxes and benefits. It isn’t new; we’ve been experiencing price rises since late 2021. But we aren’t out of the thick of it just yet.
How will costs change over winter?
- Energy bills are rising, with the typical household energy bills being capped by the government at £2,500 a year for the next two years from 1st October .
- The Resolution Foundation has warned that prices in 2022/23 will be up 7.6% from 2021/22 .
- People with the lowest incomes are predicted to spend 54% of their income (after housing costs) on energy and bills – this figure is around 18% for the average-earning household .
To support people throughout winter, the government has introduced an Energy Bills Support Scheme - a £400 non-repayable discount given to eligible households.
How can I prioritise my health on a budget?
When your disposable income reduces, it is usually time to look at what you’re paying out and decide whether it’s a necessary payment or a luxury.
Here’s what you need to consider when cutting out products and services that relate to your health.
1. Cancel healthy meal subscriptions
From weekly boxes to help you cook delicious meals to apps for tracking your food intake and exercise habits, subscriptions have become part of many of our lives. Some may say they’ve changed our relationship with food, educating us on portion control and nutritional values. Some services even claim to have helped many people achieve elusive long-term goals through habit and behaviour change.
Now, for the practical part. Over the next few months, you may need to start spending the money you would have spent on these services elsewhere. That’s good practice. Spend money on essentials and cut back on what you don’t need right now. So how do you save money without losing out on health benefits?
What to do instead:
- Cancel the service, but keep up the habit - Don’t let portion sizes or cooking from scratch go out of the window. Eating well has a positive impact on your mental and physical health. Our blog, eating well for your mental health, lists the nutrients for maintaining a healthy mind. Keep the recipe cards and plan your meals in the same way - and always have a list prepared when you do your food shopping. That way, you're more likely to buy what you need, rather than what's tempting on the shop floor.
2. Review how often to get a blood test
One question we can guarantee our customers will ask is: how often should I have a blood test? Well, the answer may be not quite as regularly as you think (in most circumstances).
If you’ve just had a blood test and there was nothing that showed a cause for concern, then there it's highly likely there's no need for you to repeat that test in say, three months (or be paying for an expensive three-monthly blood testing subscription).
Here’s a general outline to follow for how often to have a blood test.
How often should I get a blood test?
- If you’re healthy and results are within the normal range – Getting tested once a year will help you keep on top of your health and feel your best. If your results were within the normal range, you do not need to test again for a year (unless anything changes in your health).
- If you’re monitoring a condition or have had an out-of-range result – When monitoring a condition, or with an out-of-range result, you’ll want to get tested more frequently. Remember though, if you have had a comprehensive panel tested and only a couple of biomarkers were out of range, then it’s unlikely you’ll need to get the full test redone within the same year. Either way, your doctor will confirm exactly how long to wait before testing again.
What to do instead:
- Get tested when you need to as part of keeping well – Don’t test too often as your biomarkers won’t have time to change. Health interventions take differing amounts of time to show effect. With a Medichecks blood test, our doctors will always look at your results and let you know what you should do next. If you’re well, testing more than once a year generally isn’t necessary.
- For more information, have a look at our blog: six reasons to have a health check.
3. Stop gym memberships
If you love your gym, can still afford it and use it regularly, then of course don’t cancel it. But if you’re finding your visits to the gym are dwindling or that it’s more important for you to trim your spending right now, then pausing or cancelling your membership can make a healthy saving.
As we’ve alluded to though, gyms (again) provide excellent benefits for your physical and mental health. They can be social, give you a sense of routine, and provide space and equipment that you may not otherwise have access to.
What to do instead:
- Don’t lose the social aspect – If you go to the gym with a partner, chat with them about your plan to quit or pause your membership. What can you do instead? Will they also commit to a morning walk? There are plenty of groups you can join too.
- Keep up your routine – Okay, you may have to change your workout (your Friday morning swim may morph into a power walk), but try to stick to the same workout routine. Get into your exercise gear at the same time as you usually would, and the rest should follow.
Free exercises you can try out:
- Parkrun and running groups
- Yoga on Zoom (Yoga with Adrienne anyone?)
- Exercise apps – Nike and Adidas have lots of free workouts
And if you have the equipment, it’s a good time to polish off the bike and get out cycling or use your weights in your workout routine. You aren’t restricted to just working out in your home either, head to a local park with a friend or see if there are any classes on offer at local sports stores or halls.
If you’re just starting, have a look at our blogs:
Five free ways to take care of mental health
1. Get outside and exercise
It may not be as inviting in the depths of winter, but spending time outside has numerous benefits for our mental health. According to the mental health charity Mind, spending time in nature can improve our mood, reduce stress and anger as well as boost our confidence and self-esteem. Exercise is known to release endorphins into the body, improving mood, so a daily walk, jog, or cycle will have a host of benefits for both our mental and physical health.
During summer, we’d also benefit from sun exposure to ensure we are getting enough vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin is not only crucial for our physical health but also our mental well-being, as vitamin D deficiency has been linked to mental health illnesses, including depression . That said, we won’t be able to get enough sunshine from around September to March to meet our vitamin D needs. So, all adults in the UK are recommended to take vitamin D supplements. These can be found in most pharmacies as well as online. Have a look at our guide to vitamin D deficiency for more information on this.
2. Stick to a healthy routine
Sticking to a routine each day can help us to feel more in control of the world around us, keep our minds occupied so we are less likely to feel worried or anxious, help us cope with change, as well as support good sleeping patterns.
According to psychologists, every time we have to make a decision, we are adding some stress to our lives, and the more choices we have to make, the less self-control we have. Our brains can only take so much decision-making before getting worn out! Creating a routine takes a lot of the decision-making out of the day and gives our minds a rest.
Putting in place a plan of how you’d like to spend your day will help you to feel more in control. Write a daily list, including times for when you wake up, meals and snacks, exercise, fun activities, and bedtime. This plan will help fill up your day to make sure you don't feel bored or unmotivated.
If you are working from home, make sure you still give yourself breaks. It’s easy to slip into eating lunch at your desk and working late into the evening, but knowing when to switch off is essential for productivity as well as stress levels. Factor in a few tea or coffee breaks throughout the day and take time away from your desk to eat lunch, have a stretch, or go for a walk.
3. Stay connected with your support network
Social connection is one of the most important things we as humans need for our mental health and happiness, and scientists have even linked it to living longer. The ongoing Harvard Study of Adult Development is the world's longest study of adult life, and it found that good relationships are key to living a long and happy life . Not only this but being physically close to others in the form of physical touch (hugging, hand-holding) is also essential for our well-being , something many people lack during this time.
4. Switch off from social media
Several studies have suggested social media negatively affects our mental health, from causing issues with self-esteem  to increasing anxiety and depression. Not only that, but it can also disrupt sleep and increase loneliness.
While social media can be a fantastic way to connect with family and friends, we should also try to take time each day away from these sites. Reading a book, playing a board game, or trying out a new recipe in the kitchen are all great ways to pass the time that doesn't involve a screen. You can also download apps to your phone that will track how much time you spend on social media and remind you when you should switch off. These tools can be a useful way to help make you more aware of just how long you’re spending on your phone each day.
5. Maintain healthy sleeping habits
Sleep is one of the most important functions our bodies need for both physical and mental health. It allows the body to repair itself and our brains to process all the information taken in during the day. Lack of sleep can affect our psychological state and mental health, and studies have associated sleep problems with multiple mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD .
Setting a daily alarm for both waking up and going to sleep will help you stick to a routine - you should be aiming for at least eight hours each night. If you struggle to sleep, try incorporating a wind-down routine into your evening. Switching off your phone or computer a couple of hours before bed, having a hot bath, and making yourself a warm drink could all help you to feel more relaxed and ready for sleep.
Our blog: sleep-the best medicine? looks at how to get better sleep.
How to prioritise health in the cost of living crisis
You are always your number one healthcare provider; no one else knows you as well as you do. If you’re not feeling quite right or you start to fall into unhealthy habits, then seek professional help as soon as possible – don’t put it off.
Looking after yourself can become difficult if you’re low in mood or energy, or if your focus is needed elsewhere (like working extra hours). However, keeping up your healthy habits, surrounding yourself with a solid support network, and getting help when you need it, are all good approaches.
At Medichecks, we have lots of free resources on stress, health and wellness, thyroid health, and much more. If you are experiencing symptoms, or are looking for an annual health test, our Test Finder can help you find the most appropriate test for you.
Organisations that can help with the cost of living crisis
If you are struggling with your mental health or need some support, Mind charity has a helpline you can call on 0300 123 3393, which is open 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
Here are a few other helpful organisations that you may wish to speak to:
- Campaign against living miserably (CALM) – Speak to the team on 0800 58 58 58. CALM is leading a movement against suicide.
- Carers UK – Call 0808 808 7777 for advice, information, and support if you’re looking after someone in a caring capacity.
- Citizens Advice – Visit their cost of living help page for money advice and debt help.
- Samaritans – Call 116 123 or email email@example.com to talk to someone anytime, in your way, and off the record.
- SHOUT – Text 85258 24/7. It’s the place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help.
- GOV.UK. 2022. Government outlines plans to help cut energy bills for businesses. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-outlines-plans-to-help-cut-energy-bills-for-businesses> [Accessed 23 September 2022].
- Resolutionfoundation.org. 2022. The Living Standards Outlook 2022 • Resolution Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/the-living-standards-outlook-2022/> [Accessed 12 September 2022].
- JRF. 2022. Rising energy bills to 'devastate' poorest families. [online] Available at: <https://www.jrf.org.uk/press/rising-energy-bills-devastate-poorest-families> [Accessed 12 September 2022].
- Schaad, K.A., Bukhari, A.S., Brooks, D.I. et al. The relationship between vitamin D status and depression in a tactical athlete population. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 16, 40 (2019).
- Adult Development Study. 2022. Data Collection. [online] Available at: <https://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/datacollection> [Accessed 12 September 2022].
- Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I. & Shamay-Tsoory, S.G. The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain. Sci Rep 7, 3252 (2017).
- Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2022. The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being | Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. [online] Available at: <https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cyber.2016.0259> [Accessed 12 September 2022].
- Harvard Health. 2022. Sleep and Mental Health - Harvard Health Publishing - Harvard Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health> [Accessed 12 September 2022].