Managing our health can be challenging in the best of times. Add a pandemic and the resulting near-historic unemployment levels, and managing your health may seem next to impossible. This can be especially difficult if you’ve lost work and don’t have adequate emergency savings.
But don’t despair! Whether you’re among the tens of millions who have lost income, or you’re worried that you might face a job loss in the future, there are many resources available and a number of steps you can take to protect your health in these challenging times.
We checked in with Michael McMorris, Pack Health’s director of health advising, a licensed master social worker and financial social worker, for some expert advice. He shared his top five tips for taking care of yourself despite financial difficulty:
1. Explore your options for keeping or obtaining health insurance, or for getting the care you need at low or no cost if you don’t have insurance.
This is particularly important for anyone with a chronic condition who requires ongoing care and treatment. If you’ve lost insurance coverage due to a job loss, you may be eligible for continued coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), or for new — and possibly more affordable — coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
You could also negotiate for employer-extended coverage as part of a severance package.
Negotiating medical bills is also worth a try if you aren’t able to obtain coverage or you have a high-deductible plan and you find yourself in need of medical care. Telehealth services are increasing and are often offered at a reasonable cost.
For details and practical advice on these and other options for extending or obtaining insurance coverage after a job loss, check out this helpful resource.
Other options that may offer affordable or free care include community health centers, clinics, and public health departments. If you have a relationship with a primary care provider, let them know your situation. It’s possible they’ll be able to work with you on a payment plan or help you find affordable care.
2. When it comes to your health, focus on things you can control.
A healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep habits form a solid foundation for optimizing health. Even on a tight budget, there are plenty of ways to find nutritious food, stay fit, and promote adequate and restful sleep.
- Eating healthy: Fresh produce can be pricey, but frozen fruits and vegetables tend to be less expensive and at least as nutritious. Canned fruit can also be a healthy option — just skip the kind packed in sugary syrup. Opt for those in natural juice, and drain before eating. Food banks and community pantries are another great source of healthy items for those struggling financially. Also, keep an eye out for coupons and deals to help cut costs. Here’s a great resource to help with healthy eating on a budget!
- Staying active: Healthy living includes physical activity. Find a form of exercise you enjoy, such as walking, cycling, or yoga, and aim for at least 150 minutes weekly, broken into smaller steps, and preferably 30 to 60 minutes several days each week. Here are some more great tips on staying active and fit.
- Sleeping well: Good sleep is important for good health. When you lose a job, it can be helpful to keep your routine. For example, go to bed and wake up at the same time as usual and follow other sleep hygiene practices to ensure a good night’s sleep. Click here for more information about why and how to improve your sleep.
Familydoctor.org has more great tips on these and many other things you can do to protect your health!
3. Understand that good mental health is important for good physical health.
Unemployment and financial challenges tend to go hand in hand with stress and anxiety, especially for those who are also managing health issues. But stress and anxiety can increase your risk of poor health outcomes, so taking care of your health means finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety. The things you do for your physical health — eating right, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep — can also help with mental health. Aim for about 20 minutes of exercise daily to improve your mental health. It’s also important to take time to relax and unwind. Practicing mindfulness and doing breathing exercises, enjoying nature, and spending time on a hobby or activity you enjoy can all have calming effects, and can serve as great alternatives to alcohol and tobacco, which many people use as coping mechanisms.
Maintaining social support and connections, even if it’s by phone or video call, also helps protect mental health. The COVID-19 crisis has increased social isolation for many people, but staying in touch has never been easier. Zoom meetings, video chats, and online support groups are among the many ways to stay connected.
You can read more here about protecting your mental and emotional health.
4. Ask for help.
Contact your family and friends in times of need. It can be tough and humbling to ask for help but think about what you would do if the situation were reversed. Would you help out if you were able? Many people want to help others in times of need, but there’s not much they can do if they don’t know about your situation. You can always offer to pay it back — or forward — when you get on your feet.
5. Learn from this experience, and save for future challenges.
Financial experts generally advise saving enough money to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses. The COVID-19 crisis highlights a need for even more than that, given that some people have already been out of work for nearly four months due to the pandemic. However, about 25 percent of people in the United States have no emergency savings whatsoever, and an additional 28 percent have enough savings to cover only two to three weeks’ expenses. If you’ve found yourself unemployed or underemployed with little to no savings to get you through this tough time, you’re certainly not alone; follow the tips mentioned here to help you get by, but also make a plan to change your savings habits when you’re able. Once you get back to work, commit to saving whatever you can out of each paycheck so you’ll be prepared for future hardship. General savings accounts can help with everyday expenses, and Health Savings Accounts can go a long way toward helping cover health-related expenses.
During this crisis, focus on maintaining physical and mental health, and once the crisis is over, work on your financial health, too!
As always, your Health Advisor is here to help! Call if you have questions or need advice on staying healthy in times of crisis.