A future without money

Updated: May 17, 2020, 08:11 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

Stress over sudden layoffs and pay cuts has caused many to freeze instead of adapt, leading to what's being called financial anxiety

Yasin Hamidani, director of a Mumbai-based PR and digital marketing firm, who suffered a hit due to the lockdown, sought medical help after experiencing terrible headaches
Yasin Hamidani, director of a Mumbai-based PR and digital marketing firm, who suffered a hit due to the lockdown, sought medical help after experiencing terrible headaches

April was the cruellest month for Yasin Hamidani, the director of Media Care Brand Solutions, a four-year-old PR and digital marketing firm, which runs out of a rented office space in Santa Cruz. "It all began when on March 18, just before the Janata Curfew, we got an email from one of our biggest revenue-generating clients to halt all services," recalls Hamidani. When the national lockdown was declared a few days later, the number of clients backing out, started to increase. "Our payments from January and February were held up, and we were told that we'd have to wait till the lockdown lifts." With 15 full-time employees working under him, Hamidani says his company was now at the crossroads. He had to either shut shop, or reinvent immediately. That he was stuck in Panchgani, where he had gone for a holiday with his family, added to his worries. By the end of April, his losses had run into lakhs, and the stress was beginning to tell. "I was depressed. Because, I tend to overthink every situation, I could not see beyond the financial mess. I had stopped sleeping, and was experiencing terrible headaches," he shares in a telephonic interview.

Since the last few days, Hamidani has been consulting his family physician, who has put him on medication and has also taken up the role of therapist to help him cope. Long walks are now part of his daily routine.

Hamidani is experiencing financial anxiety, which according to Mumbai-based Anastasia Dedhia, clinical psychologist and founder of mental healthcare service Mind Mantra, is a residual anxiety or secondary emotion triggered by financial uncertainty. The condition is a growing concern in countries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. According to the weekly National Statistics survey in the UK, anxiety levels were highest among an estimated 8.6 million people whose income fell, following the Coronavirus outbreak. And despite Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announcing a host of measures to boost the economy this week, the rampant pay cuts, delayed payments and arbitrary layoffs across industries, has left everyone on tenterhooks.

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, who is the founder of an online and offline community of 3,000-plus urban single women, Status Single, an ecosystem that she created after the release of her 2018 non-fiction book by the same name, says that when the lockdown was announced, several members started reaching out to her expressing concerns about their financial future. Kundu then decided to conduct an online survey to get a sense of how these women were coping monetarily. "We found that only 10 to 15 per cent of the [single] women had actually hired the services of a financial expert. Also, a majority of them were paying EMIs for loans they had taken for their children's education and ageing parents' health, or to start small-scale businesses. Barely anyone was earning money through family property," says Kundu. But what was most surprising was that only about five to seven per cent of these women had savings in the form of mutual funds or fixed deposits. Many of them, says Kundu, have been suffering from panic attacks, depression, loss of sleep and anxiety. "Financial insecurity can be emotionally crippling for single women, as most of them are sole breadwinners in their families, and have many mouths to feed," says Kundu, who has been addressing the issues on her live chat show, Status Single with Sree.

Bengaluru-based makeup artist Preeti Murabatte, who has been dipping into her savings to run her home, has gained stress-induced weight, and  has been sleeping very littleBengaluru-based makeup artist Preeti Murabatte, who has been dipping into her savings to run her home, has gained stress-induced weight, and has been sleeping very little

Thirty-year-old freelance makeup artist Preeti Murabatte is one of the community members to have taken a big hit. Murabatte lives with her 65-year-old mother in Bengaluru, and has both, car and home loans to clear. From making around R2 lakh each month, to having zero income flowing in for the last two months, wasn't something she saw coming. Murabatte says this has been the most challenging phase of her life, since she started working six years ago. "Even if things get better, I don't think, I am going to get contracts immediately. I am currently dipping into my savings for day to day expenses," she shares. "Because my mother is unwell, I can't share my problems with her." Murbatte says she has gained weight due to the stress, and has been sleeping very little.

Apart from single women, minority sections of the society, especially the LGBTQi and specially-abled communities, are also most vulnerable. Kiara Iyer, a trans woman, who works as a marketing and communications manager with the Lalit Ashok Hotel, Bengaluru, says that her company has been most supportive, but because the hospitality sector has been severely hit, anxiety about the future looms. "I am positive and hopeful. But it's always playing at the back of my mind. You don't know when the arrow will be on you."

Last week, 25-year-old PR professional Masha Arabi was admitted twice to hospital. She was diagnosed with accelerated hypertension, after her blood pressure hit the roof. If not treated on time, the condition leads to haemorrhage. Arabi works with a reputed PR firm in Mumbai, which has assured all their employees of no layoffs. However, Arabi, who is currently working from Mangalore, where her parents live, has other issues. She was sharing an apartment in Mumbai with three people, paying a monthly rent of R14,000. "I am just paying the rent without living there. And that's a decent chunk of my salary. I don't even know when I will return to Mumbai," she says. Arabi has been living pay cheque to pay cheque, as she has other personal financial commitments. "Even if there is slight a pay cut, everything will fall apart." The stress, she says, took a physical and mental toll on her health, leading to erratic fevers and fluctuations in BP.

PR professional Masha Arabi was  admitted to a Mangalore hospital, after  being diagnosed with accelerated  hypertension. While her company has  assured that there would be no layoffs,  the stress of financial commitments is  getting to her
PR professional Masha Arabi was admitted to a Mangalore hospital, after being diagnosed with accelerated hypertension. While her company has assured that there would be no layoffs, the stress of financial commitments is getting to her

Dedhia says that those suffering from financial anxiety, may already have pre-existing anxiety or mental health conditions. "Pay cuts, or joblessness can simply be triggers." It's important to recognise the signs. "When there is a panic situation, the body experiences an adrenaline rush, and goes into a fight, flight, freeze or fold situation. Those who are conditioned to fight, adapt to the changes. The trouble is when the body goes into a flight, freeze or fold mode," says Dedhia. This can cause excess worrying, poor sleep patterns, fatigue, binge eating, headaches, which then translate into mood disorders, depression and general anxiety. "Apart from shielding yourself from bad news, one must also seek therapy or just talk to a close friend or family member. But planning for a more secure future and focussing on how to save right now, is the best step forward," she says.

Try the Japanese art of saving

In 2018, writer Fumiko Chiba introduced the world to Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money. Kakeibo, which is a budgeting journal, was first invented in 1904 by Hani Motoko, Japan’s first female journalist “to help busy women keep on top of their finances”. The English-language Kakeibo by Chiba, published by Penguin Books, is aimed at helping you set savings goals and spending your money mindfully. Some of kakeibo strategies include:

  • Write down your spending habits
  • Track and review it on a weekly basis, dividing your spending into “musts” (what you really need) and “wants” (what you can survive without)
  • Use cash instead of card, as the latter makes us less accountable
  • Check your bank balance regularly
  • Think about the year ahead, and the unusual expenses that could come with it

5-7%
Meagre number of single urban women from an informal group of 3,000 who had invested in fixed deposits or mutual funds

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