Why You Should Be Selfish

A lot of us fall into the martyr trap. We think we don’t deserve as much as other people – time, money, social contact, love, respect, effort… When your self-esteem is low, it’s difficult to ask for what you need, let alone what you want, because you assume you are not worth it and everyone would say no anyway. Why bother asking when we know the answer? It’s not worth the time and effort.

Sometimes our martyrdom can become a security blanket and an excuse – if we never access everything we could, we don’t have the resources we need so we don’t have to try to achieve our goals. When we don’t reach our potential, we can blame our circumstances. Our failure isn’t “real” because we didn’t have the advantages enjoyed by other people. We convince ourselves we are just not the type of people who succeed. It’s easier than challenging this assumption.

Stop! Asking for what you need is not “bad”. Asking for what you want isn’t a bad thing either – especially when getting what you want allows you to contribute to other people’s lives.

Think about it on a basic level: if you are very poor and struggle to support your family, you might go without food so that they can eat more – but what if you eat so little that you cannot care for your family? You might become too weak to work, which means your family will starve. You might be so weak that you cannot prepare meals or feed your children if they are too young to feed themselves. By giving up your share of food, you are actually being more “selfish” because you leave yourself less able to meet your family’s needs.

The same applies to other basic needs, like sleep, and activities that are not essential to survival but are important to living a happy life, like contact with friends. When you fulfil your own needs, you are in a better position to fulfil other people’s needs. You are stronger, more energetic and resourceful. You can help others – without jeopardising your own health and happiness.

Let’s examine this further: what about activities which contribute to your own life, but leave you with less time/money/energy/whatever for your family and friends? The benefits are less obvious, but they still exist. Who do you think makes a better parent, partner, friend, neighbour, etc. – someone who makes time to follow their own interests because it gives them more satisfaction, or somebody who does nothing for themselves and resents it more as the years pass? Which person is more likely to motivate the people around them to achieve their own goals? Who is happier?

The happier and more satisfied you are with your life, the higher your ability to affect other people’s lives in positive ways. It can be hard to appreciate this in the short term, especially when working towards your goals isn’t going according to plan, but it’s vital to recognise this truth. Sure, you will have to make short term sacrifices, but it’s worth it in the long term. Even if you fail in your endeavours, you are setting a wonderful example to everyone around you. You are chasing your dreams, which is inspiring and encouraging.

So be selfish. Set aside time to satisfy your needs and work towards your goals. It will make you a better parent, a better child, a better friend – and it will make you a lot easier to live with!

Accepting Your Emotions

Mental illness can bombard you with a lot of emotions. Many of them are understandable; a lot don’t seem to make any sense. People will be more empathetic in regard to some of your emotions than others. You will find some emotions easier to deal with than others. Some emotions can cause other emotions, such as when you feel irritated and then feel guilty for feeling irritated. It’s important to acknowledge all of your emotions and their effects.

You have the right to feel however you feel. Anyone who tells you otherwise may mean well, but they are not being helpful. You cannot control your emotions; you can only control how you express them. When people say “you’ve got to control your temper” they don’t mean that you should repress your anger, or deny its expression: they mean that you need to learn how to express your anger in safe, constructive ways. When I first read Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, it was a revelation. She pointed out that feeling fear is inevitable, but you can choose how to act in the face of fear. It made me realise that everybody feels fear – many to the same extent as I do – and that I didn’t need to remain paralysed by my fear.

Accepting my fear allowed me to start tackling my anxiety problems. It’s not a linear process and it’s not easy, but I’m now aware of a new possibility: that I can cope with my anxiety even if it doesn’t go away, that I can take action towards achieving my goals even if the anxiety is still present. In short, it helped me to accept my anxiety.

Accepting your emotions is a vital step in learning how to deal with them. Sometimes it will be more difficult to accept your emotions, such as when you feel sad on a happy occasion and don’t know why, but it will get easier with practice. Start by simply observing how you feel. I have found it useful to do this with an app called Moodtrack, but you might prefer to keep an “emotions journal” either digitally or on paper.

Try not to judge your emotions – just acknowledge them and note any factors that might be affecting your emotions. These could be external, such as a friend getting a new job when you are unemployed, or internal, like feeling exhausted because you didn’t sleep last night. You may begin to see patterns almost immediately, or it might take several weeks (or even months) before you can analyse your emotions and figure out the most common triggers. Again, don’t judge. Your patterns and triggers are unique. Having unusual reactions to certain things does not make your emotions less valid – nor does it make you a bad person.

Once you accept your emotions and their causes, you can begin to develop coping strategies. You may need professional help to do this (I was lucky enough to receive a year of drama therapy, which was amazing), so get help and support if you need it. Dealing with mental health issues is difficult and there is no shame in seeing a therapist, psychiatrist or counsellor. Even if you are not mentally ill, you may benefit from seeing a mental health professional or life coach. After all, if you had a physical injury you would see a physiotherapist without shame – you don’t have to cope on your own.

You might be surprised by which emotions you find hardest to accept. Often, these can be positive emotions like joy, excitement and contentment. I found it difficult to accept feeling happy, for example, when I was depressed. I would feel happy for a couple of hours when I was with my friends, then sink into a deep depression. I thought that I didn’t have the right to be happy and the brief happiness made the depression harder to bear because it proved that I was capable of feeling better. I repressed these happy periods a lot, because the contrast with how I felt the majority of the time was so painful. It was years before I learnt how to enjoy the happy periods amidst the sadness, frustration, fear, anger and numbness I felt over 90% of the time – but I got there in the end.

You can learn to accept all of your emotions, even ones which might feel dangerous or taboo. It can be a long, laborious and scary process, but it’s worth the effort.

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 2: Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain is a book which celebrates people who are often ignored by society. Those of us who will happily chatter away to friends but clam up when trying to make small talk with a stranger. Those of us who will never be described as the life and soul of a party. Those of us who get shoved aside by people with louder voices. Cain points out that whereas extroverts are lauded, the advantages wielded by introverts are disregarded – and it’s time that changed.

Cain uses scientific experiments, case studies and her own experiences to illustrate the strengths and opportunities of introversion. She discusses how Steve Wozniak and Warren Buffett found success because of their introvert nature, not in spite of it. She compares extroverted cultures, like Harvard Business School, with introverted cultures, such as the majority of Asian communities. She includes a lot of information on how extroverts and introverts can relate to each other without conflict. In short, Quiet is a fascinating and incredibly helpful study of introverts.

Quiet separates introversion from traits which get mixed up with it: many introverts are shy, for example, but shyness is not an indicator of introversion. Introverts gain energy from being alone and feel drained by highly social situations. They tend to feel over-stimulated in noisy, crowded environments. They are accused of being “in their head” too much – though Cain points out that this is simply called being a thinker. Because introverts find it difficult to express themselves in groups, they are often accused of being slow, stupid and lazy, or are overlooked.

Knowing your tendencies as an introvert is valuable. Cain provides advice on how you can play to your strengths and work (or socialise) more effectively. She considers how different environments impact introverts and how these environments might be adapted. She teaches us how to compromise and when to change our behaviour to advocate for something we believe in. She describes how the internet presents new opportunities for introverts, allowing us to communicate to a lot of people without having to shout over the crowd.

After a lifetime of being told to be more extroverted, Quiet is refreshing and empowering. It reminds us that introverts are valuable members of society and can contribute a great deal to the world. Cain also gives plenty of guidance on how to be an introvert in a world which often seems to have been designed for extroverts. If you are an introvert yourself or have close friends or family members (especially children) who are introverts, I would consider this book essential reading.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Why I love My Self-Harm Scars

***TRIGGER WARNING*** This post discusses self-harm. It doesn’t go into detail, but please don’t read if you think it could negatively affect you and/or trigger you to self-harm.

I self-harmed on and off (but mainly on) for over 15 years. I tended to cut my forearms, so it was easy to hide the wounds and scars under long sleeves. It got a bit awkward when I was sweating in woollen jumpers on hot summer days, but I pretended I felt the cold. Besides, I already avoided short sleeves in order to hide the large birthmark on my right arm so I didn’t arouse too much suspicion. Some people claim that self-harm is all about seeking attention but in my experience, people who self-harm are ashamed and go to great lengths to hide the evidence.

It took me a long time to stop being ashamed. Sure, the scars aren’t attractive and hiding them might avoid intrusive questions, but I hid my scars because I was ashamed of having self-harmed, because I was ashamed of having mental health problems and because I was ashamed of who I was. Now I’m proud to have reached a stage in my recovery where I can wear T-shirts on a sunny day without dreading what other people might say. I’m proud of overcoming my problems and becoming a self-proclaimed spokesperson for people who have experienced mental illness. If anyone asks about my scars, I don’t lie or make excuses: I say they were caused by self-harm during bad episodes of depression and anxiety.

If people ask further questions, I’m happy to explain that cutting myself used to bring me relief from the intense anger, stress and numbness I felt. In fact, once you get me started on the topic, it’s difficult to get me to stop! I like to think that speaking out helps people who currently self-harm and those who have self-harmed in the past. Raising awareness is always helpful as the more visibility a mental health problem or symptom of mental illness has, the more it can help sufferers to feel less isolated. Sometimes, it can have a direct impact. I have spoken about self-harm to friends of other self-harmers and to friends of my own who have self-harmed. I hope they benefitted from the increased understanding brought by sharing my experience, even if it had no other effect.

But do you know what? Very few people mention my scars. I suppose they grow less visible as time passes and they fade, but I also think there is more awareness of self-harm. People are less likely to grab someone’s arm and shout ‘oh my god, what happened to you?’ and are more likely to react with sympathy than disgust when they find out that someone has self-harmed. I love my scars because they are a symbol of my strength. I got through some very difficult times – and I’m not entirely sure how I survived some of those times – which is something I should celebrate. I think we should also celebrate my scars being less remarkable, since it suggests that fewer people want to shame or embarrass those who self-harm.

I want to encourage everyone to love their scars, but I understand why a lot of people want to keep them hidden. I hope that by speaking out, there will be no reason to hide self-harm scars (or any other scars, for that matter) in the future. All scars are proof that you have overcome trauma and if you have scars, you should be proud of how your body and mind have recovered from trauma – regardless of whether the recovery is total or, as in my case, continuing.

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 1: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers is such a classic that people think they know what it’s all about without reading the book. They assume that its catchy title tells them everything they need to know. That’s a shame, because Feel the Fear is both motivating and practical.

The first time I read Feel the Fear, it was a revelation: it told me that everyone feels fear! At the time, I assumed my anxiety was proof of being a freak. Everyone else seemed to glide effortlessly through life while I got intimidated by the simplest tasks. It was helpful to read that I was not alone; that everyone feels fear when they are outside their comfort zone.

It doesn’t matter how small (or big) your comfort zone is: you can follow the advice in Feel the Fear to expand your life. I have been diagnosed with anxiety, so I’m a relatively extreme case, and found the book indispensable. I first borrowed it from the library and knew straight away that I would buy my own copy. I have also highlighted my copy, for quick reference when I need a boost. When my anxiety was at its worst, I also made flashcards to carry with me.

 

Feel the Fear is centred on 5 truths:

  1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out… and do it.
  3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out… and do it.
  4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
  5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

 

These truths are explored in detail and it is vital to understand their importance. Fear is not a weakness and neither is it insurmountable. Jeffers also discusses a lot of related topics, such as how to make a no-lose decision and moving from a position of pain to a position of power. The tone does come across as a bit “new age-y” in places, but not as much as the book’s reputation would suggest. A problem faced by every self-help book is how to use a vocabulary to talk about our innermost feelings without the words having undesirable connotations, which is a difficult task and Jeffers succeeds for the most part.

I recommend Feel the Fear to anyone whose anxieties have ever prevented them from living life the way they want. The advice applies whether you are struggling to leave the house (a frequent issue for me) or if you want to push yourself to deliver a speech to a large audience. Without this book, I would not have gone to university, I would not have learnt to drive and I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing this blog.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Make Kindness Your Superpower

The power of kindness is often experienced, but under-acknowledged. We tend to think of kindness as something that might brighten our day, but has limited impact on our lives. Wrong! Kindness can have huge effects: in the darkness of mental illness it can provide a light to help us find our way out. Performing acts of kindness can also help mental health problems, enabling us to reconnect with other people. Kindness can transform lives in small ways and big – look at the various charities who have provided people with clean water, basic healthcare, education, etc. And the best thing about kindness is that it benefits both the recipient and the person performing kind acts.

That’s why I want to invite you to make kindness your superpower. Use it to improve your life and the whole world.

Random acts of kindness have attracted a lot of attention over the past 10 years or so, celebrated for their eccentricity as much as their effects, but I prefer targeted acts of kindness. Targeted acts of kindness have more inherent meaning because they involve strong feelings about the recipient and/or the specific act of kindness. You might want to treat a friend who has stuck with you through the hard times, or who is going through a hard time herself. Perhaps you decide to donate to Amnesty International because you are passionate about human rights. Maybe you know a teenage boy who is always helping others and want to help him achieve one of his own goals. Targeted acts of kindness might not have the tabloid appeal of random acts of kindness, but I believe they are infinitely more awesome.

If we make kindness our superpower we can change the world, but we all have to start with a single person: you, yourself. It makes sense when you think about it – how can you access the full power of a value if you refuse to let it radiate in all directions, including inwards? When you are kind to yourself, you increase your ability to be kind to others. How many more acts of kindness could you perform if you look after yourself instead of beating yourself up all the time? How much more effort could you put into being kind to others when you gain the energy that comes from being kind to yourself?

Another awesome thing about targeted acts of kindness: they are accessible. Anyone can begin by doing something for a friend or loved one. Even if you are unable to leave the house, you can send an email to a friend thanking them for their support. You can make lunch for your parents if you can’t afford to treat them to dinner at a top restaurant. If you’re short on time, it takes seconds to send a charity donation via text message. Targeted acts of kindness cannot be quantified; when you are depressed, cooking dinner for someone is a massive act of kindness and the recipient will realise this, even if it seems insignificant to an outsider. A cheap surprise gift from a friend is more valuable than an expensive birthday present because it shows that your friend is thinking about you, without being prompted by a special occasion. Do whatever you can and remember that acts of kindness, in whatever form, are always important and effective.

So venture forth and have fun with your new superpower. Think of creative ways you can help someone achieve their dream. Aim to target acts of kindness at as many people as you can in a single day – then try to beat your record on another day. Shower a single person with kindness. Form a league of kindness superheroes with your friends or colleagues and use your combined power to bombard a local neighbourhood or a faraway nation with kindness. Don’t worry if you can’t do something “big” – just do whatever you can and let us know about it in the comments.

How to Talk About Your Mental Illness

It’s important for everyone to talk about mental health. Discussing mental illness without shame is vital if we are to break down the stigma. The trouble is, talking about mental health problems is difficult – especially if it seems you are the only one talking. Here are some tips to help your conversations flow a little more easily:

  • Choose the right audience. Some people don’t want to listen to you and aren’t worth the effort. They have their reasons for not wanting to hear about your mental illness – they might be scared of what they will hear (i.e. that they could easily become mentally ill, too) or they could just be selfish and nasty. These are not good reasons, but don’t bother wasting your breath by telling them so. Unless you enjoy arguments, in which case go ahead!
  • Be honest but don’t reveal more than you are comfortable revealing. You have a right to privacy and can talk about your mental health without going into all the gory details. You don’t need to explain your issues and it probably isn’t appropriate to, unless you are talking to close friends.
  • Take your time. Such an important topic deserves to have time taken over it, so don’t rush. Give yourself time to think about what you want to say and how to express it in the right words.
  • Be open about your struggles. It doesn’t mean you are seeking pity or attention. Be matter of fact about the worst times, if it helps, but don’t keep quiet about them just because people might think you are looking for sympathy.
  • Don’t be afraid to have a sense of humour. Laughing about the awful things in life can be empowering. I once read (sorry, but I can’t remember where) that Mel Brooks thought he had a duty to make fun of subjects like racism and Nazism because it diminished them and took away their power. Let’s do the same with mental illness: you can still acknowledge its devastating effects while poking fun at the ridiculous aspects. I do.
  • Use analogies and metaphors to describe, explain and illustrate your points. Writers use devices like simile, imagery and metaphor to help people relate to what they are talking about. You can help people relate to your experiences in similar ways. It’s useful to draw such comparisons when dealing with something as complex and variable as mental illness.
  • Don’t stereotype yourself or others. Laugh at yourself by all means, but you do nobody any favours if you constantly refer to yourself as ‘crazy’ and use your mental illness as an excuse to behave however you wish. It’s also unhelpful to rank mental illnesses or pit them against each other; unfortunately, I have heard people say things like ‘at least I don’t have schizophrenia – those people are really mental’ and ‘she only has depression, not something serious like a personality disorder.’ Talking in such a way does not break down the stigma surrounding mental illness: it strengthens it.

 

10 Simple Ways to Start Taking Care of Yourself

  1. Take your medication. Even if you are sceptical about how effective it is, give medication a shot if you been prescribed some. Never stop taking it or adjust the dose without supervision from your doctor. If you have trouble remembering to take it, keep it in a visible place (out of the reach of any children or pets) and next to a calendar you can cross off.

 

  1. Eat breakfast. The more nutritious, the better, but eating anything is better than skipping breakfast. It helps you to wake up and prepare for the day ahead. It also sets a precedent: when you start the day with a caring gesture, you are more likely to continue in the same vein.

 

  1. Apply body lotion. This sounds random, but it helps you to reconnect with your body. I credit this habit with helping me improve my health and fitness over the past couple of years. It made me aware of the mind-body connection and enabled me to start appreciating my body after years of self-hatred and abuse.

 

  1. Stretch. You don’t have to do hours of yoga (though you can if you want): just stretch a few times a day. I do it while watching TV. Try to stretch your whole body and never force the stretch – slight discomfort is normal, pain is not. I find stretching good for de-stressing and bringing me back into the moment.

 

  1. Eat a piece of fruit. Healthy eating often falls by the wayside when you have mental health problems. Eating a single piece of fruit takes little effort and reminds you of the importance of taking care of yourself. Even if the rest of your diet is a disaster zone, you will have done one thing to nourish your body.

 

  1. Find 3 things to be grateful for. At first, this is very difficult. The only ideas you come up with will seem stupid. But there are no stupid answers and everyone can find 3 little things for which to be grateful. Mine have included the sun shining, my dog, watching a TV programme, chocolate, a cup of tea, listening to my favourite song and getting a text message from a friend. Even when you find ‘bigger’ things to be thankful for, you will often find that the ‘little’ things give you just as much pleasure.

 

  1. Open a window. You might feel like shutting yourself away and that’s fine, but opening a window gives your home an airing and helps it feel less stale. It also connects you to the outside world in a small way, which reminds you that you are part of the world.

 

  1. Stroke an animal. This is tricky if you don’t have a pet, but you can borrow one from a friend or neighbour. Or find a friendly cat in the street. Stroking animals has proven to be beneficial for mental health. It feels good to give attention to another being – and to receive their attention and gratitude in return.

 

  1. Buy some flowers. A cheap bunch of seasonal blooms is perfect because they usually have better scents than expensive flowers. They add a little cheer to your home and brightness to your life, reminding you that there is beauty in the world.

 

  1. Contemplate a piece of art. A favourite painting or poem is ideal for this, but music, films, sculpture and stories also work well. Art is all about connecting with other people – the artist(s), the subject(s), your fellow appreciators and the world in general. Art has a deep beauty that resonates; it’s not just about aesthetics, it’s also about the concepts at its heart.

Connecting Is Essential – Even When it Feels Impossible

Making connections is part of the human experience; we must have connections in order to survive. As soon as we are born, we are reliant on other people to provide us with food and shelter. Most of what we learn is taught to us by family, friends and professionals. Without connections, we have nothing. Life is empty when there is nobody with whom to share your life.

Mental illness attacks these connections. It can convince us that nobody really cares, even as friends and family struggle to stay in touch. Mental health problems can make us feel isolated, so we avoid contact with other people in the belief that they won’t understand. Unfortunately, there is truth in this preconception and we cling to that truth in order to convince ourselves that all of our other assumptions are correct – that nobody loves us; that our friends would be better off without us; that people aren’t interested in our lives. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we feel isolated, so we isolate ourselves, which makes us isolated.

A lot of people are unable to cope with others’ mental health issues. They accuse us of being weak or fakers. They say we will be cured if we just go for a walk or find a partner. Some of these people might be nasty and spiteful, but the majority are ignorant. I think some people hold onto ridiculous beliefs about mental illness because it shields them from the truth: that anyone can become mentally ill at any time – including themselves. It’s easier to pretend that people with mental health problems are different, even subhuman, than to admit their own vulnerability.

But whatever reactions we encounter and however we dismantle our own connections, making connections is essential – especially if we hope to cope with or recover from our mental illness. It can be difficult, but it’s vital to start making connections as soon as you can and in any way that you can. It could be simply reading about other people with mental health problems, whether in memoirs and autobiographies or on blogs, social networks and internet forums. When you don’t feel like seeing your friends, you could try to email or text them. You might join a support group, either online or in person. It doesn’t matter if the connections seem tenuous or if you make very few connections; you are strengthening your network, which will help you.

When you feel well enough, you could make connections through classes and volunteer work. You may try online dating (as a couple of my friends with mental health problems have – one of whom married a man she met on a dating website!) or joining a club. You might write a blog and use it to reach out to people in similar situations to your own…

When making connections feels impossible, it is vital to try to make connections because that is how you can improve your mental health. Like many strategies for improving mental health, it’s easier said than done. In the first instance, the most important connection you can make is with your doctor – or someone who will take you to see your doctor – who can prescribe treatments that can get you to the point where you are able to start making more connections. Reach out – as soon as you feel able to reach out – and begin to form or strengthen connections.

7 Steps to Start Dealing with Debt

For more information on debt and links to useful resources, please see my post on debt and mental health.

  1. Face up to what you owe. Write down all your debts and how much you owe on each one. Add them up to give the total amount you owe. Try not to berate yourself or make excuses. Just accept the amount you owe.

 

  1. Enlist help. Debt can be scary and getting support makes the process of paying it back easier. Not easy, mind you, just easier. You can ask a partner, friend or family member for help or contact a debt charity (like Stepchange: www.stepchange.org) or Citizens Advice (www.citizensadvice.org.uk). It doesn’t matter who you choose, as long as it’s not one of those dodgy companies which charge you for advice: if you are paying, you are adding to your money problems, not solving them.

 

  1. Find out how much interest you are paying. You can find this information online, but try to find out direct from whoever you owe to ensure you know the correct amount for the products you have, especially if the interest rate is variable. Also find out about any early repayment fees. Contact your financial provider(s) directly if you are unsure of which products you own or your current rates of interest.

 

  1. See if you can lower the interest rates. It’s important to do your research here – ask a finance professional if you are unsure about anything. Sometimes you can transfer balances to another product or transfer several debts to a single product. NEVER go to one of those dodgy companies who offer to consolidate all your debts in return for a fee or higher interest rate. If you are uncertain about whether or not you will be better off, don’t do anything until you get advice from a finance professional – preferably someone independent. There are also procedures in place to help people with severe debt problems, so you might be able to reduce your interest by following these procedures – again, do your research and get advice from someone who knows their stuff.

 

  1. List the minimum payments. Find out how the minimum payment for each debt is worked out (for example, whether your credit card uses a certain percentage of the balance) and how much you need to pay each month.

 

  1. Budget. Find out how much of your income is left over after you subtract your minimum payments and essentials like rent and utilities. If there is nothing left over, contact a Citizens Advice or a debt charity (see above for links) who can help you.

 

  1. Pay the most expensive debt first. This isn’t your largest debt, but the debt which charges the highest interest. Pay off as much as you can afford each month while paying the minimum amount on all of your other debts. When your most expensive debt is paid off, you pay off the next most expensive and so on – this is called snowballing.

 

It’s critical that you don’t add to your debt when you are struggling with money problems. The best place to go (in my opinion) for general advice on controlling your finances is www.moneysavingexpert.com If you feel unable to do anything else, please follow steps 1 and 2. Debt is a common problem and there is no need for you to face it alone.