2020 was the year that brought us the Covid-19 Pandemic. 2021 brought us the Omicron variant. 2022 brought us a war in Ukraine. And all of these together have brought about rising inflation and much less bang for our buck.
Inflation started becoming an issue early on in the pandemic as shortages in key items, like Clorox wipes and toilet paper, sent prices soaring. This year, rising gas and grocery prices have continued to put pressure on people’s purses, spilling over into increases of the cost of cars, housing, airline tickets, and so much more.
The Stress Of Inflation
When your money isn’t going as far as it used to, and your salary isn’t keeping up with the inflation levels, it can be incredibly stressful for people. Many Americans are living from month to month and paycheck to paycheck already, so not having enough money to cover your living expenses can be very worrying.
Stress and anxiety are not just bad for our mental health and wellbeing, but they can also have a significant effect on our physical health, too. Stress is a major factor when it comes to people’s experience of low back pain. Numerous studies have confirmed that there is a significant direct association between a person’s stress levels and their levels of chronic low back pain.
It might be easy enough to say that you won’t get stressed, or that you will control your stress levels, but that is often easier said than done. In today’s stressful economic climate there can also be other factors at play that might be influencing your back pain more than you realize. We found 5 ways that inflation could be making your back pain worse:
Less Money For Healthcare
Increased Cost Of Healthy Food
Stress plays a major role in modulating our pain systems. Stress affects how our bodies perceive pain, as well as heightening our sensitivity to pain. A study published in the journal ‘Nature’ confirmed that ‘severity of stress showed a significant positive association with chronic low back pain’. Severe stress, in particular, was associated with an almost 3 fold increase in the risk of chronic low back pain when compared to the general population.
Sometimes, when it comes to managing low back pain, it can be easy to focus solely on the pain component, or on the physical aspects of the disease. Studies are now pointing to the fact that healthcare providers should also be looking at psychological factors that might contribute to the condition.
Healthcare providers are being encouraged to ask more questions when taking a full medical history and to listen to potential complaints about feelings of stress and anxiety, depression or fear. These are all psychosocial components for the management of chronic low back pain. If patients are severely depressed or under a lot of stress, there are other treatments that clinicians can use to address both the psychological component of pain, as well as helping with the low back pain condition itself.
Current psychological treatments for pain include therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness and meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and deep breathing techniques. All of these treatments are scientifically-based and are supported by sound clinical research on their effectiveness.
2020/2021 were bumper years for companies like Peloton and Netflix who basically had a captive audience as people were stuck inside their homes and were at a loss of what to do with their time. 2022, however, saw people returning to their local gyms and not having as much time on their hands as they did before, prompting slower sales and poorer returns for these mega companies. This year we have seen Peloton lay off thousands of employees, along with Netflix and even Carvana.
Labor costs are increasing as workers demand more money to try and keep up with rising inflation, but business growth is slowing as the market tries to correct itself after some unsustainable booms. This combination is causing companies across the country to reconsider their staffing levels and see where they, too, can make some cut backs.
How Layoffs Affect Stress
While these layoffs might be helping businesses stay viable, unfortunately they are having negative effects both on those who get cut, and even those who stay. Multiple studies over the years have shown how unemployment and job losses have negative psychological and physiological effects on employees.
Layoffs lead to increased levels of stress, insecurity, and burnout, as well as decreasing moral, trust and job satisfaction. When these conditions are present, there are higher turnover levels and employees are less willing to help each other out as they feel as if they are already contributing more than they should be.
A 2009 study conducted by a sociologist at State University of New York found that ‘serious illnesses often crop up shortly after employees were fired, laid off, or displaced by a business closure’. The researchers found that ‘80% of newly unemployed workers were diagnosed with some form of illness’.
Layoff are incredibly stressful for those who lose their job, but it might be surprising to learn that layoffs are also stressful for those who don’t lose their job. Research has shown that some employees who retain their jobs through a company layoff can also experience hazardous levels of stress. These “survivors” not only had to stress about the possibility of losing their position, but they are often left having to do the work left behind by those who were laid off.
A study published in 2003 by the Institute of Behavioral Science found that ‘workplace injuries can rise, and there can be a spike in depressive symptoms, chronic pain, poor eating, worsening self-care habits, and an increase in sick days taken’.
While layoffs might be an essential part to keeping businesses viable during these challenging times, it is important for both employers, and HR teams, to keep this information in mind when designing and implementing layoffs, and do them with care and careful consideration - not following in the steps of companies like Better.com.
Closely linked to layoffs is the part of actually being unemployed. This might be due to layoffs, or hiring freezes, or cutbacks, or businesses closing down. Whatever the reason for the unemployment, not only does it suck, but it has a real impact on our physical and psychological health.
Depression and chronic pain and unemployment can form their own little cycle. Depression leading to increased pain, increased pain leading to less days at work, leading to unemployment, leading to depression.
Research has shown that chronic back pain is a known risk factor for disability, depression, and unemployment. A prior history of spine surgery, in particular, is strongly associated with unemployment and depression.
In 2011 researchers M. Walid and N. Daytseva found that despite the dramatic increase in spinal-fusion surgeries, there didn’t seem to be any improvements for patients in terms of outcomes or disability rates.
The authors reported that their ‘study sheds light on an important factor that may be behind this lack of better spine surgery outcome: the duo of unemployment and depression. A model can be suggested where unemployment causes depression, which worsens back problems via pain-threshold modification, leading to additional spine surgeries. Furthermore, depression strongly affects the ability of patients to achieve a good surgery outcome with significant improvement in symptoms, disability score, and walking capacity, as demonstrated recently by Sinikallio et al’.
Research on breaking the chronic pain cycle shows us that when we are aware of the fact that low back pain can be affected by our levels of stress and depression, we can take a different approach to managing the pain. Instead of simply focusing on physiological symptoms or mechanical reasons for pain, we can look at the biopsychosocial model and look at the person’s life situation. By giving people the tools to better manage their mental health, you can have a positive impact on their low back pain as well.
4. Less Money For Healthcare
During a recession healthcare spending often falls because people have tighter budgets, insurance policies are less generous, it can be harder to have claims approved, and people might be responsible for their own healthcare bills. States might also be facing budget cutbacks for various healthcare programs.
In 2008, healthcare spending dropped and researchers found that many people were skipping out on checkups and medications - especially those who lost their health insurance as a result of unemployment. CNBC recently reported that last year, 22% of Americans ‘avoided medical care and 29% did not take their prescriptions as prescribed, both because of cost’.
Interestingly enough, when governments help their citizens with more universal healthcare, economic recession did not impact their use of healthcare. In countries where citizens bore the brunt of their healthcare expenses, economic recession ‘significantly inhibited the out-of-pocket payment willingness for healthcare by reducing wages’.
After the financial crisis in 2008, the effects of the economic recession significantly inhibited residents’ willingness to pay for healthcare services. To ensure that people keep up their healthcare checks it is important that we make healthcare more affordable to individuals so that they can continue to access care during troubling times.
5. Increased Cost Of Healthy Food
According to a recent article from CNBC, “food prices at the grocery store rose 0.9% from March and 9.4% from the year prior. Eggs, chicken and milk were among those hit the hardest".
There have been numerous studies to see what the effects of recession have had on people’s shopping and eating habits. While some studies have found that people ate less meat and calories in general, which were ultimately good things, there are also many negative effects on diet.
Unemployment has been shown to lead to substitution of regular purchases for discount stores, and increases in consumption of saturated fat, total fat and protein. Research found that “ in the medium run food expenditure declined together with consumption of fresh animal-based foods and saturated fat, total fat and protein. In the even longer run these nutrients were substituted by carbohydrates and added sugar”.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that during times of recession there was a significant shift away from vegetables, grains, milk and meat. Along with skipping meals, some recorded responses to recession are purchasing different groceries, decreasing fruit and vegetable consumption, and changing the nutritional characteristics of food - making meat and other things go further.
Research shows that less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables have a positive impact on lower back pain. Having a diet that is rich in antioxidants and vitamin D can help to reduce low back pain.
So what can we do?
Sahirenys Pierce is a money expert and founder of a personal finance blog called ‘Poised Finance & Lifestyle’. Pierce recommends creating a meal plan for the week that uses items people already have in their homes. She preps 3 meals on Sundays and has a plan in place for the remaining days of the week to help reduce the temptation or need for picking up takeout or fast food.
While there may not be much that we can do about an economic recession there are things we can do to manage our health during these challenging times. Making sure that you prioritize mental and physical health can help reduce depression and the low back pain that often accompanies it.
Free mental health apps and meditation videos on YouTube can help reduce stress and tension. When we make time for proper sleep then we are more likely to make healthier food choices and take the time to prep foods rather than buying fast food that is processed and inflammatory to our bodies.
Make New Connections
Spending time outdoors and time with friends and family can add to your resilience during difficult times and help you feel motivated and connected while you manage workplace stress. Making new connections could also lead to increased networking and employment opportunities.
It isn't easy to stay positive and healthy when the world around you seems to be uncertain and you don't know if (or when) your next paycheck is coming. Check out local community centers to see when they have fresh fruits and vegetables available. Try finding canned or frozen vegetables when they are on sale, and take time to meal plan as that can help reduce impulse purchases that can quickly add up.
Reduce Media Consumption
It might also be good to reduce your news and media consumption and focus on things like learning a new skill or reading a good book to relax. Libraries are a great place to spend a day and membership is generally free. They also have computers where you can do some job searches if you need to.
While we may not all be in the same boat, the same storm may be heading our way and the best way to weather a storm is to reach out to others for support. You don't have to face challenges alone. Some may feel that a recession is inevitable, but there are still ways that we can prioritize our health and make sure that we weather the storm in one piece.