The Global News and CKNW Health Series is tackling the issues of sleep and stress. Today’s topic is housing anxiety and health.
In Metro Vancouver housing is always a story. But what about when it’s your story?
For many people in the region, whether they are renters fearful of eviction or finding an affordable home, first-time buyers struggling to break into the market or home owners scrambling to keep up with a mortgage, it is a day-to-day issue.
And it’s an issue that can weigh heavily on the mind.
Laura MacCormac is a local mom who’s personally felt the housing pinch.
“We’re a family of four. It was really hard, we couldn’t really afford a three-bedroom which is what we really needed. We were trying to get a two-bedroom and we looked and looked and looked and we just couldn’t get one because there are just so many other people looking for places,” she said.
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As the stress started to mount, they gave up on renting to see if they could buy a condo, even if they had to squeeze the family in. That proved to be a dead end too — they couldn’t qualify for a mortgage for anything in the Lower Mainland.
Laura’s is just one story in a city where are thousands of people are struggling with precarious housing situations.
And for many, that struggle to keep a roof over their head is also taking a toll on their health.
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Julia Leibowich, a counselor with Family Services, says she’s seeing more and more people who worried about their housing.
She says the anxiety has a real, biological effect.
“Our resources in our brain, the way the blood flows in our brain, everything changes. We go more into this survival mode into this emotional place, very fight-or-flight,” she said.
“Not having resources — whether they be financial or energy resources — that people can devote to their self-care, their family’s care, to connection in their community also has a very negative impact on our day to day lives.”
For MacCormac, the hunt for housing — which eventually led to her family moving in with her mother — had a noticeable impact on her health. She said it wasn’t long before she was losing sleep.
“I think that’s probably the thing that affected me more than anything. I had mood swings and it was hard on my friends, it was hard on everybody. It was just so stressful. It was hard on my mom,” she said.
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“I’ve had pneumonia and I’m still recovering from that… It’s just been a constant state of being sick. Just rundown. It’s hard enough when you have kids, and you have a full time job and you have responsibilities and you don’t really have time to sit back and relax.”
In Laura’s case, it wasn’t just her. She said the ordeal began to take a toll on her entire family’s health — in particular, her daughter from a previous marriage who she’d have to leave behind if she moved out of Metro Vancouver.
“It was scary for her, because she’s seen people have to move away because they couldn’t afford to live there and she’s seen parents move into other areas in the Lower Mainland that are further away and they don’t get to see their dad very often or their mom very often,” she said.
“She was really stressed, she was worried about it.”
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As individuals, we can’t necessarily change our housing situation, especially with a rental vacancy rate of less than one percent. But we can look into ways to better manage the stress, says Liebowich.
“Everybody’s solution is going to be more specific to what their needs are, but I really encourage people to check with their employers to see if they have an employee assistance program or an employee and family assistance program where they can access a few different resources,” she said.
“Whether that be one-on-one counseling, financial counseling, even nutrition counseling, life coaching, all of these sorts of additional supports which can help, not only with processing what you’re going through, but working on solutions for that self-care while going through distresses.”
In Laura’s case, the worst is over, at least for now. Her family has found housing and everyone is feeling much better.