If you’re worried about money, you’re not alone. Feeling low or anxious is a normal response when you’ve lost your job, been made redundant, or you’re struggling with debt.
Money is a common source of stress for American adults. In fact, 72% of adults report feeling stressed about money, whether it’s worrying about paying rent or feeling bogged down by debt.
Many of us, from all over the world and from all walks of life, are having to deal with financial stress and uncertainty at this difficult time. Whether your problems stem from a loss of work, escalating debt, unexpected expenses, or a combination of factors, financial worry is one of the most common stressors in modern life.
While worrying doesn’t solve much, having a plan to try to manage financial challenges can help cope some of that financial difficulties. Whatever your circumstances, there are ways to get through these tough economic times, ease stress and anxiety, and regain control of your finances.
Understanding Financial Stress
Financial stress is stress specifically related to money. Anyone can experience financial stress, but it’s said that financial stress occurs more often in households with lower income.
The stress they experience can be related to not making enough money to meet their needs such as paying rent, paying the bills, and buying groceries; however, they may also experience more stressful working environments. They might not be able to take time off from their jobs, and their job environments might be demanding, noisy, and even dangerous.
People with lower incomes may not have access to resources to manage their financial stress, either, such as health insurance to receive mental health treatment.
Most people stress about money from time to time. How do you know that your financial stress is more intense than a “normal” stressor? If your financial stress is severe, you will experience negative effects on your mental health and potentially even your physical health.
If your financial stress causes anxiety, depression, behavioral changes like withdrawing from social activities, or physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches, be sure to talk to a healthcare professional.
Impact on Your Health
Although any stress can take a toll on your health, stress related to financial issues can be especially toxic. Financial stress can lead to:
- Delayed healthcare: With less money in the budget, people who are already under financial stress tend to cut corners in areas they shouldn’t, like healthcare. Delaying medical care can actually lead to worse health outcomes and higher costs, both of which can lead to more stress.
- Poor mental health: In many instances, the link between mental and financial health is cyclical — poor financial health can lead to poor mental health, which leads to increasingly poor financial health, and so on. Studies show that people in debt have higher rates of mental health issues like depression and anxiety than those who are debt-free.
- Poor physical health: Ongoing stress about money has been linked to headaches, stomach aches, migraines, heart disease, diabetes, sleep problems, and more. When we are constantly stressed, our bodies don’t have time to recover. Our immune systems are left susceptible to illnesses like colds and viruses. If you already have a chronic medical condition, you may experience flare-ups or a reoccurrence of symptoms.
- Unhealthy coping behaviors: Financial stress can cause you to engage in a variety of unhealthy behaviors, from overeating to alcohol and drug misuse.
How to Survive Financial Stress
Here are some suggestions for how to help reduce your money stress and get motivated to take control of your finances.
1. Identify your financial stressors and make a plan.
Take stock of your financial situation and where money causes you stress. Write down ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your money more efficiently. Then commit to a plan and review it regularly.
Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, writing a plan and sticking to it can reduce stress. If you’re having trouble paying bills or staying on top of debt, reach out for help by calling your bank, utilities or credit card company to set up a payment plan.
2. Declutter your budget.
Since life is rarely constant, regular budget checkups are essential to improving your financial health. Take control of your finances by setting aside some time to schedule, organize, and declutter all of the money coming in and out of your bank account. The more control you have, the less stress you will feel.
3. Understand the debt cycle.
Understanding debt is the first step to getting yourself out of it. Once you know how to break out, you can start building toward your future in a more positive way with simple habits that are easy to maintain.
4. Stay active.
Keep seeing your friends, keep your CV up to date, and try to keep paying the bills. If you have more time because you’re not at work, do some form of exercise – physical activity can improve your mood if you’re feeling low.
5. Avoid temptation.
While it may not be possible to stay away from shopping malls and stores altogether, limiting your time there can help you manage spending. Choose an alternative social activity over shopping. Avoid opportunities for impulsive spending by leaving credit and debit cards at home and only carrying the amount of cash you can afford to spend.
6. Do not drink too much alcohol.
For some people with money worries, alcohol can become a problem. You may drink more than usual as a way of dealing with your emotions or just to fill in time. But alcohol will not help you deal with your problems and could add to your stress.
7. Do not give up your daily routine.
Get up at your normal time and stick to your usual routine. If you lose your routine, it can affect your eating – you may stop cooking, miss breakfast because you’re still in bed, or eat snacks instead of having proper meals.
8. Try to stay positive.
Your mindset can help keep you motivated to fix your financial problems. Rather than get bogged down by thoughts of never getting out of debt, imagine the amount of stress you feel decreasing as your debt load gets smaller and smaller. It’s important to believe you can do it.
9. Be realistic.
Determine what you can reasonably achieve and then dedicate yourself to following through each and every month. Make yourself a promise: “Each month I will spend less and put the difference toward my debt so my balance declines by at least $100.”
Just like a crash diet or intense new workout routine can lead to burnout, you don’t want to set overly ambitious financial goals that you may abandon in a few weeks or months.
10. Remember what’s important.
Commercialism can overshadow the true sentiment of the holiday season. When your holiday expense list outstrips your monthly budget, scale back. Remind yourself that family, friends and relationships matter more than material objects.
11. Make the most of your income.
The belief that you simply don’t have enough money to put towards your goals can keep you from dealing with your financial problems. Try to focus on making the most of the income you do have by spending wisely.
12. Small steps are key.
You may not be able to cut any one expense by $500, but you may be able to identify five monthly expenditures you could reduce by $100. Forgive yourself if you slip up.
Sticking to a budget is not always easy, and there may be days when your resolve falters. If that happens, remind yourself of how much you have to gain by reaching your goals. Then examine your spending patterns to see why you overspent. You may need to modify your budget or your behavior — if you can’t go into sporting supply stores without buying something, stop visiting them.
13. Create extra sources of income.
If you’re feeling stressed about finances, you likely already feel you need more money in your budget. But knowing how to increase your financial holdings without creating significant stress for yourself can be tricky, too. Thankfully, there are several ways to boost your income and relieve your stress.
14. Communicate with others about the situation.
Whether you are trying to conquer a mountain of debt or feeling stress about sending your child to college without having to sell vital organs, it is important that you talk with others.
This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if money talks were traditionally taboo in your past. It is particularly tough if the person you need to be having the money talking with isn’t on the same page with your financial plans. The good news is that any financial counselors, financial planners, financial therapists, and mental health professionals are trained to intervene when our financial lives impact other aspects of our well being.
If you feel that the stress of your financial situation is too much for you to handle, it’s important to share your concerns and not just keep them to yourself. Talk about your money concerns with trusted friends and family.
You don’t have to go into details if you aren’t comfortable with them, but the more you talk about your concerns with your support system, the less isolated and stressed you will feel. Your loved ones may even be able to offer a new perspective on what you could do differently to get your financial issue under control.