The health cost of money stress and how to beat it

Money stress

Worrying about not being able to pay the credit card or electric bills, the heavy burden of an unexpected car repair, or feeling strained to save enough for retirement isn’t new to Americans. In fact, Americans stressed about money more than anything else this past year (and the six years before that), according to the American Psychological Association’s annual  Stress in America report. And we’re feeling money stress constantly. More than one-fourth of Americans said they are stressed about money most or all of the time and 72 percent of Americans stressed about money at some point in the last month.

Paying for money stress with your health

So, if you’re feeling major stress over financial strain, debt, or major life changes like retirement or divorce, you’re not alone. However, the effects of money-related stress may be reaching further into your life than you may realize. Money stress causes depression and may show up at night, leaving you with a serious case of sleeplessness. Your relationship may be taking a hit, with financial stress sparking arguments, communication issues, and a lower sex drive. And stress manifests itself in physical ways, too. People with financial stress report higher instances of heart attacks, migraines, ulcers, and back pain.

Financial stress is a growing problem. Nearly 90 percent of Americans are just as stressed or more stressed over money now than they were last year, and we aren’t getting any better at managing our stress. People who are very stressed about money are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, drinking, binge TV watching, to cope. If you’ve been paying for your stress emotionally or physically, here’s how to overhaul your coping strategies to restore your health.

Healthy and effective ways to lessen money stress

Seek social support

The thought of telling someone about your finances probably makes you cringe. But the potential embarrassment may cause you to wait until finances are even more of a problem–or totally avoid asking for help. Acknowledging your fear of other peoples’ judgement can actually take the power away from this worry and help you take action to improve your situation and lower your stress levels. Financial planner Samuel Rad says, “Finding a sounding board, like a friend, relative, or mentor will help you put things in perspective and realize problems aren’t as big as you thought.”

Stop the cycle of stress

Stress leads to an unhealthy cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques focus on disrupting the cycle in order to manage your emotions, like stress and anxiety. Try out breathing techniques that help you get enough sleep or clear your mind, such as mindfulness or meditation, to reduce feelings of being stressed or overwhelmed by your finances.

Focus on what you can control

Our worries often get in the way of clear thinking and effective problem-solving. To avoid making expensive mistakes, write a list of your finances that you think you can and can’t control, from shopping habits to student loan payments. Show your list another person and ask if they come to the same conclusions, since they may be able to objectively see other solutions that are hidden to you. “It’s important that you have control over setting financial goals, because it will make you more successful in meeting them,” says Larry Moskat, a certified financial planner. “It’ll reduce your stress if you take your focus off the five-year mark and focus on what you can accomplish short-term,” says Joe Ritter of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling.

Set small, achievable goals to gain momentum

“If you focus only on goals that are too large or long-term, you won’t see progress and may get discouraged. By setting small, achievable goals, it’ll boost your self-confidence and show you that your financial situation is something that you can conquer,” explains Ritter. “People come in and say ‘where do I even start?’ and after achieving goals, they start to say ‘maybe I can do this. I’ve done something good.’ This strategy is about capturing momentum and building on it to tackle large goals,” Ritter says.

Reward yourself to avoid frugal fatigue

“Rewarding yourself for good financial behavior is often overlooked, but it is essential to sustain forward momentum. You can’t tackle all of your financial issues without enjoying some of your money from time to time.” says Ritter. For example, after restricting spending on eating out for six months to pay off debt, treat yourself to a weekend away or by buying something for your home that you’ve been putting off. If you have smaller financial goals, treat yourself to a moderately-priced dinner if you’ve cooked your meals at home all week.

Frugal fatigue can occur when you get worn out from ongoing frugal spending–and it can lead to giving up on your goals. “Taking a break from your goals with an inexpensive weekend away allows you to get out of the stress zone and regroup. Don’t isolate yourself, but try to disconnect in order to come back refreshed and ready to continue tackling your goals.” suggest Rad.

What are some other healthy ways you manage your financial stress?

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