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Money-Related Stress: 7 Tips from Psychologists

If you regularly worry about money, you are not alone. Every year the American Psychological Association (APA) commissions an annual nationwide survey to examine and understand the impact of stress. And every year since it began collecting data in 2007, money-related stress has been a top concern. 

In 2020, nearly 2 in 3 adults (64%) say that money is a significant source of stress in their life. Among those with a household income of less than $50K, 73% report that money is a significant source of stress.

The Impact of Chronic Financial Stress

When you experience high levels of stress your body is pushed to the limit. The result can be poor physical health and long-term illness. Financial stress leads to physical and mental illness, delayed healthcare, and unhealthy coping behaviors, and more. 

“Acute Financial Stress creates many of the same negative stressors as PTSD, which is why we teach how to leverage our mental strength to temper our physical response to chronic stress.”

Dr. Galen Buckwalter

Physical and Mental Illness: Money-related stress can trigger a variety of physical health problems and can exacerbate existing conditions.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Migraines
  • Heart Disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Memory and concentration problems

Delayed Healthcare: While people of all incomes can experience money-related stress, the effects are harder on lower-income families. People with income insecurity frequently delay or avoid healthcare because they cannot afford it. When health concerns go untreated they can snowball into larger more serious ones that can be life-threatening or altering. 

Unhealthy Coping Behaviors: Financial stress causes some people to engage in a variety of unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to self treat their anxiety and stress. These might include overeating, heavy alcohol or drug use, and other high-risk activities. According to an APA report published in 2014, 33% of Americans reported eating unhealthy foods or eating too much to deal with stress.

Before stress gets out of control and snowballs into mental or physical illnesses, try exploring ways to reduce and manage your stress and address the financial concerns that triggered your symptoms. 

Tips to Manage Money-Related Stress

  1. Talk to A Professional Before your Stress Escalates
  2. Get Help From Your Support System
  3. Prioritize Good Sleep
  4. Use Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
  5. Separate Money Fears from Realities
  6. Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
  7. Define and Nurture Your Relationship with Money

1. Talk to A Professional Before your Stress Escalates

For some, money-related stress can escalate to what is called Acute Financial Stress (AFS.) More than 56 million adults struggle with the condition which has symptoms that are similar to PTSD. Using techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you manage your stress and prevent it from becoming severe. While it won’t necessarily cure your financial troubles, it can place you in a better frame of mind to deal with them. 

“Acute Financial Stress creates many of the same negative stressors as PTSD, which is why we teach how to leverage our mental strength to temper our physical response to chronic stress. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) enables your brain to override your emotional responses to stress. CBT is a non-intrusive, non-medical way to treat depression and benefits people dealing with those similar negative stressors making AFS feel like financial PTSD.” – Dr. Galen Buckwalter CEO & Founder of PsyML

Read more about Dr. Galen Buckwalter and Acute Financial Stress in a recent blog: “You May Have Financial PTSD and Not Even Know It

2. Get Help From Your Support System

Dealing with stress by yourself is hard. Reaching out to a trusted friend or family member can help you get through tough moments. Talk to trusted friends, family members, mentors, or partners for moral support.

Talking with your partner about debt and finances can help strengthen your relationship. It’s especially important if you are married and have merged finances. It’s better to solve problems together before they get out of hand.

It can be beneficial to speak to somewhere who can listen objectively to your concerns and offer a fresh perspective. 

3. Prioritize Good Sleep

One of the first places stress shows up is in your sleeping habits. When financial stress leads to poor sleep, it can affect other areas of your life and create a domino effect that impacts your overall health. 

It’s important to address sleep issues as soon as possible because chronic insomnia increases your risk for a wide range of other health conditions.

“Insomnia impairs day-to-day functioning, your overall health, and quality of life. It can even lead to things like depression and anxiety. Many who suffer from financial stress have difficulty falling asleep or wake up frequently throughout the night. Eliminating the cause of the financial stress is the best way to fix this problem; however, if that’s not feasible for you, you can take steps to improve your sleep.”

  • Try setting a bedtime and sticking to it each night to make it a habit. 
  • Avoid using screens and drinking alcoholic or caffeinated beverages late in the day
  • Incorporate meditation and breathing exercises into your bedtime routine

Neuropsychiatrist Alexander Burgenmeester, founder of The Narcissistic Life

4. Use Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Anxiety often affects breathing and leads to rapid, shallow breaths. This type of breathing can disrupt your blood oxygen and carbon dioxide level leading to increased heart rate, muscle tension, dizziness, and other physical symptoms. When your blood is not being adequately oxygenated, it can exacerbate your stress response.

“Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed about your finances, stop and take 3-5 deep breaths, inhaling for 4 seconds and then exhaling for 4 seconds. Taking deep breaths relaxes our muscle groups and calms the parts of the brain responsible for problem-solving. When we are calm, we can more easily plan and make good decisions. It’s important to practice breathing when you are not feeling stressed so your body will learn to recognize it as a signal to relax.” 

Kelly Kellerman, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Thriveworks

5. Separate Money Fears from Realities

If you suffer from high stress and anxiety, your perceptions can be affected. You may find yourself worrying about things that haven’t happened yet or. Separating what you fear will happen from what is currently happening can help you gain perspective and control when you feel overwhelmed. 

“Consider whether you are responding to an actual issue or an ‘almost’ issue – in other words, are you responding to a ‘what if’ concern like it is a fact. For example – what if I lose my job is not the same as I lost my job, yet our minds can respond if they are the same. The what-if questions often lead to more what-if questions that have you gaming out and living a scenario that may not happen. Be clear if you are dealing with an actual issue that is before you.”

Kimberly Perlin, MSW, LCSW-C

6. Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

Do you know the root cause of your financial challenges? For many, one money-related issue often leads to others until all financial matters become entangled in stress and anxiety. Analyzing, identifying, and writing down your most significant challenges can help you overcome limiting beliefs that are holding you back.  

Instead of saying “I’m bad with money,” try asking and answering these questions:

  • What can I change about my financial situation?
  • What am I unable to change about my situation? 

“Focus on specifics by writing down your three biggest financial challenges to gain perspective on your struggles. Whether you’re paying your monthly bills, reducing your credit card debt, or saving for retirement, it’s important to focus on the main sources of your financial worries. Keeping a list brief can help you to feel less stressed.”

Aniko Dunn, Doctor of Psychology at EZcare Clinic  

7. Define and Nurture Your Relationship with Money

Did you know that money can be an expression of your attachment style? Dr. Perlin notes that those who avoid close relationships may avoid dealing with money.

“If we are anxious and afraid of losing loved ones,, we may always fear being destitute and hoard money. If we tend to weld power over loved ones, we may use money the same way. Think about how money was talked about growing up and consider whether you may be playing out an old money story rather than what your current situation requires.” Kimberly Perlin, MSW, LCSW-C

By examining your relationship with money in this way, you can learn how to nurture and overcome some of the obstacles that are holding you back.

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