Coping with Financial Stress
Feeling overwhelmed by money worries? 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
If you’re worried about money, you’re not alone. 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. Even before the global coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic fallout, an American Psychological Association (APA) study found that 72% of Americans feel stressed about money at least some of the time. The recent economic difficulties mean that even more of us are now facing financial struggles and hardship.
Like any source of overwhelming stress, financial problems can take a huge toll on your mental and physical health, your relationships, and your overall quality of life. Feeling beaten down by money worries can adversely impact your sleep, self-esteem, and energy levels. It can leave you feeling angry, ashamed, or fearful, fuel tension and arguments with those closest to you, exacerbate pain and mood swings, and even increase your risk of depression and anxiety. You may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking, abusing drugs, or gambling to try to escape your worries. In the worst circumstances, financial stress can even prompt suicidal thoughts or actions. But no matter how hopeless your situation seems, there is help available. By tackling your money problems head on, you can find a way through the financial quagmire, ease your stress levels, and regain control of your finances—and your life.
Effects of financial stress on your health
While we all know deep down there are many more important things in life than money, when you’re struggling financially fear and stress can take over your world. It can damage your self-esteem, make you feel flawed, and fill you with a sense of despair. When financial stress becomes overwhelming, your mind, body, and social life can pay a heavy price.
Financial stress can lead to:
Insomnia or other sleep difficulties. Nothing will keep you tossing and turning at night more than worrying about unpaid bills or a loss of income.
Weight gain (or loss). Stress can disrupt your appetite, causing you to anxiously overeat or skip meals to save money.
Depression. Living under the cloud of money problems can leave anyone feeling down, hopeless, and struggling to concentrate or make decisions. According to a study at the University of Nottingham in the UK, people who struggle with debt are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression.
Anxiety. Money can be a safety net; without it, you may feel vulnerable and anxious. And all the worrying about unpaid bills or loss of income can trigger anxiety symptoms such as a pounding heartbeat, sweating, shaking, or even panic attacks.
Relationship difficulties. Money is often cited as the most common issue couples argue about. Left unchecked, financial stress can make you angry and irritable, cause a loss of interest in sex, and wear away at the foundations of even the strongest relationships.
Social withdrawal. Financial worries can clip your wings and cause you to withdraw from friends, curtail your social life, and retreat into your shell—which will only make your stress worse.
Physical ailments such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. In countries without free healthcare, money worries may also cause you to delay or skip seeing a doctor for fear of incurring additional expenses.
Unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking too much, abusing prescription or illegal drugs, gambling, or overeating. Money worries can even lead to self-harm or thoughts of suicide.
The vicious cycle of poor financial health and poor mental health
A number of studies have demonstrated a cyclical link between financial worries and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Financial problems adversely impact your mental health. The stress of debt or other financial issues leaves you feeling depressed or anxious.
The decline in your mental health makes it harder to manage money. You may find it harder to concentrate or lack the energy to tackle a mounting pile of bills. Or you may lose income by taking time off work due to anxiety or depression.
These difficulties managing money lead to more financial problems and worsening mental health problems, and so on. You become trapped in a downward spiral of increasing money problems and declining mental health.
No matter how bleak your situation may seem at the moment, there is a way out. These strategies can help you to break the cycle, ease the stress of money problems, and find stability again.
Dealing with financial stress tip 1: Talk to someone
When you’re facing money problems, there’s often a strong temptation to bottle everything up and try to go it alone. Many of us even consider money a taboo subject, one not to be discussed with others. You may feel awkward about disclosing the amount you earn or spend, feel shame about any financial mistakes you’ve made, or embarrassed about not being able to provide for your family. But bottling things up will only make your financial stress worse. In the current economy, where many people are struggling through no fault of their own, you’ll likely find others are far more understanding of your problems.
Not only is talking face-to-face with a trusted friend or loved one a proven means of stress relief, but speaking openly about your financial problems can also help you put things in perspective. Keeping money worries to yourself only amplifies them until they seem insurmountable. The simple act of expressing your problems to someone you trust can make them seem far less intimidating.
The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to fix your problems or offer financial help.
To ease your burden, they just need to be willing to talk things out without judging or criticizing.
Be honest about what you’re going through and the emotions you’re experiencing.
Talking over your worries can help you make sense of what you’re facing and your friend or loved one may even be able to come up with solutions that you hadn’t thought of alone.