We know what financial stress is and what it feels like. Sometimes it can be the fire under our bum that gets us to fight for a promotion or take a leap on an investment. But, when you’re suffering from stress-related money matters for an extended period of time, it can take a toll on your physical and mental health. The good news is, once you shift your mindset about money and planning, you can transform this stress into financial literacy and empowerment—paving the way for a healthy and happy life.
If you’re stressed about money, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, personal finance is the top source of stress for Americans. Whether it’s feeling drowned in debt, loans, mortgage, or paying for unexpected expenses, nearly 72% of adults report feeling stressed about money.
When you’re stressed your body activates the fight or flight response. After a while, living in a state of distress can lead to poor health, weight gain, and high blood pressure. Not only that, stress affects nearly every part of the mind and body.
Stress affects every system in your body and can result in:
- Suppressed immunity
- Digestive problems
- Reproductive issues
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
When these conditions are left untreated, individuals can develop even more severe illnesses and fall deeper into debt to cover medical care and medication.
It’s common for people to try and cut corners when they’re under financial pressure. But when it comes to healthcare expenses, this can do more harm than good. Not seeking care or updating prescriptions can exacerbate a health condition. A third of Americans report skipping a prescription refill one or more times, because of the cost. And roughly 24% of adults went without some form of medical care due to an inability to pay.
Skipping medication refills and doctor visits may put you at even greater financial risk, which can create a feedback loop of creating even more stress and mental burden.
The emotional effects of debt cause a lot of damage. When you face financial strain you’re more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and anger. A point often overlooked is that financial stress is also one of the leading causes of suicide. This strong relationship between mental health and your finances marks the importance of managing debt stress before it spirals into a harmful feedback loop.
Learn healthy ways to manage financial stress
Yes, stress is a natural part of life and unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere. The good news is you can learn strategies that make it easier to manage in smaller amounts. Start slow and you’ll start to notice how subtle, mindful practices can turn things around.
Here are four simple ways you can make this change right now.
- Create a budget to track expenses
If you feel overwhelmed by your debt, track how you spend your money. Create a simple monthly budget and track one to three months of expenses. Identify where you’re overspending and make a plan to improve your spending and saving habits. When you have a damaged relationship to money, creating a budget can help you transform how you live.
- Make a commitment to becoming financially literate
The road to financial freedom and peace of mind starts with education. Empowering yourself with financial knowledge can make a huge impact on your overall health and well-being. And the wonderful thing is you can start anywhere. Books, podcasts, Youtube videos, e-books, and even virtual communities are all available to help you navigate and cope with stressful financial situations. When you understand more about how your finances work, you’ll feel more empowered to take control.
- Create short, mid, and long-term goals
One of the questions every financial expert asks is, “if an unexpected emergency happened tomorrow would you have enough money to cover the bill?” If you don’t already, set up a short-term emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. Mid and long-term financial goals are for goals farther in the future. Put away small amounts of money for a car, vacation, down payment, or retirement. Dream of where you want to be in one year, five years, 20 years, and calculate how much money you need to get there. To have the most impact on your financial well-being, strategize how you can set yourself up to receive positive cash-flow in your bank account. Studies show that having a positive cash flow has more influence on a healthy life relative to maintaining an emergency fund, saving, and investing.
- Practice healthy coping mechanisms
Even if you’re on a tight budget, there’s no excuse to put your health on the backburner. Make time for self-care by spending time outdoors, downloading a free meditation app, participating in virtual yoga, or joining a meetup workout group in your neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Even doing a few minutes of deep abdominal breathing and focusing on soothing words or visualizing calm settings can reduce your blood pressure. Remember, there are affordable and creative ways to improve your wellness on a budget and keep chronic disease at bay.
By pairing financial literacy with stress-reducing techniques, you can hopefully get better at managing your debt stress. Finding positive ways to cope with economic hardships will help you feel more in control of your life, improve your physical and mental health, and help you build a more secure future. Practice being clear about where you are, where you want to be, and take the necessary steps to get there.