Not one of us is a stranger to the sweaty palm, the nervous heartbeat, the feeling of being a little on edge. Every single person deals with some anxiety. And almost all of us, whether we know it or not, find little ways to cope with our anxious feelings. Coffee with a friend. Exercise. Fresh air. A spa day. Professional help. But what about financial anxiety? What can we do to cope with that?
What is anxiety?
Occasional feelings of anxiety are a completely normal part of life, particularly when we’re forced to deal with stressful situations. Do you get tense when you have to drive on a crowded freeway? Do you feel on edge while preparing for a big meeting at work? These feelings of anxiety can trip us up temporarily, but they don’t usually rule a person’s life day in and day out.
That life-ruling anxiety is more closely aligned with anxiety disorders. As the National Institute of Mental Health says, “anxiety disorders involve more than a temporary worry or fear …. The anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.” There are many different types of anxiety disorders, but on a broad level, an anxiety disorder happens the moment anxiety takes over your life and keeps you from successfully navigating work, relationships, and life goals.
Financial stress and anxiety
Introduce money into the emotional well-being equation, and invariably things can get a lot more complicated. According to the American Psychological Association, money is a leading cause of stress among Americans. And it has consistently topped the list since the association’s Stress in America™ survey began tracking stress in 2007.
So how does financial stress lead to real, overbearing anxiety that, left unchecked, could hurt your overall health?
According to Stress in America, nearly one-third of Americans say their finances or lack of money prevent them from living a healthy lifestyle. And 1 in 5 say they have either skipped or considered skipping trips to the doctor in the past year in order to save money.
Living an unhealthy lifestyle and ignoring medical problems are factors that could lead to worsened health conditions. That could mean longer treatments, higher medical bills, and more anxiety.
The survey includes research that suggests financial struggles strain individuals’ cognitive abilities, which could lead to poor decision-making and may perpetuate unfavorable financial and health situations. Financial anxiety seems to become a cycle that feeds off itself by potentially worsening an individual’s health as well as financial decision-making.
Money can be complicated. It seems to have the unusual power of both causing stress and alleviating it – at least to a point. Even millionaires report financial stress caused by the pressure to keep earning and maintain their family’s lifestyles, according to a 2015 UBS study. Nearing retirement is another time when people report feelings of financial anxiety. Actively preparing for your retirement can help alleviate some of this pressure.
If you do find yourself feeling stressed or even anxious about your finances, there are ways to regain control.
Tips for coping with financial stress
Anxiety often begins in your head. For that reason, it might make sense to consider tackling your money problems in your mind first.
- Change your thoughts. If you have a knee-jerk negative reaction every time you imagine George Washington’s face on a dollar bill, try to stop for a moment and consider that, unlike traffic, weather, and angry bosses, you have a degree of control when it comes to money. You have the power to manage your habits and decisions.
- Find friendly encouragement. One of the best antidotes for stress is social support, experts say. And when it comes to financial stress it’s no different. Meet a friend for lunch – or better yet, make lunch together at home to save some dough. Try finding people who have also experienced financial troubles. They may be more understanding and might even have insights and tips that will help you effectively cope.
Stress and physical health are intertwined. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, common anxiety disorder symptoms include muscle tension and sleep problems. And the Mayo Clinic says stress left unchecked can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. If your financial outlook is causing you to feel the above symptoms, consider taking these proactive steps:
- Maintain regular exercise . If high prices are keeping you out of your local high-end gym, head outside. You can go online to find a variety of free workouts you can do to stay fit at any nearby park or even at home. You may also want to consider combining exercise with social support and exercise with a friend. The benefits of exercise and socializing can be gained by simply going for a hike or even a walk around your neighborhood too.
- Combine body and mind with yoga . Though yoga memberships can get expensive, there are plenty of free yoga videos online for those who can’t spare the change. If you can go to a studio, it’s a great opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals, and yoga teachers can serve as great guides for navigating the anxieties of everyday life.
Of course, when dealing with financial stress, it helps to put your money where your mouth is and take real financial action. Consider the options below to see which fit with your unique situation and goals.
- Make a budget. It’s the most basic and probably most helpful thing you can do to take more control of your money and reduce financial anxiety. You can start with online tools or by writing down all of your expenses, like food, housing, transportation, clothing, and social engagement expenses like alcohol and entertainment. Then compare what you’re spending versus what you’re bringing in. Having everything out in the open will show you where you might be overspending and help identify changes you can make to free up some cash. Flabby financial habits can end up costing you if left unchecked.
- Single out a spending decision. Look at discrepancies in your budget. Everyone’s different. Some spend too much on housing because they want to live in a specific part of town. Others struggle to control their spending on alcohol at bars and events. Still others might put themselves into debt in other ways. Start by identifying one thing you think you can cut back on. Make it manageable. Do you spend $100 on clothes per month? Try cutting it to $50. Achievable, bit-sized goals will help you develop and sustain your habits and save money over time.
- Automate. Credit card payments, utility bills, rent or mortgage – all of these bills may be automated online, which means you don’t have to think about them or those pesky late fees when you set everything up to be paid on time. Just make sure you understand your budget so you’ve got the cash to cover everything.
- Pay yourself first. You are your most important employee. Focus on building a solid emergency fund, savings account, or on getting yourself out of debt before you spend your cash on trendy food trucks and Uber rides. It’s the best way to ensure you meet your financial goals. Try putting money out of every paycheck into an account you can’t easily access. And always take advantage of a 401(k) or some other type retirement savings account if your employer offers them.
Financial anxiety can be a challenging and unexpected road to navigate. No one should have to go it alone. Click below join the conversation in our community and share your tips or questions.
Things to Consider:
- Find a supportive social network.
- Take care of your body and mind.
- Create smart habits that alleviate financial stress.