Dealing with Money Stress

All of us face stress from our financial situation at some point. For some, the stress might come from not being able to make our bills. For others, it might come from suboptimal returns in our retirement accounts or money loaned to a relative who’s clearly not going to pay you back or a spouse that’s spending too much.

Money stress can strike regardless of how secure your financial situation seems to be. There are always events that can twist the state of things and make what once seemed secure into something worrisome.

As with any source of stress, money stress adds a negative element to your life. WebMD lists a ton of effects that stress has on the body. Some choice highlights:

Over time, stress can affect your:
+ Immune system. Constant stress can make you more likely to get sick more often. And if you have a chronic illness such as AIDS, stress can make your symptoms worse.
+ Heart. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), blood clots, and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). It’s also linked to coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure.
+ Muscles. Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder, and low back pain. Stress may make rheumatoid arthritis worse.
+ Stomach. If you have stomach problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, or irritable bowel syndrome, stress can make your symptoms worse.
+ Lungs. Stress can make symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) worse.
+ Skin. Skin problems such as acne and psoriasis are made worse by stress.


You might notice signs of stress in the way you think, act, and feel. You may:
+ Feel cranky and unable to deal with even small problems.
+ Feel frustrated, lose your temper more often, and yell at others for no reason.
+ Feel jumpy or tired all the time.
+ Find it hard to focus on tasks.
+ Worry too much about small things.
+ Feel that you are missing out on things because you can’t act quickly.
+ Imagine that bad things are happening or about to happen.

Personally, I notice that stress tends to leave me feeling cranky and also gives me an ongoing sense that very bad things are just around the corner, which adds to my stress level. I’ve noticed many of the negative health effects as well.

There are six primary strategies that people can use to tackle stress. Some of these strategies work better than others for different people. If you’re finding that financial and career stress are hitting you hard, try some of these approaches and see which ones work for you.

#1: Avoid unnecessary stress
The most effective way to do this with regards to financial stress is to cut unnecessary spending in your life. If you’re spending money on things that are frivolous and aren’t giving you enjoyment relative to the amount of money you’re spending, cut back greatly on that spending.

I find that examining my daily routines is a great way to identify where my money should – or shouldn’t – be spent. If I only spend a few hours a month on a particular hobby, I shouldn’t be spending much money at all on that hobby. How much money am I spending per hour of enjoyment in an area of my life?

#2: Alter the situation
There are a lot of ways to alter a financially stressful situation. Much of the time, communication is a great way to adjust the situation. Often, other people in your life can be the ones that cause the stress, so talk to them about it calmly. If it’s not a person, there’s still a good chance that others in your life might see the situation from a new angle and really help you.

For us, regular money conversations help us identify potentially stressful money problems and come up with solutions together before they grow into stressful situations. If something does come up, we talk about it together before making decisions.

#3: Adapt to the stressor
Sometimes, you can’t immediately alter or avoid a stressful situation. In those instances, you have to find ways to adapt to the problem. One effective way of doing this is to look at the big picture. If you have something stressful in your life, it’s likely that the situation is bringing both positives and negatives into your life and that, on the whole, the stressful aspects are worth it.

I find it useful to make a list of the positive aspects of whatever the stressor is. If it’s debt, then it helped me to purchase something that I value. If it’s an asset that’s gone down in value, then at least it still has value and has the potential for a big rebound. Most negatives have positives that counterbalance them and make it easier to deal with them.

#4: Accept the things you can’t change
All of us do have negatives in our life that we simply can’t change, no matter how much we’d like. Some of us have medical issues – for example, I was born with a malfunctioning thyroid, blindness in my right eye, and deafness in my left ear. Others have personal responsibilities that they simply cannot change, for one reason or another.

I find that prayer and meditation help immensely with the things I can’t handle in my life. I set aside some time to simply clear my mind of everything, with no distractions. This can often greatly reduce my stress level.

#5: Make time for fun and relaxation
Sometimes, our lives are filled with stress. We’re constantly busy and we have no time to unwind, causing us to continually build up our stress level to a point where we can no longer constructively handle it. All of us need some outlets for our stress.

For money stress, I find it incredibly effective to utilize free or low-cost activities that I enjoy. I’ll read a book I already own or that I pick up from the library. I’ll play a game I already own. I’ll go on a long walk (sometimes meditating to an extent while walking). These things provide simple enjoyment and relaxation without costing me much of anything.

#6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle
A final tactic to utilize in battling financial stress is to improve your personal health. The more healthy you are, the easier your body handles physical and mental stress, no matter the source.

There are a lot of simple and effective tactics for getting healthier. Get plenty of sleep so that your body wakes up naturally instead of someone or something waking you up. Eat a healthier diet with fruits and vegetables making up much of your food intake and water being the liquid you drink most often. Eliminate things like smoking and drinking from your life. Get some regular exercise, even if it’s just a walk around your neighborhood.

Applying some combination of these strategies can help tremendously when handling financial stress. It can make difficult situations much easier to tolerate and make life more enjoyable even when your financial state is a challenge.

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