You hate to admit it, but even if you don't say it out loud, “I'm so stressed out” describes how you feel most of the time.
Helping your aging parents is stressful. Dealing with a challenging medical situation in your family is stressful.
And your financial stress is always there.
You haven't been to the gym in months. You look forward to a glass of wine (or two) each night. You're snapping at your kids and your partner too often. And you can't remember the last time you had a good night's sleep.
Payday is the only day you feel some relief – but it doesn't last for long. Your stress about money is hurting your health. And you're not alone.
Why Is There So Much Financial Stress?
You don't have to look far too far to find statistics about large numbers of people feeling stressed about money.
- Even with many positive indicators, a 2018 Federal Reserve Report on the Economic Well-being of U.S. Households showed that 40% of people surveyed couldn't cover a $400 emergency expense without selling something or borrowing money.
- Revolving balances on credit card debt in the average American household is almost $7,000.
- 70% of college graduates (over 44 million Americans) have student loan debt averaging over $37,000.
- In a 2017 survey by CareerBuilder, 78% of full-time workers reported living paycheck to paycheck, and 56% said they were “in over their heads” regarding debt.
Those are just some of the sobering statistics you'll find explaining why so many people feel stress about their finances.
Ways Stress Affects Your Health
It's important to stop and look at all of the different ways stress is negatively impacting your health, your relationships, and your quality of life.
The pressure you are feeling might be a short-term issue. But there is also a chance you're struggling with chronic stress, and you don't even realize it.
Stress Impacts Your Physical Health
Financial stress affects your physical health in a variety of ways.
It may be causing the migraines or headaches you're experiencing. Or they could be the result of grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw due to stress.
Do you have trouble sleeping? In addition to daytime tiredness, irritability and a higher risk of injury or accidents are concerns.
If you have chronic sleep problems, you could increase the chance of having severe health issues including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more.
If you struggle to sleep, you might drink a lot of coffee to stay alert during the day. High caffeine levels can impact your ability to sleep at night. This creates a cycle of poor sleep and the need for even more caffeine.
Caffeine can also give you heart palpitations and indigestion.
Stress might affect your diet in other ways too. Do you reach for a bag of cookies or a carton of ice cream when you're stressed?
Foods loaded with refined sugars and saturated fats might make you feel better for a few minutes – but they're foods high in calories and low in nutrients, not choices promoting good health.
Worse yet, you may reach for alcoholic drinks or cigarettes as a way to deal with stress. The more stress you face, the more you might drink or smoke (or both) as ways to deal with your problems.
Don't forget these are not just bad for your health; they're not good for your bank account either.
Feeling stress, you're more likely to skip any kind of exercise routine too – even though it could reduce your stress levels.
All of these physical ailments can add to your stress level and financial concerns if you need to take time off work, for doctors' appointments, medical tests, physical therapy, or take over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Stress Impacts Your Emotional and Mental Health
In addition to all of the physical health issues people face from stress, their emotional and mental health can also suffer.
Constant stress about your finances can make you anxious and bring on depression.
This can affect your mood, your productivity, and your ability to make sound decisions. Stress may even cost you your job – creating even more financial stress.
Financial stress can also create ongoing tension and hard feelings between people in a relationship or within a family.
Similar to physical ailments, chronic stress can cost you time and money in terms of your health.
Anxiety, depression, and relationship issues are just a few reasons you may miss work, seek medical treatment or therapy, take prescription medications, and more.
While spending money to address your stress is crucial to your health, facing your financial situation may also help alleviate some of these health problems.
If you're overwhelmed by stress (financial or any other type) and feel you can't cope or if you are using alcohol or drugs to cope – seek help from your family, your doctor, or from other community resources. If you're having suicidal thoughts – immediately call 911, go to your local emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Take Control of Your Financial Stress to Improve Your Health
It's clear that financial stress (along with the other stressors you face in life) can hurt you if the stress persists over time.
It's normal for people to have some level of stress. But it isn't normal for your physical, emotional, or mental health to be impacted.
There are some things you can do to help relieve some stress and make it easier to manage your life and relationships as you work to get your financial situation under control.
Remember – you probably didn't get into financial problems overnight and you aren't going to fix them that quickly either.
- If you're feeling a significant level of stress, find a support system fast. Talk to family members, your doctor, a therapist or counselor, a career or life coach or a financial coach, or anyone else who you feel comfortable speaking with. You don't have to take on stress alone. If you're eligible for any type of government services or if your community offers financial support in any way, take advantage of what's available.
- Focus on what you put into your body each day and get moving. Skip happy hour or grabbing a fast food dinner. Instead, go home and get out for a walk. Make a healthy meal and don't indulge in a sugary dessert before you go to bed. Also, turn off the electronics at least an hour before you go to sleep. The better you feel, the better you'll be able to handle the stressful situations you face each day.
- If you don't use a budget or track your expenses, make it a priority. While you may be in a worse financial situation than you even realize – the opposite may also be true. Without knowing how much income you bring in each month and where each dollar is being spent, you're bound to have financial stress. Building an emergency fund (even a small one) will help you sleep better at night too.
- If your income doesn't cover your bills, you have some decisions to make. Do you have time to add a part-time job or will that cause more stress? Does reducing your expenses make more sense? If you still aren't sure what to do after looking at your options, talk to someone you trust. They may suggest ideas you haven't even considered.
It's Not Selfish; It's Smart
Putting your health first doesn't mean joining a fancy gym and getting further in debt. It means your physical, emotional, and mental health matters, and that you should take steps to reduce chronic stress – regardless of the cause.
Vicki and Amy are authors of Estate Planning 101 – a Crash Course in Planning for the Unexpected -coming soon from Adams Media.