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What does fighting with my husband until 2 am, clinical depression, and feeling like a big fat failure at life all have in common?
Obesity. Smoking. Diabetes. These are the risk factors we typically think of when we consider threats to our overall health. We’ve all read about the dangers of maintaining a poor diet, putting carcinogenic substances into our bodies, and spending too much time on the couch binging on Netflix instead of sweating it out at the gym.
But financial stress is a hidden danger that poses an even greater risk to our health and well-being.
The toll that financial stress takes on our lives and overall health is often overlooked. After all, everyone has money problems, right? And because most people have complicated feelings about money, like guilt, shame, anxiety, and overwhelm, they often avoid tending to their finances because it’s just too much to deal with.
WHY ARE WE SO STRESSED OUT ABOUT MONEY?
A 2017 report in MarketWatch found that 50 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and almost 20 percent of people have no savings to speak of.
On surveys, people report feeling anxious and fearful about their financial well-being, and “struggling to make ends meet” even if they’re making six figure incomes.
Then a pandemic swept across the globe and caused an even bigger financial crisis. No wonder we lay awake at night worrying about how to pay the bills and find ourselves crying over our empty bank accounts.
Our long-standing culture of consumerism and neuromarketing doesn’t bode well for our financial or mental health either.
Companies invest billions of dollars every year to create advertisements that appeal to our brains and manipulate our buying habits, resulting in a maxed out Visa and underlying feelings of buyer’s remorse after one too many retail therapy sessions at Macy’s.
Targeted marketing on our Facebook feeds and one-click buying options on Amazon tempt us every five seconds to buy now, get more, and have better, which is consumerism at it’s finest. It’s easier than ever to fill our online shopping carts and rack up more and more debt.
The consequences of overspending and under earning don’t just impact our wallets. Our mental, emotional, and physical health suffer too.
Financial stress can cause a number of issues, including:
- Sleep issues and insomnia
- Increased likelihood of illness
- Muscle/Joint Aches and Pains
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mood issues
- Relationship issues
- Absences from work
- Substance abuse
- Clinical depression and anxiety
As a licensed couple’s therapist, you’d think I’d know how to ward off depression, anxiety, and major money fights with my husband, but financial stress doesn’t discriminate.
Several years ago, I found myself in the same position as many of my clients - in the midst of a financial crisis, constantly on edge, and unable to get the fear of bankruptcy, divorce, and losing my business out of my head.
I was drowning in $87,000 of debt, working my butt off to grow my mental health private practice, losing money in my business everyday, and wondering if I’d make more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
Completely overwhelmed by my finances, I avoided them like the plague by stuffing bills in the back of my desk drawer (out of sight, out of mind) and refusing to look at my bank account for months at a time.
When my husband would casually inquire about when I would ever bring home a paycheck from my business, I’d bite his head off in defensiveness, which would turn into hour-long fights about money.
My feelings of desperation and financial chaos lead to angry outbursts, feelings of guilt and shame, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. And the financial stress I experienced impacted every area of my life, including how I performed at work, to how I interacted with the people I love, and how my body functioned. (I’ll spare you the gross details of the intestinal issues, chronic acne, and “unexplained” weight loss I went through.)
After a while, I got sick of feeling sick over my finances and started applying the techniques and strategies I use with therapy clients to my financial life. I created a toolbox full of tools to alleviate financial stress and help myself regain a sense of financial control, and now I’m sharing those tools with you.
Here are some simple ways to cure financial stress and improve your overall health:
- Make tending to your finances fun.
Most people avoid managing their finances consistently because it feels boring, overwhelming, and complicated. But brushing financial issues under the rug only makes problems worse, not better.
Make tending to your finances fun, so it feels like one big guilty pleasure you can look forward to. Schedule a flirty “money date” for one hour every week and spend some “quality time” with your money. Light some candles, play your favorite love songs, nibble on some chocolate-covered strawberries, and sit down with your money as if it were the love of your life.
While personifying your money and treating your relationship with your finances like a romantic relationship might sound strange, this simple mindset shift can reduce confusion and dread when it comes to managing your money and addressing financial problems.
- Talk about money.
For some weird reason, talking about money is taboo, but it’s time to end the stigma and start talking about money matters. If you don’t talk about money, you’ll never discover that the coworker who does the exact same job as you is making a bigger salary, and you’ll never learn your neighbor’s secret method of bargain shopping that could save you hundreds at the grocery store.
It’s also important to talk about money with your partner. Because money is the number one topic couples fight about, they tend to avoid discussions about it, but this makes people feel more alone and under pressure to figure things out by themselves. When couples work together, they increase their financial power and can achieve their financial goals in a fraction of the time it would take doing it alone.
Try setting aside time with your partner, friends, colleagues, and family to share ideas and stories about money, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
- Create a debt payoff plan.
You may feel like you want to crawl under the covers and never look at your finances again, but having a plan and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel has a great way of instilling hope that you can turn your financial life around.
By creating a plan for how to pay off all your debt, you’ll regain a sense of control over your finances and realize it’s possible to live debt free.
Don’t know where to start? A financial therapist or financial planner can help.
- Use a spending plan (aka. budget)
Before I started using a budget, I didn’t know how much money was coming in or going out every month, and it felt like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station searching for my bestie amidst a swarming crowd of people.
By using a budgeting app like You Need a Budget or Mint, it’s easy to track income and expenses and know at the drop of a hat how much money you have.
Can budgeting really be a form of self-care? Absolutely.
- Celebrate financial wins.
Instead of beating ourselves up over money mistakes or feeling like complete financial failures, we need to focus on what’s working or going well in our financial lives.
The credit card got paid on time this month? Fantastic! Celebrate!
Did you empty out the impulse buys from your cart before checking out? You’re awesome!
Ruminating on all the things going wrong financially will only create more stress and health issues. So, let’s use our precious mental energy for thinking about the wins while we make progress overcoming financial challenges.
While it seems counterintuitive, facing our financial fears head-on is what will make us feel better.
By simply devoting some time and attention to our finances and shifting our perception of money, we can cure financial stress, improve our overall health, and lead happier financial lives.
Now, comment below and share one of your financial wins so I can celebrate with you!
There’s no win too small to celebrate!