What is financial stress – and what are the symptoms?
Financial stress encompasses everyday money worries: but it can prove to be more overwhelming than that. If financial worries become a constant source of anxiety, the brain can release unhealthy amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. This can have a prolonged effect on your mental and physical health, and should not be ignored.
If you are concerned that you are suffering from acute financial stress, here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
· Trouble sleeping. This is number one on the list, because financial anxiety often manifests itself as a ‘noisy brain’, which can make it difficult to switch off and fall asleep. Unfortunately, being sleep-deprived can make anxiety worse, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
· Unhealthy behaviours. In order to cope with the stress, many people find themselves falling into unhealthy patterns: comfort eating, relying on alcohol, or indulging in potentially risky distractions (such as gambling).
· Low mood. Financial stress has a noticeable impact on mental health, particularly if left unchecked. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental states that can be triggered by financial stress – leading to low mood, feeling on edge, and even panic attacks.
· Physical issues. Stress isn’t just mental – it has physical impacts, too. Headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and raised blood pressure are all common side-effects of stress.
Financial stress can have an impact on your overall health, so it should be taken seriously; however, these issues are not insurmountable. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to alleviate the pressure and improve your wellbeing (which we’ll discuss next).
Ways to Cope with Financial Stress, #1: Take Time For Yourself
The phrase ‘self care’ has become something of a buzzword, and this may attract a healthy level of scepticism: after all, how will getting into a bubble bath or doing some yoga help you to combat your financial worries?! However, we’d encourage you to give self-care a chance. In order to work through financial concerns, you need to be in a calm headspace: this will help you to make strategic and well-balanced decisions. Furthermore, scientists agree that self-care actually works: it has been proven to reduce anxiety, increase focus, and improve clarity.
In order to give yourself the best chance to cope with financial stress, put yourself first. That means eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, practising good sleep hygiene (putting devices down before bed; keeping to a regular bedtime; and sleeping at least 7 hours per night), exercising regularly, and building mental resilience through techniques like mindfulness and meditation.
Ways to Cope with Financial Stress, #2: Identify Key Stressors
Breaking financial concerns down into smaller – more manageable - chunks can be a really helpful coping mechanism. So, if you do feel besieged by financial anxiety, try to identify the key pressure points. For example, do you have a lot of credit card debt? Are you worried about a big upcoming bill? Making a short list of your money challenges is a good idea: writing things down will give you a sense of control; seeing the sources of stress laid out can give you a sense of perspective and help you plan your next move; and you can review this list every few months to check in on the progress you’ve made.
Ways to Cope with Financial Stress, #3: Make a Budget
It’s a Cherry Godfrey favourite, and a powerful tool: making a budget! Joking aside, creating a monthly budget really is one of the best ways to combat money challenges. Not only will this help you gain clarity on the reality of your financial situation, but also formulating a budget will help you avoid overspending and jumpstart your ability to save – allowing you to redirect money to areas of financial stress (which you’ve already identified by creating a list; see above!).
If you already have a budget, the start of the year is a good time to review and tweak this. Has your net income changed? What about your expenses? Are these divided into ‘needs’ (essential things, like energy bills) and ‘wants’ (desirable things, like your daily takeaway coffee or holiday fund)? Can you make a few small changes to free up some extra cash?
Even if you feel stretched, financially speaking, do remember that taking small steps now can make a big difference in the long term. Your budget will help you identify where these tweaks can be made, and will help you feel empowered in your financial situation – whatever this may be.
Ways to Cope with Financial Stress, #4: Start to Save for Emergencies
It might not be possible to save for a rainy day, but using your budget to trim any fat and divert some cash (even if it’s a tiny amount) to an emergency fund could be a huge source of stress relief in future. Knowing that you have some money set aside for unexpected issues (if the boiler needs mending, for example) will really help to alleviate financial anxiety.
The important thing to remember here is not to focus on the timescales. It may take a long period of time to build an emergency fund that will have an impact – but this doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Focus on putting aside what you can, knowing that you’re taking control of your finances, and try not to fixate on the actual amount that you’re saving.