How to deal with financial stress that affects your mental health

How to deal with financial stress that affects your mental health

Money is a hot topic today. You hear that everything is expensive, from housing to groceries. Inflation reached its highest level in 40 years last year. It’s declining, but it and the pandemic have upended our financial world.

Yet the emotional side of personal finance is often not discussed, and many people suffer in silence.

But in therapy, my patients tell me privately, as a certified financial therapist and psychologist, that their finances are impacting their quality of life:

“Thinking about all this money makes me sick.”

“You want me to rate my stress on a scale of 1 to 10, but it’s an 11!”

“I felt trapped and hopeless. I honestly didn’t know where to start.”

Like my patients, you may be struggling to find a stable financial footing and manage anxiety. But there are strategies you can adopt to improve the way you feel, think and behave around money.

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Money is a common source of stress

For many American adults, their finances are a major source of stress due to rising expenses and debt.

Financial stress can harm your health and relationships. It can affect your sleep and sex drive, and cause stomach upset, headaches, and body aches. It can also make your immune system less effective, making you more likely to get sick.

Your mental and emotional health can also be affected. My patients often report a lack of self-confidence, anxiety, depression, anger, and feeling overwhelmed due to unmanageable debt, living paycheck to paycheck, financial disagreements with partners, or other financial stressors.

This stress can lead to behaviors that may make you feel better in the short term but are harmful in the long term.

Some people may shop or spend money in other ways to feel better. Shopping releases feel-good chemicals in our brains and bodies, such as dopamine and adrenaline. But overshopping can make your poor financial situation worse in the long run.

One of my patients was deep in department store credit card debt. She said: “I knew I had to stop shopping, but I would justify it every time. I said to myself, ‘I’ll eventually be able to pay this off,’ but in reality, I was just kidding myself.”

Some other common unhealthy coping strategies include ignoring money problems, sleeping and eating too much or too little, abusing substances, and isolating yourself from others.

Here are some steps I recommend to my patients to help them cope with financial stress in healthier ways:

Know your triggers and spending patterns

If you find yourself shopping, ordering takeout, or booking expensive self-care sessions when you feel stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed, you may be an emotionally over-consumer.

Pay attention to what happens before you spend money. Have you had a rough day at work or had a tense conversation with a loved one?

Open your heart to trusted loved ones

Consider sharing your money stress with someone you trust and care about you. It can help you release pent-up emotions, allow you to consider new perspectives, and help identify possible solutions.

One of my patients gets anxious every time we talk about his income and expenses. He would have shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, and a strong desire to talk about other things.

Whether you feel anxious, frustrated, angry, or sad when faced with your financial situation, identify what you need to manage those emotions. These tips can help:

  • When your emotions arise, name them.
  • Acknowledge that you are not your emotions.
  • Remind yourself that they will pass.
  • Try replacing negative or unhelpful thoughts with empowering thoughts. For example, one patient often thought, “I will never understand this stuff. I feel so stupid.” Instead, she began to think, “This information is new to me and I am learning,” which helped her calm down Come down and focus.
  • Identify coping strategies that don’t involve money, such as breathing exercises, venting to a friend, or going for a walk.
  • Set time limits for handling financial tasks to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
  • Take a break to regroup. Exercise, listen to music, play with your children, or do other activities that bring you joy.

Make a plan and track your progress

Most people seeking help don’t have a budget and don’t keep track of their money. For example, my patients who are in debt often have no plan to pay off their debt. Creating a plan for your financial situation and paying close attention to that plan can help reduce your financial stress.

If the thought of improving your personal finances or confronting your relationship with money overwhelms you, professionals can help. Most communities offer free or low-cost financial help for debt recovery, budgeting, and savings. You can also work with a fee-based financial advisor who can provide you with a personalized financial plan based on your needs.

A financial therapist or counselor can help you repair your relationship with money. A financial therapist can be a financial or mental health professional who has additional training in the emotional and psychological aspects of money management. These providers can be found through the Financial Therapy Association.

Finally, if a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD is affecting the way you handle money, you can seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Find them through your insurance company or online directories. Community mental health agencies or large universities offer free or low-cost treatment.

Financial stress can affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally. But by recognizing your feelings, paying attention to your behavioral patterns, and adjusting how you spend your money, you can reduce stress and regain control of your life.

Traci S. Williams, PsyD, ABPP, CFT-I is a board-certified clinical psychologist and certified financial therapist. She helps families improve their emotional, mental and financial health.

We welcome your comments on this column: [email protected].

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