5 Ways to Reduce Financial Stress
Feeling the squeeze from financial worry? Saying you’re not alone isn’t useful. Saying there’s professional help for your condition just might be the best thing this side of winning the lottery, which, by the way, is not a financial strategy.
Here are 5 ways to improve your financial stress:
- Make a Budget
- Get an Emergency Plan
- Tune out Social Media
- Get Professional Help: Financial & Psychological
Worrying is a natural symptom of stress and anxiety, a sense that your money problems are outside your command. But worry won’t cure what ails you. Instead, you need a multilayered plan of action, one that addresses both your financial pressures as well as your personal angst
Make a Budget
Begin by figuring out, down to the penny, where you truly stand – make a budget. Maybe you’re not as bad off as you thought. OK, maybe it’s worse. Either way, it’s far better to know.
A budget is the best available tool to ascertain, in black and white, what condition your finances are in. Sort that haystack, says Kai Dumont, Tallahassee, Fla.-based CEO of Top Shelf Credit. Get yourself organized: See what needs paying, how much, and when.
“Mentally,” Dumont says, “it’s easier to decompress once everything is on paper and not jumbled in your head. Write it out and make a plan.”
Properly drafted and meticulously followed, a budget serves as an effective way to gain command of your spending, getting yourself back on track. That’s got to be worth at least few points in stress reduction.
Correctly done, the process will involve taking a thorough inventory — income, expenses, assets, debts — says blogger Doug Mitchell, of Ogletree Financial Services. And if the source of your anxiety is debt, there’s likely to be a certain amount of pain: Unnecessary spending (premium cable, daily trips to the coffee bar, premium gas when your car will run fine on low-grade, dining out) will have to go.
Mitchell runs a 12-month spreadsheet projection with his clients — “By actually seeing the numbers over the next year the stress level will lighten,” he says — but you can do the same with many well-recommended budgeting apps, such as Mint, You Need a Budget, Wally, PocketGuard, Prism, and Acorns.
Better news: Many of the apps are free or are low-cost.
Using an app, says Best Company content management specialist Rebecca Graham, shifts the burden of fretting over your purchases, leaving you to “devote the bulk of your energy to cultivating a healthy state of mind.”
Again, done right, a budget — reinforced by your app of choice — will help identify your spending leaks, those small expenditures that, when they become habitual, leave you underwater at the end of the month … ratcheting up your misery. A budget will help plug those leaks.
Over time, your tight ship of a budget will help you make certain you’re sailing toward your debt-reduction, savings, and retirement ambitions. As you increasingly master your finances, your anxiety should slide.
As you begin to take action on the financial front, remember to take time for you. Even low-key exercise and inexpensive recreation can help you get a handle on your stress. Take the dog for a walk. Take yourself for a walk.
But don’t stop there. Consider these additional tips.
- Does your health plan include psychological therapy? Find a counselor who performs hypnotism, in which the patient enters into a deeply relaxed state and suggestions are offered to shift negative thinking toward more productive thoughts.
- Along a similar line, try a repetitive motion hobby, such as knitting or needlework, which also can produce a hypnotic euphoria.
- Exchange massages with your partner. If we are anything like the primates studied for more than four decades by Stanford professor of neurology and neurological sciences Robert Sapolsky, the one performing the massage will be more soothed than the recipient.
- Minneapolis-based Derek Hagen, a Certified Financial Planner and contributor to Money Health Blog, recommends keeping a journal. “Write down the worst-case scenario,” he suggests, and log whenever you feel anxious. “Then go back and check out your journal,” Hagen says. His theory: You’ll discover you usually overestimate bad outcomes. Also going for you: “You’ll find that if you can live with the worst-case scenarios, no matter how unlikely they are, then you can be happy knowing that the final outcome will be better than you hoped for.”
There’s catharsis in confronting your money worries in print, agrees Financial Analyst Insider contributor Lou Haverty. But don’t just wait for the muse to move you. Set a regular schedule to put your money concerns on paper, or screen, describing the emotions these cause.
Now, be the hero of your financial story: Create a prioritized list describing how you’re going to fix specific money issues. “The act of writing it down,” he says, “helps you mentally externalize the negative emotions instead of internalizing them. It also helps reduce anxiety because you have a plan to fix the problems.”
Whatever else you do, says Best Company’s Graham, focus from time to time on Right Now. It’s all you have, after all, she says. And couple this moment by concentrating on your breathing, paying particular attention to “the lightness of the air” and “the calmness of your chest rising and falling.”
Establish an Emergency Plan
Even as we work out our zen approach to financial anxiety, we also should resolve its triggers.
A common source of financial stress is the fear of being caught without the means to weather an emergency. Speaking of not being alone. Forty percent of American adults cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Board.
Your budget should include a line for building an emergency fund. Ideally, you should have six months’ living expenses in a savings account. But baby steps. Begin by stashing a set amount of money from each paycheck — easiest method: establish a separate direct deposit account — into your emergency fund.
You’ll begin to experience peace of mind the moment you know you can survive an unanticipated $1,000 car repair.
You might also consider selling a few things to build up that cash more quickly.
Tackle Your Debt
Your new, or retooled budget should include a debt-reduction component. Create a debt payoff plan and commit to it. Maybe getting there will require finding new income streams. A part-time job, a role in the gig economy (there are apps for that, too), or freelancing (ditto on the app front).
Here again, a nonprofit debt counseling service can provide key tools and guidance.
As your debt burden shrinks, watch, so will your financial stress.
Tune Out Social Media
Social media, especially, is a conduit for boastful behavior. Your friends don’t mean to brag, probably, but if you’re cooking Ramen noodles for the fourth night in a row and a former classmate is galivanting across Europe on Facebook and Instagram, it’s bound to make you wonder what you’re doing wrong.
First, avert your gaze. Then, remember, you don’t know what’s going on in their bank account, or their credit card statements. And know, also, since everyone loves good PR, people tend to post the best versions of themselves online. You can’t know what else is going on in their lives, good or ill.
Focus on yourself, your new commitment to get your financial house – and stress – in order. You’re on a path of control and confidence. Own it. And if you can’t do that, step away from your social media accounts for a while.
Get Professional Help: Financial and Psychological
Yes, there is help out there. Financial planners and, if you’re in debt trouble, nonprofit credit counseling services, who can instruct you on the most affordable, sustainable tools to guide you back toward solvency. Debt management, debt consolidation, even bankruptcy, could help you emerge from your financial funk.
“Always ask yourself,” says Manhattan psychologist Greg Kushnick, “ ‘How much anxiety am I willing to pay for this decision?’ ” In short, “Will this decision keep me up at night?”
If so, whatever you’re thinking of buying is no bargain at any price.
Don’t dwell on the decisions that brought you to financial despair. You can’t change them. “When you focus on the negative,” says psychologist Sal Raichbach with Ambrosia Treatment Center, “you create a cycle of anxiety that makes you more likely to make poor financial decisions in the future.”
Instead, become proactive. Meet with a financial advisor, or book an appointment with a nonprofit credit counseling service. Most will take a get-acquainted meeting free of charge.
“It’s like seeing a therapist for your money,” Raichbach says.
In that first meeting, you’re likely to gain a sense that you have begun wresting back control of your future, because you’ll have joined a team of experts that has your financial back.
The worst thing to do is what you’re doing now, repeating the mistakes, and avoiding the underlying issues. The more we do that, Raichbach says, “the more anxiety it brings us.”
Because it can motivate us to make good and necessary change, a little anxiety is a good thing. The sort of anxiety that locks us into place — making us ineffective and grumpy, and those around us miserable — is what must be resolved. Let’s get busy.
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