Have you felt more anxious than usual about your finances recently? Maybe you are wondering if you will be able to pay your bills on time this month, or maybe you are considering calling off that second vacation of the year. If so, you are not alone.
The experience of financial stress is subjective and highly personal, but it can be felt by anyone, regardless of income level. Further, with inflation currently outpacing wage growth, this means a higher cost of living for Americans across the board.
According to CNBC, approximately 56% of Americans have noticed a decline in their standard of living. Additionally, The Washington Post noted that many people are picking up additional jobs just to cover basic expenses.
Financial stress is a sneaky and therefore dangerous type of stress because it compounds slowly until it feels too overwhelming to overcome.
Outlined below is an introductory guide aimed to help you not only identify financial stress in your life, but also develop clarity around how to manage it on a daily basis.
What are the symptoms of financial stress?
Financial stress is defined as “a state of worry, anxiety, or emotional tension related to money, debt, and upcoming or current expenses”. This sometimes presents in the form of physical worry or anxiety; however, it can manifest in other ways as well. If you can relate to any items on the list below, then you may be experiencing financial stress:
- Avoidance of money-related tasks, such as checking bank or credit card statements
- Hopelessness about the future
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about past financial decision-making or current financial situation
- Physical symptoms such as racing heartbeat, sweating, or change in appetite
- Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep due to financial worries
If you have identified that you are experiencing financial stress, first know that it is completely reasonable to feel this way. It makes sense and is nothing to be ashamed of. Being able to identify a major source of stress in your life is an important first step in addressing it.
Below are a few “DOs” and “DON’Ts” to consider. They won’t pay your bills, but they will provide some direction toward managing your finance-related anxiety and ultimately increasing your overall wellbeing.
*Please note: While financial stress can be experienced by anyone, lack of access to affordable, relevant resources can contribute to its intensity. Thus, the strategies included below are primarily cost-friendly or free.
DO: Create a Plan with Small, Attainable Goals
Oftentimes, simply laying out concrete steps necessary to move forward can help ease some of the anxiety people experience related to money. These goals should be personalized to you. They will likely include creating some version of a budget and adjusting your lifestyle habits incrementally. Many tools have already been created for individuals to build these habits in convenient and accessible ways:
- Budgeting Apps:
- Budgeting Podcasts:
- Budgeting blogs/websites:
Additionally, beginning with realistic, daily goals will allow you to truly acknowledge and experience the progress you are making. Before you realize it, you will have developed financially sustainable habits that can act as a solid foundation for financial health moving forward.
DO: Talk to a Therapist
In our current society, many believe that it is taboo to talk about our finances. While younger generations are beginning to turn this idea on its head, it is still a topic many feel uncomfortable broaching in conversation. A therapist can not only help you set realistic financial goals, helping to provide clarity and a launchpad for continued action, but they can also sit with you while you process the related discomfort, fear, guilt, and shame that often accompanies financial stress. If you would like to set up an appointment with a therapist today, please visit our practice’s website at https://www.moderneracounseling.com/get-started/.
DO: Engage in Positive Affirmations and Self-talk
Repeating positive affirmations will help to develop a compassionate and resilient inner dialogue. Over time, this useful daily practice will become a refined skillset that you can rely on in moments of need. For example, say you notice a spiral of worried thoughts related to a recent impulsive purchase. You can use this as an opportunity to gently forgive yourself. Your affirmation might simply be, “I forgive myself for decisions I have made in the past”. You can remind yourself that you are human. You might also create an affirmation related to your financial action plan. Perhaps it is, “I trust in this process” or “I can accomplish my plan one step at a time”. Personalize these affirmations to you and your experience. Make them short and simple. Repeat them frequently.
DO: Invite Others In
The intense emotions that frequently accompany stress can be easily, though often inadvertently, redirected at others. This can create compounding tension and, in some cases, strain relationships. Thus, it is important to reflect on how your experience of financial stress is impacting those you care about and set intentions to address it. Building an awareness of this stress, developing effective communication and emotional regulation skills, and creating open lines of communication regarding money are all great places to start. Therapists are great trained resources to help you build these skills and navigate hurdles in relationships. Further, surrounding yourself with social support will provide encouragement and accountability as you make progress toward your goals.
There is only one major “DON’T”.
DON’T: Continue to Avoid
Mistakes and slip ups are inevitable. We are all human. The expectation is not that once you begin your journey toward financial wellbeing you will follow your plan to perfection. However, you must not avoid, blindly hoping that your troubles will go away if you don’t acknowledge them. While it is tempting, it will only cause stress to build beneath the surface. To make true progress, you must be courageous and face your struggle head on. It will feel difficult and overwhelming at first, but if you follow the steps outlined above, each day will hopefully feel a bit easier. Eventually, you will notice your motivation and self-confidence increase and your stress lessen. Use this guide as a foundation, and then build on it and make it your own.