How to Mentally Handle Financially Tough Times
Why reducing stress and getting better sleep and nutrition can help
(Editor's Note: This story is part of a partnership between Chasing the Dream and Next Avenue.)
Stress caused by financial difficulties can become chronic, especially if the financial difficulties are ongoing. So how do you deal with it?
Many people don’t. Money is one of the most difficult subjects for people to talk about. It is also one of the top reasons marriages end in divorce. But there are a few things you can do to handle chronic stress caused by ongoing financial difficulties.
First, consider the source of your stress. Do you have trouble meeting your monthly expenses? Are your bills frequently paid late? Are you getting phone calls from bill collectors? Try to become more financially literate about what’s stressing you out. This means having the complete picture of your financial situation so you can figure out the steps you need to take to improve things. That by itself represents forward progress towards making things better and reducing stress.
Second, consider seeking professional help, like a credit counseling service. This kind of expert may be able to help lower your overall monthly financial commitment. And knowing someone is working to help you can relieve the stress of feeling like the entire burden rests on your shoulders.
Third, buy a personal finance book. This can help you create a plan for moving forward, which will go a long way towards helping with the stress.
Unexpected Ways Financial Stress Can Affect You
Financial stress can affect your health in ways you might not expect.
A 2016 study from researchers at the University of Michigan and the Genesee County Health Department (published in the CDC Journal Preventing Chronic Disease) found that when people experience financial stress, they tend to cut spending on things that have a positive impact on their overall health.
People may, for instance, underuse medications or cancel visits to their doctor. They might cancel their gym membership and get lured into buying inexpensive, but nutritionally vacant, fast food. Even taking time to work out in the basement or go for a walk can feel like it’s taking time away from doing something that could make extra money.
But some of the things people eliminate or reduce can best combat stress.
Exercise and Stress
Take exercise. In his book, Spark, Dr. John J. Ratey, notes that one of the most effective ways to fight stress is to exercise. In fact, as Ratey says, exercise provides a whole host of mental and emotional benefits — and you don’t need expensive equipment or a gym membership. Any form of moderately difficult exercise done for at least 30 minutes, and on a regular basis, will work wonders.
This is because exercise actually changes your brain by promoting the growth of new brain cells. If you try to learn new things and develop new habits, many of those brain cells will create connections that will reinforce the new, positive behaviors you’re learning. Regular exercise will help you sleep better, too. Stress can make sleep difficult because it can keep you aroused.
A good night’s sleep is also related to better health, a better outlook and greater overall satisfaction with life. A poor night’s sleep is related to increased feelings of anxiety, anger, fatigue, confusion and dissatisfaction with life.
The Importance of Healthy Eating
Eating better is also key. The journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America published a study indicating that “unhealthy eating patterns will only result in an increased level of stress.”
This study also pointed out a sad irony: While people experiencing stress really need nutritious foods that will help them handle their stress, they tend to opt for unhealthy options instead.
Meditation and Mindfulness Training
As you get more into a healthier lifestyle. you might want to try other ways of reducing stress, such as meditating or mindfulness training (as ABC anchor Dan Harris did, which he recounted in his 2014 book, 10% Happier).
A 2011 study, published in the journal NeuroImage, showed that mindfulness stress reduction training like meditation increases certain “intrinsic connectivity networks” in your brain. Translation: it lets you handle stress better.
This story is part of our partnership with Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America, a public media initiative created to stimulate a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty. Major funding is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.