How to Cope with Financial Stress

Patrice Washington

Unable to focus at school or work? Tossing and turning at night thinking about the debt you wish you didn’t have? Avoiding opening bills because the sight of them makes your stomach turn flips? If you’ve ever felt some level of anxiety, worry, panic, or guilt in relation to past, present, or predicted financial events then you have likely experienced financial stress. The Financial Health Institute defines “financial stress” as a condition that is the result of financial and/or economic events that create anxiety, worry, or a sense of scarcity and is accompanied by a physiological stress response.” It’s a real phenomenon even when we’re not in the midst of a global pandemic, so you need to know you’re definitely not alone and that there is something you can do about it.

Practical Shifts for Coping with Financial Stress

  1. Acknowledge the source of your stress. When we don’t acknowledge what we’re experiencing, we allow it to slowly spiral into more significant issues that could’ve been avoidable. Not focusing at work because of a credit card debt could cause you to make a mistake and put your job in jeopardy. Insomnia can eventually lead to other more severe health challenges. And running from creditors instead of being straight up about where you currently stand can cause you to miss out on financial hardship programs or more flexible repayment options. The sooner you can say, “This specific and particular financial concern is stressing me out!” the sooner you can begin to search for answers.

  2. Find trusted resources to support you. Once we can name the noise going on in our heads and bodies about our money situation, we can start to map out what we actually need next. Perhaps you need to start with a budget to help you figure out why the heck you keep coming up short each month. Maybe your job just isn’t cutting it and it’s time to sharpen up your skills so you can go after the next opportunity. What if the creditor you’re running from actually offers financial counseling to support its customers, but you don’t know because you haven’t asked? When you know what you need, you can be empowered to go find just that. The overwhelm sets in when we don’t narrow down what we actually need next and focus only on getting that one specific need met for now.

  3. Practice mindfulness daily. Much of our financial stress is caused by the judgements we have about our money circumstances. I’m so bad with money! How long will I have to live this way? Here we go again! When you look at yourself through that lens, it makes you react by beating yourself up as opposed to responding by looking for the lesson. One way to practice mindfulness is to start each day with a gratitude list. We know there’s so much we could complain about, but start with listing three simple things each day that you’re grateful for (in spite of your financial circumstances) either out loud in the shower or in a journal or even your phone’s “Notes” section. Next, take a moment to pause throughout the day and just breathe. Whether it’s five minutes in the morning or spending an entire lunch break just being present to your surroundings, your breath and your body. We literally can take moments to just be without having to frustrate ourselves with trying to solve all of our problems at every waking moment. Lastly, look into guided meditations to help with stress reduction. YouTube is full of great meditations about overcoming money worries from five minutes to an hour. Just close your eyes and take one in no matter how awkward it feels.

Believe it or not, no matter how much money you earn, financial stress is real for all of us. Learning how to cope with these feelings as a normal part of your life will make the difference between being consumed by it and overcoming it with grace.