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Stressed Out? Here’s How to Manage Financial Stress

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One of the most acute sources of stress is money; it’s also one of the most ignored. Unfortunately for those struggling with financial stress, it can trigger stressors in their lives. 

Often intertwined, the stress in one area of life creates vulnerability to stress in others. For example, consider financial stress in a relationship. Situations like job loss or emergency needs get in the way of buying a new car or going on a dream vacation. 

What about personal health? Stress often exacerbates symptoms. Then comes the bill! Those could be additional financial challenges never expected. That compounding stress is bound to create further sickness and poor health. 

That heavy feeling is how the term ‘cycle of debt‘ becomes tangible. You’re working hard, but you aren’t going anywhere. Financial stress can confine anyone into a never-ending loop of worry. 

Understanding the cycle of stress

In conjunction with psyML, Beyond Finance conducted a research study. One key highlight was that 40% of those who reported substantial stress about their debt loads indicated overwhelming anxiety about losing their job. Stress rarely works alone, as it will beget additional stress. 

Daily worry about personal finances makes it exhausting to relax and enjoy the good things in life. On the flip side, of those reporting no stress from their debt levels, only 6.7% indicate mental pressure or anxiety over joblessness. 

In addition, more than 50% of those whose expenses will significantly exceed their income indicated massive stress from the fear of losing their job. Not surprisingly, 78.3% who say their income significantly exceeds their expenses feel no pressure from concern over losing their job.

When experiencing stress, every system in our body goes into overdrive. Our heart rate can rapidly increase, which harms our cardiovascular system. Our immune system can be affected and have a weakened response to infection. 

The human evolution of financial stress

One of the most significant areas of concern about stress is our neurological system, which invokes our ‘fight-or-flight response‘. Evolutionarily, this response helped the first humans evade predators. Now imagine that not working the way it should. 

When individuals face less physical stress today, the challenge in modern society is that a response to psychological, social, or financial stress is the same. For example, if a debt collector creates shame during a call, the exact physiological fight-or-flight response kicks in; even when there is no animal to outrun. 

The further challenge with modern society is experiencing multiple stressors without an opportunity to return to baseline. This long-term exposure to continued stress can be highly detrimental to our health and well-being. 

Dr Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist with whom I have collaborated, studied stress from three perspectives.

  • Good Stress compels people to accomplish their goals. Good stress can arise as a response to an immediate challenge or threat where the body delivers energy through adrenaline to create focus. 
  • Transient Stress is a response to daily frustrations and inconveniences that tend to resolve quickly and tend to dissipate that same day, as does their respective emotional pressure. 
  • Chronic Stress was an area Dr McEwen spent many years conducting extensive research. Those studies highlighted long-term exposure to stress could alter the brain, lead to depression, contribute to obesity, and be a significant stress factor throughout life. 

Likewise, the Beyond Finance and psyML study showed 80% of those with considerable financial stress believe they will “never be out of debt.” That sense of hopelessness leads to severe health consequences. And, a lifelong–or ‘chronic’; struggle with stress can cause adverse–potentially fatal–health issues. 

How financial stress may feel like the worst kind of stress

The psychological impact of excessive stress also creates the nefarious outcome of crippling self-doubt. Confidence erodes as our mental health deteriorates, which becomes a continuous cycle of harm.

Unfortunately, financial stress is prevalent among millions of Americans. The American Psychological Association’s annual ‘Stress in America’ poll found that among the most significant financial woes stressing U.S. adults is inflation. 

Approximately 87% said that rising costs of everyday items like groceries and gas are a significant source of stress. Previously, the highest had been the Covid pandemic. And, to make this situation worse, that stress continues to erode the confidence of almost two-thirds of all Americans.

There are countless ways to help manage physical health through diet and exercise. Yet, where is the access to financial stress management? The negative impact of stress created by money won’t disappear overnight. 

However, by tackling debt with the help of debt resolution organisations like Beyond Finance, relief from stress for many Americans associated with debt relief is possible. Instead of living ‘stressed out’, it’s time to look for solutions to be out of stress.

J. Galen Buckwalter, PhD is the CEO of psyML.

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