Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Like any source of overwhelming stress, financial problems can take a huge toll on your mental and physical health, your relationships, and your overall quality of life. Feeling beaten down by money worries can adversely impact your sleep, self-esteem, and energy levels. It can leave you feeling angry, ashamed, or fearful, fuel tension and arguments with those closest to you, exacerbate pain and mood swings, and even increase your risk of anxiety and depression.
You may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking, abusing drugs, or gambling to try to escape your worries. In the worst circumstances, financial stress can even prompt suicidal thoughts or actions. But no matter how hopeless your situation seems, there is help available. By tackling your money problems head on, you can find a way through the financial quagmire, ease your stress levels, and regain control of your finances—and your life.
Effects of financial stress on your health
While we all know deep down there are many more important things in life than money, when you’re struggling financially fear and stress can take over your world. Financial stress can lead to:
Insomnia or other sleep difficulties. Nothing will keep you tossing and turning at night more than worrying about unpaid bills or a loss of income.
Weight gain (or loss). Stress can disrupt your appetite, causing you to anxiously overeat or skip meals to save money.
Depression. Living under the cloud of money problems can leave anyone feeling down, hopeless, and struggling to concentrate or make decisions.
Anxiety. Money can be a safety net; without it, you may feel vulnerable and anxious. And all the worrying about unpaid bills or loss of income can trigger anxiety symptoms such as a pounding heartbeat, sweating, shaking, or even panic attacks.
Relationship difficulties. Money is often cited as the most common issue couples argue about. Left unchecked, financial stress can make you angry and irritable, cause a loss of interest in sex, and wear away at the foundations of even the strongest relationships.
Social withdrawal. Financial worries can clip your wings and cause you to withdraw from friends, curtail your social life, and retreat into your shell—which will only make your stress worse.
Physical ailments such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking too much, abusing prescription or illegal drugs, gambling, or overeating. Money worries can even lead to self-harm or thoughts of suicide.
The vicious cycle of poor financial health and poor mental health
A number of studies have demonstrated a cyclical link between financial worries and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Financial problems adversely impact your mental health. The stress of debt or other financial issues leaves you feeling depressed, anxious and suicidal.
The decline in your mental health makes it harder to manage money. You may find it harder to concentrate or lack the energy to tackle a mounting pile of bills. Or you may lose income by taking time off work due to anxiety or depression.
These difficulties managing money lead to more financial problems and worsening mental health problems, and so on. You become trapped in a downward spiral of increasing money problems and declining mental health.
Tips to Deal with financial stress.
No matter how bleak your situation may seem at the moment, there is a way out. These strategies can help you to break the cycle, ease the stress of money problems, and find stability again.
Tip 1: Talk to someone
When you’re facing money problems, there’s often a strong temptation to bottle everything up and try to go it alone. Many of us even consider money a taboo subject, one not to be discussed with others. You may feel awkward about disclosing the amount you earn or spend, feel shame about any financial mistakes you’ve made, or embarrassed about not being able to provide for your family. But bottling things up will only make your financial stress worse. In the current economy, where many people are struggling through no fault of their own, you ’ll likely find others are far more understanding of your problems.
Tip 2: Getting professional advice
Depending on where you live, there are a number of organizations that offer free counselling on dealing with financial problems, whether it’s managing debt, creating and sticking to a budget, finding work, communicating with creditors, or claiming benefits or financial assistance. (See the “Get more help” section below for links).
Whether or not you have a friend or loved one to talk to for emotional support, getting practical advice from an expert is always a good idea.
Tip 3: Opening up to your family
Financial problems tend to impact the whole family and enlisting your loved ones’ support can be crucial in turning things around. Even if you take pride in being self-sufficient, keep your family up to date on your financial situation and how they can help you save money. Remember to let them express their concerns and make time for (inexpensive) family fun to keep up a positive family environment.
Tip 4: Take inventory of the state of your finances
If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you may think you can ease your stress by leaving bills unopened, avoiding phone calls from creditors, or ignoring bank and credit card statements. But denying the reality of your situation will only make things worse in the long run. A number of websites and smartphone apps can help you keep track of your finances moving forward or you can work backwards by gathering receipts and examining bank and credit card statements.
Tip 5: Keep track of ALL your spending
When you’re faced with a pile of past-due bills and mounting debt, buying a snack of roasted plantain and groundnut on the way to work may seem like an irrelevant expense. But seemingly small expenses can mount up over time, so keep track of everything.
Tip 6: List your debts.
Include past-due bills, late fees, and list minimum payments due as well as any money you owe to family or friends.
How to avoid landing in more money problems
Identify spending patterns and triggers. Does boredom or a stressful day at work cause you to head to the mall or start online shopping? When the kids are acting out, do you keep them quiet with expensive restaurant or takeout meals, rather than cooking at home? Once you’re aware of your triggers you can find healthier ways of coping with them than resorting to “retail therapy”
Look to make small changes. While it may be unreasonable to deny yourself every small pleasure, cutting down on nonessential spending and finding small ways to reduce your daily expenditure can really help to free up extra cash to pay off bills.
Eliminate impulse spending. Ever seen something online or in a shop window that you just had to buy? Impulsive buying can wreck your budget and max out your credit cards. To break the habit, try making a rule that you’ll wait a week before making any new purchase.
Create a monthly budget. Whatever your plan to relieve your financial problems, setting and following a monthly budget can help keep you on track and regain your sense of control.
Mental Health Hacks to adopt when going through a financial setback.
Go easy on yourself. As you review your debt and spending habits, remember that anyone can get into financial difficulties, especially at times like this. Don’t use this as an excuse to punish yourself for any perceived financial mistakes. Give yourself a break and focus on the aspects you can control as you look to move forward.
Get moving. Even a little regular exercise can help ease stress, boost your mood and energy, and improve your self-esteem. Aim for 30 minutes on most days, broken up into short 10-minute bursts if that’s easier.
Practice a relaxation technique. Take time to relax each day and give your mind a break from the constant worrying. Meditating, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques are excellent ways to relieve stress and restore some balance to your life.
Don’t skimp on sleep. Feeling tired will only increase your stress and negative thought patterns. Finding ways to improve your sleep during this difficult time will help both your mind and body.
Boost your self-esteem. Rightly or wrongly, experiencing financial problems can cause you to feel like a failure and impact your self-esteem. But there are plenty of other, more rewarding ways to improve your sense of self-worth.
Eat healthy food. A healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and omega-3s can help support your mood and improve your energy and outlook. And you don’t have to spend a fortune; there are ways to eat well on a budget.
Be grateful for the good things in your life. When you’re plagued by money worries and financial uncertainty, it’s easy to focus all your attention on the negatives. While you don’t have to ignore reality and pretend everything’s fine, you can take a moment to appreciate a close relationship, the beauty of a sunset, or the love of a pet, for example.