5 Realistic Ways to Deal with Financial Stress

A man and a woman sit on a couch in front of a laptop computer looking through receipts and writing in a notebook.

Does it make you nervous to check your bank account? Don’t minimize those feelings. Financial stress is real. And so are the effects. When money’s tight, it can impact simple pleasures, like whether or not we grab a meal with friends. But that’s not all.

Money worries can also cause emotional distress. In one study, adults with higher financial stress were more likely to say they felt hopeless, nervous, sad, and worthless than those with fewer money woes.

“Over time, this stress can have a big impact on our mental and physical health,” says Giselle Alexander, LCSW, a licensed therapist and AbleTo program advisor.

How to manage money stress

Feeling the effects of financial stress? Here are a few tips that can help.

Get support

Talking about money is often treated as taboo. But that perception only makes financial stress more challenging to manage. If there’s no one in your life you feel comfortable speaking to about your financial concerns, consider working with a financial planner. Yes, it may cost money. But what you spend up front may save you money in the future.

Many employers also offer financial counseling as part of their Employee Assistance Programs. Financial counseling can help with budgeting, strategies for paying off debt, cutting costs, and more, if that’s what you need.

Regardless of the source of your stress and what you’re doing financially to manage it, you may find that you need emotional support. AbleTo is here to help. We offer virtual coaching, therapy, and on-demand self-care resources.

Best of all: AbleTo is a benefit offered to people by their employer or health plan. That means most people pay $0 for mental health support. (There may be co-pays, depending on your coverage.)

Note your stressors

Focusing on money can bring up a lot of big feelings. When considering what stresses you out about money, you might think, “Money! Money is what stresses me out!” But try to go a bit deeper. Is it not being able to pay the bills? Is it not being able to keep up with your peers? Is it parental pressure?

Consider your personal situation as well. Where do you live and play? What was your relationship to money growing up? Do you have enough money saved in case of an emergency? What makes you feel safe?

It’s important to understand what’s causing the stress so you can make a plan. Because, yes, you may need to change your spending habits. But it’s also possible that you’re actually doing okay. And that stress you’re feeling? It could be rooted in something else.

“Past experiences and family attitudes can shape our thoughts and behaviors related to money,” says Alexander. “ Unpacking these with a mental health professional can help us create a positive relationship with money and teach us how to tame our money stress.”

Make one change at a time

Money decisions are exhausting. But that overwhelming feeling is exactly why we should only make one financial decision at a time, when possible. After all, money habits are still habits. They’re hard to change.

It can be helpful to think of them as goals. If you just make one, it’s easier to keep. Make a whole bunch, and well … it might be hard to keep any of them.

“It can be helpful to work with a coach or a therapist to set a SMART money goal,” says Alexander. “A goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound can help you feel more confident about making changes.”

Want to get started? The SMART Goals journal in your AbleTo program will walk you through the process.

Think through coping strategies

Once you have a plan, it may take time to start seeing and feeling a difference. Think through how you’ll cope during this period.

Practicing self care will be important (And, no. Self care doesn’t have to cost money). Simple pleasures, like taking regular walks outside, can help you cope.

But you may also need in-the-moment help. When we’re stressed, many of us turn to things that provide immediate gratification. Things like retail therapy and smoking. “Sometimes these quick fixes have longer-term consequences and can make us feel worse about ourselves and our situation,” says Alexander.

Instead, tap into a mental health emergency kit. Mental health emergency kits are like first-aid kits for your emotions. They provide healthier ways to get through hard times. Here’s how to create one.

Maintain connections

If you’re trying to cut costs, you might be tempted to avoid social activities that involve spending money. Things like grabbing lunch with coworkers or going to the movies with friends.

But social connections can help sustain us through hard times. So consider them a coping tool. Then figure out how you can maintain them in a way that’s in line with your values and goals. Maybe you eat lunch out once a week instead of 5. Or you invite your friends over to your house for a movie night.

“Bringing awareness to your current spending habits can be helpful,” says Alexander. “Once you understand how you’re spending your money, it may be easier to decide what makes the most sense to keep or cut.”

Give yourself props

Already feeling stressed? That’s normal. Take comfort in knowing that by taking these steps, you’re working to reduce your stress over time. “Being present and focusing on what you’re doing to make changes can help you see things from a more hopeful perspective,” says Alexander.

So take a moment to thank yourself. Say, “I am proud of myself for doing this. I am proud of myself for being conscientious.”

This might feel a little hokey. You might even roll your eyes. But financial management is often a high-paying job. Yet it’s one most of us are expected to do for ourselves with no help and no pay. Show yourself a little gratitude for showing up.

You’ve got this.

By AbleTo

Clinically reviewed by Sarah Dolling, LPC, Clinical Content Producer at AbleTo.

Photo by Ridofranz/iStock. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.

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