FINANCIAL STRESS AND HOW TO BEAT IT
Henry David Thoreau said, "Wealth is the ability to fully experience life." The truth of that statement has driven many of us on a quest for financial stability to ensure our futures as well as those of the people we love.
Unfortunately after the worldwide economic recession of 2007, holding on to wealth in its myriad of definitions has become harder and harder. According to a 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), money is a leading source of stress for Americans. Furthermore, money was cited as a substantial source of stress in the lives of 73% of survey participants1. The issue of financial stress is a serious one, and an understanding of its causes, symptoms, and treatment would be a good place to start.
The big bad wolf: debt
Due to the worldwide recession of 2007, debt is increasing faster than both income and assets2. In today's society almost everything functions on credit, giving rise to tempting bargains even if we cannot afford them. Lines of credit, mortgages, and credit cards are easy examples of how we have fallen into a culture that encourages spending what you don't have. The jaws of capitalism and consumerism have trapped people into delaying consequences, instead of delaying gratification. Because of this overwhelming issue, most adults have accumulated at least some debt that they are stressed about.
The scourge of impulsivity: overspending
A fun day out has resulted in a drastically depleted bank account and you struggle to remember what cost so much in the first place. Was it the bag you bought to "reward" yourself for your high stress job? Or that weekend road trip that set you back another RM500? Spending unintentionally is something that affects us all, as marketers and advertisers seek to subconsciously appeal to our inner wants3. Despite our best intentions, we all falter in the face of our emotions. Sooner or later, the stress from these purchases will catch up to us.
The uncontrollable: market volatility
When people talk about the market, we often jump to the conclusion that they're referring to the stock market. While its performance may be a contributing factor to financial stress, there are other markets that come into play. The job market has also experienced extreme fluctuations in recent years due to the unsteady economy, and the world has seen a rise in unemployment along with a destabilization of the middle class. The potential for losing one's job has become a scary reality for some and has resulted in an increase of financial insecurity. The other market that comes into play is the real estate market2. Along with the stock market, this market has seen better times and has just started recovering. Both of these areas have lost some investors a significant amount and resulted in even more financial stress.
When people are dealing with significant financial stress, surveys have shown that they are more likely to report health problems. Biologically, the body reacts to any kind of stress in a similar fashion - the fight or flight response. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol to prepare it for battle or avoidance, and this constant flood of hormones can result in numerous health issues. After a prolonged period of time, these elevated chemical levels may cause significant physical harm to vital bodily systems such as blood pressure, heart rate, memory, mood, and immune functioning1.
Anxiety and Depression
The most common symptom of anxiety is worry. People who suffer from anxiety commonly report feeling like a big ball of nerves, or constantly ruminating about potential harm that could come to them. Worry is often unproductive, as it does not help to solve the problem in any way. Instead, it continuously heightens an individual's state of arousal and eventually results in more stress than they began with. Anxiety has a huge impact on a person's quality of sleep and may cause that person to lay awake at night4.
Depression, on the other hand, is a medical condition that is often characterised by low mood, feelings of hopelessness, and fatigue5. On a deeper level, money is intricately tied to our self - worth and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the helplessness that accompanies financial instability may have triggered an increase in rates of depression amongst working adults. In turn, these two conditions negatively affect the same systems that were previously mentioned - the immune system, mood, and cardiovascular health1.
Unload your debt
Reducing debt could be as complex as raising the amount you pay on your car loan, or as simple as cancelling one of your credit cards6. In addition, being constantly vigilant for a better deal than what you currently have may save you a significant amount of money. For example, refinancing your mortgage with a bank that offers you a better rate could lighten your load considerably and allow more flexibility for managing other areas of debt. However, do remain aware of the pros and cons of each method, as some may incur additional fees that would negate their initial advantages.
Come up with a realistic budget
No matter what your financial issues or objectives are, clever planning is always a useful way to start. Coming up with a budget is one of the easiest ways to keep track of where your money goes to on a daily basis. However, the biggest mistake that people make when creating a budget is their lack of specificity7. Saying "I'd like to spend less on entertainment" is considered vague, and a better goal would be to budget a specific amount for entertainment. In addition, it may be prudent that your budget prioritizes the essentials like loan payments, bills, retirement savings and etc. Finally, with the technology that is readily available, it would be wise to automate some of your payments or deposits to ensure that the important things are always taken care of.
Take care of yourself
In times of stress, it is ironic that the things that matter most are the first things to be sacrificed. Don't underestimate the toll that stress can take on your mind and body, and always remember to prioritize your health. Physically, it is important to seek medical attention if you fall sick and follow the prescribed instructions. Mentally, it can be helpful to have perspective on your current issues4. You may also ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen, and tell yourself that you can most definitely survive it. It is also important to seek support from friends, family, or a professional if the stressors in your life become overwhelming.
1 FRBSF.org, "Financial Stress and Its Physical Effects On Individuals and Communities", December, 2009.
2 Retirehappy.ca, "7 Causes of Financial Stress", undated.
3 Forbes.com, "8 Temptations That Trigger Our Overspending Urges", August 26, 2014.
4 Webmd.com, "The Debt-Stress Connection", undated.
5 Webmd.com, "Symptoms of Depression", undated.
6 Forbes.com, "Are You Financially Stressed?", June 13, 2013.
7 Forbes.com, "7 Tips To Reduce Financial Stress In Your Life", May 19, 2015.