Money and stress

Published 8:13 pm Friday, November 27, 2009

Financial stability has been on almost everyone’s mind for the past year.

With the economy taking a nose-dive, investments plummeting, families losing their homes and jobs becoming scarce, stress over finances is inevitable.

Some look at this and worry about everything that has gone wrong and will go wrong while others grab on to what is left and believe “this too will pass.”

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It would be a gross understatement to say “don’t worry, be happy—it will all work out in the end.”

But we also have to ask what good does worrying do?

It will not change anything but this is an unwelcomed response to the person who hasn’t been able to pay bills for months, may not have enough money to eat, and rumors of layoffs at work is eating holes in their stomach.

How does a person come up with rent or house payment out of thin air?

How does a person catch up on late bills, unexpected late fees, and past-due notices with a few dollars in the checking account and children at home who need to eat?

Society says the answer is to borrow money; borrow money to pay back the money you’ve already borrowed and then borrow more money to pay back the money that you’re borrowing to pay back the money you’ve borrowed. This can sometimes seem like a quick fix and gets the monkey off your back for the moment, but it doesn’t solve the problem and doesn’t really resolve the nagging feeling in your gut that the pit is getting deeper and darker.

There is a lot of anxiety in financial stress.

Not only does it increase anxiety but it attacks self-esteem, confidence and relationships. Money is one of the top three topics that couples fight about. Add to that the increased strain of not having money and you have a sure-fire recipe for more fighting. There are some things you can do to relieve the stress.

Relieving stress

The first step is to separate the emotional stress from the financial pressures. At this moment, you may have little or no control of the financial obligations but you do have control of your body and your mind.

Stress and anxiety affect us on more than just an emotional level. They affect us emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally and spiritually but it does not have to.

Stress can be addressed, whether it is due to financial strain or feeling overwhelmed with a school project. Taking positive steps on these levels (mentally, physically, relationally, spiritually) can affect our emotions in positive ways. Stress and anxiety have a snowball effect in that the more anxious we are the more we are affected by the anxiety.

Take time to calm down, relax your muscles, maintain positive encouraging relationships, pray, seek Godly advice, challenge your out-of-control thoughts, stop listening to negative influences, de-stress. Be aware of how your increased anxiety compounds the problem rather than resolving it. Take the time to de-stress.

The second step is to control what you can control rather than worrying about what you can’t control.

How many of us spend hours or days reliving what would have been or should have been—lamenting over past experiences or interactions that we cannot change?

Negative thoughts often lead us to believe that everything is bad and will always be bad, so why try. Control what you can control. Stop spending and cut back in areas that are not necessities. If you’ve been thinking about quitting smoking or drinking now may be the perfect time to give up that expense. You have more control over what you are doing than you may realize.

A common pattern is to stress about the financial situation and then go out and spend (shopping, dinner, vacation, new toy) to feel better about the situation and then come home and feel more in debt not less.

Will Rogers is quoted as saying, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”

And then we stress about it.

When we make positive choices with the things we really can control we feel more in control and some of the anxiety decreases. When we worry about things we cannot control we are in a losing battle. Be honest with yourself about what you can control and then take positive steps.

The third step is to view this as an opportunity for growth.

This is a hard step to take when it seems like all of your circumstances are saying everything is bad and only getting worse. Most of us don’t want someone telling us it will be OK when they don’t really know that it will be OK. When the crisis begins to decline we have the opportunity in stressful situations to return to our previous level of functioning, that’s our comfort zone and what most of us are aiming for.

There is also the potential to return to a lower level of functioning, which might be depression, hopelessness, broken relationships, less income, dependency, etc.

But the third option is to return to a higher level of functioning. This is the time to ask, “What can I learn from this situation? What do I need to do differently?”

This is especially hard when situations are occurring that we didn’t ask for, we didn’t plan for, and we didn’t cause but it can still be a time for growth or change.

It’s the time to take a “big picture” perspective rather than the immediate emotion-based view of reality. What if this unwanted circumstance can be the stepping stone to more income, more favorable job, healthier lifestyle, a healthier set of priorities, more focus on things or people that really matter in our lives.

With some financial struggles there may be a sense of loss, injustice or a blow to our confidence, and we need to allow for grief, readjustment or refocus.

It may not just be the loss of a job, sometimes it’s the loss of a lifelong dream or lifelong work, it’s the loss of the family home or family security, or the loss of purpose and meaning. To work through these losses in healthy ways, be mindful to separate the financial stress from emotional stress, control what you can control, and to view this as an opportunity for growth.

There is no easy answer when it comes to financial stress but the stress can be worked through.

If someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, overwhelming feelings or hopelessness concerning finances, contact your pastor or a trained mental health professional.