Imagine feeling really good about your finances. You pay your bills on time, you regularly contribute to your retirement and savings, and you aren’t drowning in debt. Being in a good financial state contributes to a good mental state.
And when your mental health is good, life is easier.
Unfortunately, many Americans don’t feel great about their finances. In fact, 42 percent say that money is negatively affecting their mental health, leading to stress, worry, anxiety, and feelings of insecurity. Millennials is the age group that’s most anxious about their finances (48 percent) with Gen Xers a close second (46 percent).1
Credit card debt is a major cause of anxiety. Nationwide, cardholders average unpaid balances of $6,569. Consumer credit card balances amounted to $800 billion in the third quarter of 2021, which amounted to $17 billion more than it was the previous quarter.2
Student loan debt is another anxiety-inducing factor for 42.9 million Americans who owe an average of $37,105 in federal loans.2 Nearly two-thirds of people have trouble paying them, resulting in feelings of anxiety and depression, insomnia, and panic attacks. As a result, some people are delaying major life events — such as purchasing property and starting a family — because of their inability to pay their student loans.3
It’s clear that financial stability and mental health are closely connected and play a role in your overall health and happiness. And once you understand that it’s easier to move forward.
The relationship between financial stress and mental health
Debt and financial problems can lead to poor mental health, such as chronic and long-lasting stress. And many people feel that money stress is harder than work- and family-related stressors. Not surprisingly, if a person’s mental health is already bad, their financial wellness is also put at risk.4
Financial issues can also lead to physical health symptoms, such as migraines, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, digestive issues, muscle tension, heart arrhythmia, and sleep problems. This all can lead to you needing to spend money to treat these issues, which can lead to more financial stress.4
In a recent year, 29 percent of Americans held off from getting medical help due to cost.5 Of course, this can lead to more significant problems.
Sometimes it’s common to choose the path of least resistance and turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms — such as alcohol, drugs, smoking, and overeating.4 In fact, 33 percent of Americans turned to unhealthy foods and eating too much to “handle” their stress.5
Not only does financial stress wreak havoc on us mentally and physically, it also can lead to more financial problems. That’s because the stress can cloud our judgment, leading to impulse purchases or not paying bills or contributing regularly to savings.6
The mental health challenges that stem from bad financial health could greatly impact people for generations. This is why financial literacy is so important to get a handle on now.2 Educating yourself should be your go-to coping mechanism, rather than going into avoidance mode. (You’ll thank your future self.)
Here are a few ideas on how to give some financial self-care to yourself.
The importance of self-care in financial well-being
It is possible to improve your mental health when it comes to money matters.
Start with the big picture.
First, take an honest look at how your early experiences with money impacted you. For example, did your parents discuss or ignore financial issues? Second, leverage the wealth of financial wellness resources, such as podcasts, blogs, books, and apps. Ask friends and family for their recommendations. Third, cut small costs to make a big difference. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you can improve your financial situation.7
Then, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty.
Budget and plan. Write down where you want to be with your finances in a month, six months, a year. How can you get there? It starts with a budget — how much money you know is coming in and how much is going out. A budget tracker and planning app will monitor your spending habits and make sure you’re not overspending.6 As a result, you will feel more in control of your finances, helping you feel less anxious.
Automate finances. Trying to keep track of your finances — both bills and savings — can feel overwhelming. So, automate. It’ll be easier to manage multiple payments and to make sure your bills are being paid on time as well as growing your savings.6
When it comes to savings, having three to six month’s of emergency savings is the conventional goal. However, that lofty goal can seem out of reach for most people. A more achievable goal — and a new rule of thumb — is having one month’s worth of costs squirreled away.8
Don’t obsess — review finances regularly, but not every day. Can you set a reminder on your phone to check your checking and savings accounts on a certain day each week?
Meet with a financial professional, and other professionals. A financial professional will help put together a budget, set financial goals, and provide sage money management advice. The upfront costs are well worth it.6 That’s because financial professionals help save you money in the long run by maximizing your cash and minimizing your interest.9
Care for yourself. Be good to yourself by using kind words and thoughts. And keep yourself accountable by enlisting an accountability partner, a nonjudgmental and supportive person with whom you can share your financial goals.1 You might find one in your personal life or a support group.
Also, be sure to complement your financial wellness with physical wellness — both of which can reduce your stress levels. This can be done through eating a nutritious diet, engaging in physical exercise, and using mindfulness techniques. Doing deep breathing exercises can get your mind back in balance.5
Use your money on things and experiences that bring you joy and that align with your core values and personality. Is it a well-loved book? A concert ticket to a bucket list band? Or food that is organic and ethically sourced? It makes all the difference.8
You’ll find that being thoughtful of the link between financial and mental health makes all the difference in the world.