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Take the Right Steps to Cope with Financial Stress

How to identify – and then reduce – high stress levels caused by money challenges.

Financial meltdown

We’ve all been there. Money gets tight, debt problems loom on the horizon and despite your best efforts to remain cool, calm and collected your stress levels go up and up until you’re snapping at family members and spacing out at work wondering how you’re going to keep all the balls you’re juggling in the air.

First, take a deep breath… no kidding. In fact, take a few. The financial challenges you’re facing can be better handled with a clear focus and a calm mind. That stress isn’t helping and in many cases, it may be holding you back from moving forward because it’s got you trapped like a deer in headlights.

The information below is designed to help you recognize the symptoms of financial stress so you can identify it in your life and take action to fix it. Then we give you four easy steps to take so you can make a plan and begin lifting some of that emotional and mental burden off your shoulders. And remember, if you’re stressed over debt the best way to relieve that pressure is to find a path back to stability. Call Consolidated Credit today at (844) 276-1544 to speak with a certified credit counselor.

Signs of financial stress

Understanding that your life, outlook, and loved ones are being negatively impacted by financial stress isn’t always as easy as you think. We often try to put a brave face on when faced with challenges. As a result, we don’t notice changes in our own behavior that are manifesting high levels of stress.

The following signs can help you identify that you’re dealing with excessively high financial stress levels:

  • Are you arguing with your spouse and family members more often, money-related fights or not?
  • Are you having headaches or panic attacks?
  • Are you hiding bills and receipts from your spouse so you don’t “get caught” spending money?
  • Are you having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night?
  • Are you stress eating – i.e. have your eating habits changed and you’re eating out more, turning to comfort and junk foods?
  • Are you having trouble focusing at work?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then financial stress may be impacting your life more than you think. You can take the four steps below to start reducing your stress levels now.

5 steps to reduce financial stress

Once you’re in the throes of financial stress, you need to do things – deal with the cause of the stress AND deal with the resulting symptoms that the stress is manifesting. Addressing the symptoms first is often the right option because the physical and emotional strain you feel can make it harder to make clear-headed key decisions that need to be made later in the process.

Step 1: Deal with any physical symptoms of stress first

  1. Eat right. If you’ve let your diet get taken over by junk and comfort foods, and you’re not cooking at home anymore, make a commitment to get back to grocery shopping for healthy meals and reestablish a healthy diet. It’s not only going to give you more energy, it also usually cheaper and just taking time to relax and cook a meal with your spouse or kids can be a great stress reliever.
  2. Start exercising. Exercise is a great way to burn stress right along with calories. Choose active things that you like to do and that can help you relieve some stress. For some that’s kickboxing, for others it’s yoga and some just feel better running for a while to get away from everything. Exercise will provide an outlet for stress while helping to improve your metabolism and giving you more energy overall.
  3. Go see your doctor. Let them know about any physical issues you’re having and help them understand the stress levels you’re facing. They can help you address issues such as trouble sleeping, stomach and GI issues, and skin conditions like hives that are all commonly caused by stress.
  4. See your dentist, too. The Journal of Periodontology found high stress levels double your chances for gum disease. Go get your teeth cleaned and make sure you’re not doing things like grinding your teeth, which can be another physical manifestation of stress.

Step 2: Address the emotional burden

    1. Talk to someone. Getting things off our chests is often the easier way to reduce stress and start feeling better. Keeping your stresses over money and debt secret or internalizing it is a good way to wind up with an ulcer. Let it out. Talk to a family member, friend, pastor or priest, or a mental health professional to start venting that pressure so it doesn’t build up and paralyze you.
    2. Treat signs of addiction. People often fall into or fall back into bad habits when we get extremely stressed. If you’ve started drinking, smoking or self-medicating because of your financial stress, get help. Look for local support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
    3. Take time outs to recharge. Do something – anything – that will take your mind off of your finances for a few minutes. Take your kids to the park to play, get out in your yard to garden for a while, take a walk with a friend. Just getting away and letting yourself relax a little will make you more focused when you need to really get down to work to get yourself over whatever financial challenges you face. Do this at least once each day.  

Step 3: Get real with your finances

Now that you’re healthy and more centered, you can start working to fix what’s causing the stress…

  1. Organize challenges into groups. Chances are that a high level of financial stress has more than one source. With that in mind, you need to organize financial stressors into 4 categories:
    • Important, Changeable: These are the big things in your financial life that are contributing to your stress that can be solved by taking action. If your mortgage is underwater, this may be refinancing through HARP. Even if you don’t know the solution yet, just knowing there’s a solution out there and that it’s something you should pursue is a first step.
    • Important, Unchangeable: These are contributing factors that have led to you situation that you can’t change – divorce, a bad economy, ongoing medical and mental health challenges, changes in your career industry that have made your job obsolete. These are all big things in life that definitely affect your outlook, but often you can’t do anything about them other than find a way to cope.
    • Not Important, Changeable. These are things that may be irritating you and adding to your stress level, but really they’re not contributing factors. These are often small things like your spouse insisting to pay bills through your bank’s website when you’d prefer to go through the provider’s website. It’s a little annoyance that doesn’t actually solve anything. Let it go and focus on the big stuff.
    • Not Important, Unchangeable: Again, these are often things that start to seem significant when we get stressed, but which really don’t have any effect on your current situation. Maybe your parents never taught you how to budget properly or they didn’t teach you how to use credit properly. You can do better for your kids, but you can’t change what happened in the past to you, so you have to let it go.

Step 4: Get professional help

  1. Once you’ve cut out everything that either isn’t important or it can’t be changed, you’re left with just the big things that are real sources of your financial stress. Now you find the right person to help you deal with each one of those factors.
    • For credit card debt and general budget problems: Call a certified credit counseling agency to get a free consultation to review your options for consolidation and other types of debt relief, as well as to get a free budget evaluation to help you balance your expenses with your income.
    • For mortgage challenges: Talk to a HUD-certified housing counselor in a one-on-one counseling session or find a Save My Home event in your local area.
    • For student loans: Visit to review your options for relief or talk to your loan servicer directly. You can also use a third-party student loan consolidation service to help you understand your options if you don’t know where to start.
    • For tax debt: Talk to a certified public accountant or tax professional to review your options. They can help you arrange settlement plans with the IRS and even help you take qualify for relief options like Currently Not Collectible status.
    • For medical debt: First, call the original healthcare provider directly – not the collector – to see if you can work out a payment plan. You may also be able to use credit counseling to find solutions to challenges with medical debt; for instance, in some cases these debts can be included in a debt management program if you’re also struggling with credit cards and other types of unsecured debt.

Step 5: Recover with resilience 

  1. Stick to your plans. Once you talk to the right professionals and plans start to get plans in place, you should feel the weight of that stress start to lift. Some people even say they feel like they can breathe easier. You still won’t be out of the woods with your finances yet, so it’s important to keep up with the solutions you’ve identified, even if they’re tough. Cutting back may be difficult, but just think that’ you’d rather be a little bored and not bothered by stress than entertained by some expensive distraction that you’ll regret later.
  2. Realize nothing in credit last forever. Many times stress is generated by the fear that we’ve utterly ruined our financial lives, but that’s usually just not the case. Even if you foreclose on a home and have to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the damage to your credit will only last for ten years and the impact starts to reduce long before that. You CAN recover and you WILL be able to get back where you want to be. It just takes patience and a clear path forward – both of which you have now!
  3. Accept that change is a part of life. Even significant changes that seem like the end of your world are just the start of something different. Losing your high-paying power job and moving back in with your parents may feel like failure, but going back to where you came from could reignite a passion you’ve lost and give you a new career path. Let go and find fulfillment in exploring new opportunities.
  4. Be thankful. Take comfort in what you have. We often spend too much time focused on what we’re lacking or missing from our lives instead of counting our blessings. Find good in each day and focus on that as you continue to take one step at a time towards financial stability.