by Kaitlyn Ranze
Uncomfortable though it may be, the nagging feeling that comes from stress can be normal, healthy, and surprisingly even helpful. In the wild, stress helps us avoid and survive danger – think Simba in Lion King. In the concrete jungle, clad in business casual, it helps us meet deadlines and excel under pressure.
On the other hand, it also has a devastating impact on holistic wellness if it becomes chronic.
With 73% of Americans ranking their finances as the number one stressor in life, we’ll review the toll financial stress takes on your wellness and how you can overcome it.
What Stress Does to the Body
When triggered by an actual or perceived stressor, your brain’s hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to release cortisol. Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone. Think of it as your natural alarm system. When triggered, this leads to a cascade of physiological responses, including the release of epinephrine. Releasing these hormones prepares your body for “fight or flight.”
The fight or flight response, or stress response, is triggered by a release of hormones either prompting us to stay and fight or run away and flee.Carolyn Fisher, Ph.D. Cleveland Clinic
Your pulse will rise with your heart rate, pushing blood to your muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Your skin may flush or grow pale, but it ultimately prepares your body to react and move quickly. The airways in your lungs will widen to take in extra oxygen. You’ll grow more alert. Your blood sugar will increase, boosting your body’s energy. By gearing you up to fight or flee, the acute stress response makes you more likely to survive danger.
All of the changes happen so quickly that humans aren’t aware of them.
Fight or Flight is the Usain Bolt of survival instincts – blink, and it’s done. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the brain’s visual center typically won’t have a chance to fully process what’s happening before your body responds. Your body is busy winning gold medals, jumping out of the way of oncoming cars before you realize what’s happened.
That doesn’t mean our stress response is always accurate.
Whether surviving an oncoming car or giving a nerve-wracking speech, acute stress tends to subside as soon as the event passes. Your breathing will slow, and your muscles will stop twitching.
But what happens if we’re chronically stressed? With nearly ¾ of Americans suffering chronic stress from their finances, what impact does constant worry have on the body?
Physical stress can cause things like:
- Headaches – Tension headaches can often be attributed to your muscles tightening. Shoulder, neck, and back pain are also common.
- Heart disease – High cortisol levels can increase common risk factors for heart disease like blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
- Gastrointestinal problems – For some, stress slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain, and constipation. For others, it speeds it up, causing diarrhea. Some people lose their appetite altogether.
- Diabetes – The liver releases extra glucose into your bloodstream, increasing your risk of Type II Diabetes over time.
- Insomnia – Stress makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Fertility problems – Stress interferes with the reproductive system in men (low sperm count) and women (lower libido), which may make it harder to conceive.
- Reduced Immunity – Your body produces fewer T-cells, responsible for fighting infections carried in your bloodstream.
But the long-term impacts of financial stress aren’t limited to physical effects.
Our brain’s survival mechanisms can threaten our mental health, leading to:
- Anxiety – Symptoms of anxiety could be as mild as nail biting or fidgeting, but chronic stress can also cause feelings of doom and unhealthy thought patterns.
- Depression – Byproducts of stress hormones can cause fatigue and a sustained feeling of low energy or depression.
- Personality changes – increased irritability, hostility, frustration, anger, and aggression.
- Reduced cognitive functioning – Chronic stress hormones may decrease the brain’s functionality through the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory) and the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for helping you pay attention and use judgment to resolve problems.
- Negative impact on relationships – Stress is the second leading cause of divorce and separation.
Think the impact of financial stress is strictly personal? Guess again.
Financial stress impacts the workplace.
Research by John Hancock Retirement found that loss of productivity combined with absenteeism from financial stress costs employers more than an estimated $1,900 per year per employee. This estimated annual loss totaled $1 million for mid-sized employers and $19 million for large employers.
If you’re working on your money mindset and want to help others at work thrive too, request a Nav.it at Work Demo!
Unhealthy Coping Behavior
That leads me to the impact of financial stress on our behaviors.
Stress can disrupt your appetite, causing anxiety-induced overeating or skipping meals to save money. It can lead to other unhealthy behaviors such as impulse shopping, drinking too much, abusing prescription or illegal drugs, or gambling.
But all is not lost.
“Just like practicing good physical health by creating daily exercise routines reinforces overall physical maintenance and improvement, practicing good financial habits can easily become a part of your day-to-day routine that helps fight off any unwanted stressors.”Maia Monell, co-founder of Nav.it
Ways to Reduce Financial Stress and boost Money Mindfulness
Shameless plug: the Nav.it money app was designed to build financial wellness. That means helping you be more money mindful by paying attention to how you’re feeling and spending your money, all in one seamless application. What does it have built-in that you can do on your own?
As Kenneth so adequately explained, “When things are tight, budgeting is how you claw your way out and get back on solid ground.”
If you don’t already have a budget, now is the perfect time to reflect on your income and categorize your spending. Budgeting can help you be more money mindful. You may need to reduce expenses or pad income with a side hustle. Unsure how to get started?
- First, you’ll need to determine how much you earned.
- Then, determine how much you’re spending (your expenses) from month to month or paycheck to paycheck.
- Subtract expenses from income.
- Based on what’s left, work toward goals.
Unsure of your financial goals? It’s called personal finance because it’s personal- it’s what works best for you. Though, some fundamentals exist to increase your financial wellness and reduce your stress. Consider the following questions from our money coaches:
- Do you have an emergency fund?
- How many debts do you owe?
- Do you have a strategy to pay down your debts?
- Is your spending in line with your values?
Your answers to these questions will help you determine how to allocate your resources.
Check out this free downloadable guide to Budgeting.
How can an Emergency Fund help me reduce stress?
An emergency fund provides a financial safety net when $hit hits the fan. You’ll be financially and psychologically covered in times of stress (like unemployment or a pandemic). This will give you time to figure out your next money move without losing critical access to housing, transportation, or the ability to pay your bills on time.
Ideally, an emergency fund has 3-6 months of savings. In reality, most households cannot save more than a month or two.
Pro Tip: Automate your savings.
Putting the funds in a separate account from your daily spending serves as a mental nudge to not use them. It ensures that you’re actively working toward your goals and limits overspending.
Want to level up your savings game? Automate it. Evidence from multiple studies suggests you’ll save more over the long term by using tech to your advantage. Automation is like autopilot for your money moves, reducing the risk posed by willpower fatigue.
Automation isn’t your only ally in reducing financial stress.
Gaining financial Allies
Money coaches are built-in support systems that provide an overview of money management. They break down high-level financial goals into micro-behaviors to improve your financial wellness. Plus, they’ll help you identify your personal relationship with money and create actionable strategies for improving it.
Being financially stressed can be an isolating experience, but it’s silly to go it alone when most Americans feel this way. Find a community to support your journey.
A community improves the overall mental and emotional well-being of its members. Encouragement and knowledge from others keep you motivated throughout your financial journey, improving overall wellness.
Find Healthy Ways to Cope with the Stress
Improving how you manage money isn’t the only way to combat financial stress. Here are simple stress remedies you can incorporate into your daily routine.
Remind yourself that stress is normal and natural. Reframe the way you feel to help you endure future bouts of it.
Getting enough Vitamin B6 through food or supplements will help boost serotonin levels, helping to reduce anxiety naturally.
Or skip the pill, and make sure you’re eating protein. It’s a great source of vitamin B6.
Lay off the caffeine (we’re sorry)
Have you ever considered that caffeine could be contributing to your anxiety? The same physical symptoms of stress occur when you’re over-caffeinated. Hello, restless leg and insomnia.
Take care of your body
Take a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work. It helps you retain the highest level of productivity throughout a workday. You’re working smarter, not harder. Take the break time to stretch, go for a walk, and get some fresh air.
Take 10 minutes every day to stretch. Benefits come from increasing blood circulation, reducing stress (cortisol), and nourishing the nervous system. Practicing yoga daily can help train your body to live mostly in its parasympathetic nervous system. To flush out cortisol (one of your stress hormones), aim for 10 minutes of yoga in the morning and 10 minutes before bed.
Manage Stress and Manage Your Money
Stress isn’t something that we can necessarily avoid, but we can manage it. So too with financial stress. You can improve your relationship with money and stress less. Equip yourself with the right tools, get a game plan, and surround yourself with people who are money mindful. Your mind, body, and soul will appreciate your efforts.