I have worked with hundreds of people as a money mentor. Tens of thousands if you count those who subscribe to my weekly newsletter seeking financial guidance.
The clients have ranged from those with low-income to individuals running the family office for a client with a net-worth of $50 million.
When it comes to money problems, an individual’s net-worth and income are inconsequential. In fact, the root cause of money problems has little to do with money and a lot to do with how you feel.
Despite low unemployment and solid U.S. economic growth, many Americans are struggling financially. According to the Financial Health Network’s 2019 study, only 29% of Americans are financially healthy. Financial health indicators include debt, savings and the ability to pay bills on time. The report goes on to share that 54% of Americans, or 135 million people, are living paycheck to paycheck and with an insidiously persistent sense of financial stress. The strain of financial stress, according to the American Psychological Association, has a significant impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing.
Similar to other forms of stress, financial stress triggers your hypothalamus. This is the control center within your brain that sends out a signal to the rest of your body to enter into “fight or flight” mode. While periodic bouts of stress are natural, sustained stress over long periods of time strains and slowly erodes all of the major systems within the body. These systems include your central nervous system, digestive system, immune system, reproductive system, and respiratory system. The strain on these systems due to financial stress can lead to insomnia, fertility problems, headaches, depression, heartburn and increase your risk of a heart attack.
In Going From Broke, a TV series on where I helped ten individuals get on the path to financial freedom, we saw the impact of this stress first-hand. One of the guests on the show, Brandon Pfletz, suffered from extreme anxiety due to his crushing student loan debt. In order to cope, he would resort to drugs and alcohol. It’s a vicious cycle where the stress caused by the financial situation impacts your ability to get out of the financial situation. In order to elevate your financial health there has to be a holistic approach otherwise the effort will be futile. It is akin to a personal trainer helping a client lose weight, but not addressing their nutrition. In order to become physically healthy, the client needs to work out and adjust their nutrition. In some cases, therapy or counseling sessions by a professional around body positivity may be needed. The same is true for your financial health, the psychological and physiological impacts need to be addressed in order to create a sustained change in behavior.
Finances are emotional and the root of financial stress is how the individuals feel about their situation. Once we are able to shift the way you feel then your body relaxes, your mind opens to absorb a plan, and your motivation to take consistent positive action is elevated. Skeptical that feelings are a part of the equation? Well, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agrees that the feeling of financial security is the key measure in determining someone’s financial wellbeing. Based on the CFPB research, elevating financial wellbeing should be the goal of all financial education efforts.
If you are going through a tough time and experiencing financial stress, you are not alone and remember that this will not last forever. Here are some steps you can take to eliminate financial stress, and elevate your financial health and wellbeing.
Fill your mind with positive thoughts.
Give yourself at least thirty minutes a day to do something that brings you joy. This could be reading a book, going on a long walk, watching one of your favorite guilty-pleasure TV shows, playing with your kids, doing your makeup. Finding gratitude and joy in the midst of a storm, is one of the most productive steps you can take in order to shift your financial experience.
Move your body.
As we learned earlier, stress lives in the body. In order to alleviate it and return to a balanced state, we have to move our body. This can be done through simple stretches, going for a run, riding a bike, or a short brisk walk around the neighborhood.
Talk with a friend or journal it out.
On Going From Broke, we asked all of the guests to keep a money journal. In your money journal, write down your financial behaviors, spending habits and how it makes you feel. If you have someone you can trust, share it with them. Getting an outside perspective can totally shift your feeling of despair to hope. If you don’t have someone you can chat with, then talk through it with yourself in the mirror.
Write down a plan.
Once you’re in a positive state of mind, ideas will flow to you. Create a plan of action to improve your financial situation. Perhaps it’s picking up a side hustle, committing to cutting back on expenses, or negotiating your credit card or loan terms.
Take one small action step everyday.
Elevating your financial situation can seem daunting. Break down your plan into manageable, daily chunks and commit to taking one small step each day. Those small steps will build on each other, gain momentum and soon your situation will be completely different.