Newswise — With the economy in crisis and foreclosures at an all time high, financial anxiety among Americans seems to be soaring to new heights. In a poll distributed by the American Psychological Association (APA) to more than 1,700 U.S. adults, eight out of 10 surveyed said the economy is a significant cause of stress.
“When there is a sense of uncertainty about the future or when folks feel as if their long-term goals such as retirement or children’s college funds are being threatened, a number of emotions may surface,” says Michael Groat, PhD, a psychologist for the Professionals in Crisis program at The Menninger Clinic in Houston. “We may feel as if we are no longer in control or there may be feelings of anger or lack of trust in our government leaders. All these factors together may make it difficult for people to cope, causing not only emotional distress, but stress related physical ailments as well.”
According to the APA poll, this certainly holds true for Americans surveyed. Many people stated feeling fatigued and suffering from headaches and muscular tension as a result of financial stress.
“It’s not uncommon for people to feel worried about their financial situation and, with the economy in crisis, it’s normal and expected for people to feel even more stressed,” said Susan Heffelfinger, PhD, a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders in the Menninger Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treatment Program. “But this added stress can trigger or make depressive symptoms worse. For example, people may feel more irritable, down or fatigued. It’s important to watch that these feelings don’t become overwhelming.”
In addition, Dr. Groat also warns about temptations of turning to vices such as overeating, smoking or drinking to ease anxiety and to provide a sense of control.
“I’d encourage people to instead engage in activities of wellness. Exercise is a wonderful antidote for all types of stress,” said Dr. Groat.
Seven ways to ease financial anxiety
Drs. Groat and Heffelfinger offer these tips to ease financial anxiety:
1. Share your concerns with others. “Knowing you’re not the only one stressed and talking through ways to make ends meet can help,” says Dr. Heffelfinger.
2. Get the facts on your financial situation. “Take the time to speak with a financial counselor. Don’t shut down and avoid finding out information that will help you take action,” says Dr. Heffelfinger.
3. Problem solve and make a plan with your family. “Now’s the time to make some lifestyle changes and try to reduce your spending,” says Dr. Groat. “You may need to cut back on going out for dinner or stop excessive use of credit cards. Find things you can exert your control over and this may ease some of your anxiety.”
4. Limit your exposure to the news and negative talk about the financial crisis. “An over saturation of information will only lead to increased feelings of helplessness and stress,” says Dr. Heffelfinger.
5. Take time out from the situation. “Process the problem and try to work through it,” says Dr. Groat. “But give yourself permission to let it go for awhile. Focus on a leisure activity that you enjoy.”
6. Take care of yourself. “Often times when people are very stressed, their typical coping strategies can fall by the wayside. Self-care is vital even in times of low stress,” says Dr. Heffelfinger. “Eat right, get enough sleep, take a walk or do something else that rejuvenates you.”
7. Talk to your children. “Children can sense and be reactive to parents’ stress and anxiety, so it’s important to talk with them,” says Dr. Heffelfinger. “Parents can help kids cope by first managing their own anxiety and then sharing a few basic facts in a calm and practical way. Explain that the family needs to cut back on spending and let them know in concrete ways like this means we will be eating at home more often or renting movies instead of going to the theater.”
Both doctors warn that if stress or anxiety is overwhelming, causing significant distress or impacting one’s daily functions at work or home, professional help may be needed.
“If a situation is too much to bear by yourself, seek a counselor’s help and gain some perspective on it,” says Dr. Groat.
Coping with financial failure
Individuals who have suffered major financial loss or bankruptcy face a different emotional challenge.
“We often only think of loss in terms of death, but a significant change in financial status is a loss as well,” Dr. Groat said. “We need to acknowledge this as a loss before we can move on. The grieving and recovery may take some time.”
“This will be a major transition in how you think about yourself. Money takes on a psychological meaning to us. It’s a tool we use. It not only pays for our means of survival, but our social way of life as well,” he says. “It may take months or sometimes even years to adjust to your new financial state.”
Dr. Groat encourages those suffering from financial loss to explore ways to continue to have a meaningful life.
“Take stock of your life,” Dr. Groat says. “You may discover you have a new set of priorities now – your health, your personal relationships, the way you see others. When put into a different financial situation, people often discover a new way of life in accordance with a different set of resources.”