Science is just beginning to understand the intricate complexities of the mind/body connection. Studies show that hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body as a result of stress, for example. This in turn affects our neurological responses, activating the nervous system in a fight, flight, or freeze response. Living in this pattern—increased heart rate, raised blood pressure, tensed-up muscles, as well as a slowed down digestive and tissue repair process for an extended period of time—eventually and ultimately inhibits our immune response to illness, and we get sick, and/or depressed, and/or faced with a number of physical and/or mental health issues.
One of the biggest culprits: Stress about money.
Financial insecurity - the inability to have sufficient income to cover basic needs, save for unforeseen expenses or a prosperous future - is a major source of stress for individuals and families and impacts their health. As a participant in a study about financial stress from Rochester, N.Y. put it, “If you want to lower my blood pressure, help me pay my electricity bill."
Studies indeed show that the 2008/09 recession worsened blood pressure and blood glucose levels in American Adults. Another study found that people who experience financial stress are at greater risk for insomnia, depression, and migraines. Some are even putting their health care needs on hold and skipping doctor’s appointments due to financial concerns increasing their risk of disease and early mortality.
To complicate things further, one third of adults with partners say that money is a major source of conflict in their relationships. Families who experience financial stress are more likely to adapt unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol, and leading more sedentary lifestyles.
According to a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, people who are nearing retirement are particularly at risk to the harmful effects of money stress especially associated with short-term debt like unpaid bills and credit cards.
Five decades ago, people could count on pensions to provide steady income during retirement. Fewer people had to take out loans to pay for school, and cash was used instead of credit cards.
Now, according to a 2016 PEW Charitable Trusts article, Gen X'ers are far less likely to retire with pensions than baby boomers, and millennial's will have to depend on their 401k’s and other savings. Add insult to injury, financial education has not kept up with the pace of change. In fact, according to the Council for Economic Education's 2018 Survey of the States, only 17 states require a financial education course in high school. With a lack of basic financial knowledge, it is easy to feel out of control when it comes to one’s finances resulting in high stress and impacting every aspect of one’s life: health, relationships, families, and work.
Although this is quite troubling, there is a silver lining. There are things one can do to help decrease financial stress in one’s life:
- In Everyday Health’s stress survey, 53 percent of respondents said speaking to someone who was experiencing similar stress helped them feel better.
- Becoming a part of a community which provides social and emotional support can help one reclaim hope.
- Looking for opportunities in your community, at church, work or on the internet can help expand options.
- Planning small changes, budgeting, saving, and yes, learning to trade and invest and ultimately take charge of one’s finances can help a person feel more in control (which in turn reduces stress).
- Staying resilient through difficult economic times can help one handle the stress and implement positive financial strategies.
- Talking to a psychologist can help one manage the emotions behind the stress.