The one good thing C*VID brought us was normalizing therapy. It became very apparent to people that they needed to put their mental health first. As nurses we were taught to embrace self-care, but now there has never been more information and resources available to help us better understand and promote our mental health.
And while our relationship between our mental health and our physical, emotional, and social wellbeing is very important there is one relationship that is still hard for many people to discuss. The relationship between our mental health and financial wellbeing.
Our financial wellness, money mindsets, money stories, and more, impact our mental health more than most of us let on. Financial stress and money anxiety have a negative impact on more than just our mental health. Think about how much time you spend avoiding thinking about money and never starting your retirement accounts or spending your money so you don’t have to worry about having it.
Today, I want to talk about the relationship between mental health and financial wellbeing and how the two can significantly impact our lives for better or worse
How are money and mental health connected?
Most people have felt stress getting the mail or checking a bank account balance, the adrenaline rush of making an impulsive purchase, or the pit in our stomach when we see “declined” after we swipe a debit card. These feelings come from our thoughts around money we need to decide in these moments are we going to take action to change those thoughts that aren’t serving us and our future or are we going to just ignore it again.
It’s clear to see why money would create feelings of anxiety, money touches every aspect of our lives. Money is not only a necessary commodity for our essential needs, but we all exist in a society where money functions as a status symbol that represents your success. Or at least that is what we are brought up to believe.
Many of us weren’t raised to manage savings, pay off debt, budget for our bills, and plan for our financial future. We are winging it.
So of course we spend a significant amount of time and energy worrying about our money which can directly affect our mental health. According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, people who struggle with depression are 4.2 times more likely to still have debt at 18-months compared to their counterparts without debt.
Here are some common problematic money behaviors that can negatively affect your financial health and in turn affect your mental health:
Financial Denial or Avoidance
Financial Denial or Avoidance is a form of coping by simply not thinking about money or trying not to deal with it. This can take the form of having your spouse take care of the money, spending all your money, avoiding looking or opening up statements, “forgetting” about money and more. Instead of acknowledging the impact of your financial situation you ignore it hoping it’ll go away, but in reality it is just compounding waiting for the day you face it.
Underspending is generally one that people are very proud of these days. Think of people who save, save, save for all of their lives or hyper focus on paying off debt only to miss out on life during those times. A fiction example is Ebonezer Scrooge; he lived without heat in the winter to save a penny even though he was wealthy. These people avoid spending money on themselves or others, have money but refuse to spend/enjoy it, refuse comforts even though they could afford them, refuse to participate in activities, feel ashamed or guilty about having money, feel like they don’t have enough, or go without essentials because of cost.
Overspending is so common, did you charge something to your credit card and haven’t paid it off? Take out a HELOC for renovations? Finance that car that you had to have because X, Y, or Z? These people may have trouble sticking to a budget, avoid making a budget, buy things with money you don’t have, carry a balance on your credit card, can’t save for retirement, frequently lose sleep thinking about spending money or debt, fight with your significant other about spending or debt. Consumer debt is a chronic problem for Americans. It is one of the main contributors to money stress even though we have normalized managing mountains of debt and commend ourselves for it.
“Research shows that materialism, or the pursuit of happiness and increased social status through the acquisition of things is associated with lower ratings of well-being, lower self-actualization, vitality and happiness, increased anxiety, physical symptoms, and unhappiness.” – Brad Klontz (Facilitating Financial Health)
Impulsive/Emotional Spending is a coping mechanism used by many to distract from everyday pressures and reduce negative feelings. Not only does impulsive spending often result in overspending, but once the feelings of euphoria from the purchase wear off, spenders often experience intense feelings of shame and guilt. In order to reduce the feelings of guilt, impulsive spenders may feel compelled to shop, thus continuing the damaging cycle of emotional spending.
While you may feel alone when it comes to the emotional burden of financial stress, these feelings are extremely common, typically your friends and family have faced these similar feelings. According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of Americans have experienced these money-related stressors at some point in their adult lives, while 56% went on to say that their debt was negatively impacting their life.
The long-term effects of financial stress and money anxiety
Have you ever heard the term “busier is better”, do you work all of your shifts with a no days off mentality. I was previously called unreliable by a former manager, even though I knew it was untrue, when I started at my current workplace I vowed to be reliable. I took it as a badge of honor to build up my PTO bank to the max of 400 hours and gloated about never having to use my EIB.
Stress in general has become a social norm in life. Nursing as a career doesn’t help with that, either. Experiencing some financial stress is perfectly normal and expected, but that is not an excuse to not make changes for your financial future. Living in a constant state of anxiety, fear, and stress will affect your quality of life.
According to an article by MoneyGeek, money anxiety can lead to chronic stress. As nurses we know the effects stress can have on your body. You may think you are an overall healthy person but if you live with chronic stress because of your finances this could eventually cause cardiovascular damage, exacerbate mental health issues, and can even affect the parts of your brain associated with Alzheimer’s.
Even occasional financial stress can contribute to intense feelings of anxiety and depression, frequent headaches, cause gastrointestinal distress, affect sleeping patterns, and impaired focus.
Not only do these symptoms affect our mental and physical health, but money anxiety can also keep us trapped in a cycle of financial insecurity.
According to the CDC, someone with chronic money stress may experience more illness that can affect their ability to go to work consistently. This only exacerbates their money problem further. You need to get in control of your finances so that you can break the cycle of money anxiety.
If untreated you are less likely to proactively prepare for retirement, resulting in a lifetime of financial stress, limited financial freedom upon retirement, and potentially an inability to retire altogether.
Breaking the Cycle of Money
There is no denying that financial stress can have a lasting negative impact on our mental, physical, and financial wellbeing for decades or even generations. But luckily for you, you are about to take action to break the cycle and develop a healthy relationship with money.
You are Going to Start that Process with Financial Literacy
What is financial literacy you may ask?
It is the foundational knowledge about money that everyone deserves to learn, but no one teaches us. It’s not all about knowledge though, you can read every book in the world about money but if you don’t take actions to start improving your financial future then your knowledge would be wasted.
The more you learn, understand and take action when it comes to your money, the more confident you will become and the better equipped you will be to handle every financial curveball possible.
Not sure where to start? I recommend checking out my blog 10 Money Tips for New Grad Nurses.
Disclaimer: am not a mental health professional. These are methods that I personally use, which may or may not be appropriate for your situation and needs. Consult a mental health professional, as needed.