In the past couple of weeks, I've been blogging on how to cope with stress. Why? Because let's face it, we are one stressed out bunch of people. The scary fact is that, in the American Psychological Association's study "Stress in America," the majority of American adults surveyed reported that their stress had increased during the past five years. And respondents fully realized that their stress levels were taking a toll on their health. In fact, 88 percent of women and 78 percent of men surveyed reported that their stress level had a strong or very strong impact on their physical health.
When asked, "Which of the following, if any, have you experienced in the last month as a result of stress?" Americans responded:
• Irritability or anger (42 percent)
• Fatigue (37 percent)
• Lack of interest, motivation or energy (35 percent)
• Headaches (32 percent)
• Upset stomachs (24 percent)
• Change in appetite (17 percent)
• Change in sex drive (11 percent)
This begs the question: What are we so stressed out about? You name it, it was probably on the list, but the top ten reported stressors among American adults in 2011 were:
• Money (75 percent)
• Work (70 percent)
• The economy (67 percent)
• Relationships (58 percent)
• Family responsibilities (57 percent)
• Family health problems (53 percent)
• Personal health concerns (53 percent)
• Job stability (49 percent)
• Housing costs (49 percent)
• Personal safety (32 percent)
Notice any common themes here? Financial issues (money, housing costs)? Check. Work issues (could be work-related stress and/or job stability concerns and/or money-related issues)? Check. Insecurity about the economy, which relates to both money and work? Check. Relationship issues? Check. Health issues that often connect to relationship or work issues? Check.
But since the number-one reported issue is money, let's start there. Three-quarters of adult Americans are worried about money, and I'm guessing they're not worried about having too much.
If you find yourself among that 75 percent, what should you do? First, identify exactly what you are stressing out about. According to personal finance expert and "Money Girl" podcaster Laura Adams, there are 4 primary reasons people freak out about money:
1) They consistently spend more than they make, living under the threat of ever-present bill collectors.
2) They spend exactly what they make, living paycheck-to-paycheck.
3) They have a huge amount of debt (e.g., student loans) and are finding it hard to make any progress on reducing it.
4) They don't understand how to manage their finances and feel lost or overwhelmed about how to do so.
Getting back to my last blog, as a stressor, money concerns may be both controllable and uncontrollable at the same time. Thus, you should take a twofold approach when coping with them:
Regardless of why you got into debt in the first place, there are a number of things you can do to make your debt more manageable:
1. Seek the help of a professional. You're probably thinking, "If I don't have any money, how can I afford to pay a professional?" Rest assured, a lot of professionals offer free consultations or reduced/sliding rates for their services. Just type "debt services" or "debt consolidation" into Google and see what comes up. Just make sure the company seems reputable.
2. Plan. Make concrete, yet achievable, goals for yourself to get out of debt. If you don't know where to start, talk to a financially savvy friend or financial advisor.
3. Create a budget. The first step is to figure out what you actually spend your money on over the course of a week. You might be surprised at what you can cut out. For example, do you really need to eat out every day, or can you save money by taking your lunch to work? Do you really need premium cable or satellite TV? If you've never done a budget before, there are a number of software programs and apps available for low or no cost to get you started. If you need more ideas, check out these debt-reduction tips.
4. Clip coupons and stock up on bulk and sale items. It may seem like a simple strategy, but there are countless ways to save significantly on your weekly grocery bill. Sure, you may have to try a different brand, but every penny counts when it comes to savings and debt reduction. Plus, you might even find that you like the new brand better.
5. Learn how to cook. Americans spend nearly $400 billion a year on eating out. It's usually much cheaper to buy and cook your own meals. Don't know where to start? Go to the library and check out a cookbook or go to YouTube and watch cooking demos. Culinary adventures await!
6. Shop at secondhand stores. You can usually find good quality, slightly worn (and sometimes even brand new) clothes at Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other secondhand or consignment stores. Since Americans spend nearly $200 billion a year on apparel (not including jewelry), buying used clothes can add up to significant savings.
7. Go green. Find ways you can save on household expenses.
8. Leave your credit cards at home and pay in cash. It's much easier to avoid temptation and racking up even more debt if you leave the credit cards at home. "Don't spend what you don't have" should be your motto for a while.
1. Try hypnosis. Don't laugh or roll your eyes at me. There's actually some evidence that hypnosis is a valid way to cope with stress -- including financial stress.
2. Vent. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, counselor, dog -- just get this off of your chest. Who knows? Whoever you talk to might actually have some helpful suggestions.
3. Take care of yourself. Now is not the time to neglect your physical and mental health. Maybe for financial reasons, you need to cut out that biweekly yoga or tae kwon do class for a little while, but that doesn't mean you can't practice at home on your own.
4. Try to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. Don't make your situation out to be worse than it is. This can lead to the "what-the-hell effect," causing you to spend more than you might have otherwise.
Hopefully you're feeling a little less afraid of your financial situation right now. Leave me a comment and let me know what works and what doesn't work for you. Please also leave some ideas of things that have worked well for you in the past. If we put our heads together, we should be able to get out of debt, one penny at a time.
Stayed tuned for next week's installment on coping with work stress.
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