Today’s financial landscape is more fraught with financial problems and debt than ever before. The advent of the credit card, the extreme increase in college tuition over the past several decades and the resulting ubiquity of student loan debt, rising housing and living costs, and more have made debt an increasingly common reality. And unfortunately, this trend does not come without significant repercussions on people’s mental health.
Individuals in debt, or who are experiencing some kind of financial distress, are susceptible to a number of issues. These difficulties may affect the individuals themselves and may also cause problems in their relationships, families, social circles, and communities.
If you are experiencing financial stress, it’s important to be aware of the negative impact it may have on your life. In this article we will examine what financial stress is and what you can do to protect yourself from potential long term negative effects on your mental health and interpersonal relationships.
What Does “Financial Stress” Refer to?
You can think of financial stress as the body’s cumulative physical, physiological, and neurological response to a precarious or difficult financial position. It may manifest in a number of forms and may be cause by a wide variety of factors.
The World Health Organization defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.” Stress is often caused because of an external situation or set of circumstances that an individual experiences. Whether caused by the person himself, by external circumstances, or by third party individuals outside the person’s control, these adverse situations may range from mildly inconvenient to tragic.
For many people, financial problems and the resulting scarcity of resources, anxiety, and interpersonal disputes that inevitably arise, can be significant causes of stress. This is because money plays a key role in almost all aspects of modern human life. A number of interventions and treatment programs are being developed today to address financial stress and attempt to combat or mitigate its effects. In fact, the issue has become so widespread that there is now a dedicated branch of mental health treatment known as financial therapy.
Symptoms of Financial Stress
Financial stress may manifest itself in a variety of ways. A person with the condition may experience behavioral, physical, neurological, and emotional symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms are not very obvious to onlookers, but in other cases they may development into severe or even crippling physical and mental health issues. Common symptoms of financial stress include:
- Mood swings
- Chronic pain
- Personality changes
- Behavioral changes
How Financial Stress May Negatively Impact Your Relationships
Due to the symptoms that often accompany financial stress, a person who has severe financial problems may notice a negative impact on his or her relationships. Some examples are outlined below:
Spousal or Intimate Partner Relationships
Romantic relationships may suffer the most due to the acute second-hand effects of financial stress. This is because a spouse or intimate partner is usually the closest person to the individual undergoing the stress. In some cases, a spouse or partner may be unfairly blamed as the reason for the couple’s financial issues. A spouse or partner may also directly experience how a lack of money impacts his or her lifestyle.
Financial problems often lead to communication issues within a marriage or intimate relationship. They may also highlight differences in values or priorities, which may be difficult for the couple to navigate. It is not uncommon for financial stress to lead to additional issues such as rash decision-making, deceit, food and shelter insecurity or loss.
Family Member Relationships
Children, parents, siblings, and extended family members can all be subject to the negative ripple effects of financial stress. If the financial stress on the family is very great, other family members may be asked to contribute. These adjustments may lead to frustration and disagreements about how the problem is being handled. It may also hinder the intellectual and social development of children who have to leave school and find a job.
Friendships and Other Close Social Relationships
As financial stress may contribute to negative emotional and behavioral changes, these changes may create strains or rifts in your friendships. These changes can be frustrating and difficult to acknowledge, talk about, and overcome. In cases when financial stress continues for a long period of time or manifests in the form of significant or drastic behavioral or emotional changes, it may be difficult for your friendships and social relationships to survive or recover.
Financial Problems Can Also Affect Your Broader Social Life
Financial stress doesn’t just impose pressure on your immediate interpersonal relationships. It can also threaten or jeopardize your broader social life and the ways you normally interact with your community. If you are under financial stress you are more likely to be too distracted, preoccupied, anxious, or tired to really engage in what is happening around you in the moment. This can make it very difficult for you to regulate your emotions in crowded environments, have pleasant interactions with people, and enjoy larger social settings.
It is also important to remember that most social engagements cost money. You may need to pay for drinks at the bar, tickets to events or concerts, gas or transportation costs, restaurant bills, gifts, or any number of other expenses that may be incurred at the social engagement in question. All of these expenses add to the stress of being at a particular event In many cases, individuals with financial stress may decline social invitations unless they are aware of all the potential costs beforehand.
Individuals who are under financial stress are more likely to experience regret or “buyers remorse” after social engagements. This is especially true if the experience or item cost more than they had anticipated. It is not unusual for these feelings of frustration to be vented at a partner, family member, or friend.
How to Deal with Financial Stress Responsibly
If you suspect that you may be undergoing financial stress and want to learn more about how to tackle it, there are a number of resources available to you. It’s important to take proactive steps towards treating financial stress. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start Taking Notes
Take some time to reflect and think through the symptoms of financial stress that may be manifesting in your life. Whether on a whiteboard, in a journal, in a spreadsheet, or in a voice memo, use whatever medium is most comfortable to start making a “sketch” of how your finances have developed (or deteriorated) over time and how that has affected you emotionally, physically, and behaviorally.
When did you start noticing financial problems? What changes have occurred in your financial standing that may have contributed to or instigated financial stress? What made you wonder whether you are experiencing financial stress in the first place? What changes have you noticed in yourself, your disposition, your behavior, and your relationship patterns since any financial shifts occurred?
Answers to these and other questions can help reveal more about your experience and will be vital pieces of information if you choose to approach a professional and seek help.
Talk to a Counselor or Financial Therapist
It’s vitally important to involve professionals in your journey who can provide an expert, external perspective. As mentioned above, there are counselors and therapists that specialize in helping people who are experiencing financial stress.
These professionals can be a vital resource in working out a treatment plan to tackle your financial issues. They can also suggest helpful tools for you and your family, as well as point you in the right direction of additional resources that you may not have come across on your own.
Don’t Just Treat the Symptoms
Financial stress is caused by adverse or precarious financial realities. As you begin your journey out of financial stress, it’s important to not just seek assistance or treatment for the symptoms but to implement a strategy for repairing or correcting the financial problems in your life.
There are many resources available to help individuals better understand their finances, make plans to get out of debt, learn how to manage their resources, and improve their financial literacy. These range from classes through your local community college or community center to courses, events, apps, meet-up groups, advisors, financial planning experts, and more.
Speak to a professional who can guide you on the best way to correct your financial situation for good and help you escape the pressures and difficulties of financial stress.