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Psychologists and personal financial professionals agree on one thing: People are stressed out by money. Like, really stressed.
“Money is a very important component of establishing a secure life,” Norman Anderson, CEO and executive vice president of the American Psychological Association, told CBS News.  “When people are financially challenged, it makes sense that their stress level would go up.”
APA’s study found that healthcare costs and the rising costs of living were two major factors contributing to fears about money. Three-fourths of Americans say they worry sometimes, while 22 percent experience extreme stress from their finances.
How do finances affect people?
Half of Americans struggle to manage their money both now and into the future – but many also don’t really get where they stand.
That’s according to research from financial services provider Prudential. It surveyed more than 3,000 people and found more than a quarter of Americans have a skewed understanding of their money…
- 17 percent are “falling behind,” but think they’re fine.
- And 12 percent of people “have a high level of financial health,” but are pessimistic about it.
“Our relationship with money can affect our physical health, stress levels and state of mind, family dynamics and even our performance at work,” says Prudential COO Stephen Pelletier.
The study adds that pessimistic people “could subject themselves to unnecessary and unhealthy stress – and rob themselves of experiences and comforts that could improve their quality of life.”
What are our biggest financial stressors?
Americans are insecure with their finances and it’s beating up on their mental health.
Twenty-eight percent of Americans say that anxiety from money problems makes them feel depressed at least monthly, says a study from investment firm Northwestern Mutual. And 17 percent say as often as hourly.
Here’s a look at the kind of money problems that make Americans so anxious…
- Rising healthcare: 59 percent
- Unplanned financial emergency: 55 percent
- Unplanned health emergency: 53 percent
- Income: 48 percent
- Level of savings: 48 percent
- Debt: 42 percent
- Retirement planning: 41 percent
And we feel the burden of financial stress in our personal lives. Forty-one percent say it negatively impacts their relationships with their significant others. In fact, 19 percent say they argue at least monthly. But go figure, 9 in 10, feel happy when their finances are in order.
Thirty percent of Americans feel stress over money all the time, according to a separate survey from mobile banking app Varo Money. And 85 percent are stressed sometimes. That means the majority of Americans feel they can’t possibly have their finances in order as often as they’d like to. Especially not with the kind of debt Americans have.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be hard. Start using a budgeting tool that automatically updates Google Sheets and Excel with your bank, credit cards and other transactions.
Americans collectively hold $13 trillion in personal debt, including credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and more. All that debt has to get paid back. But when we can’t – we feel the pressure.
A study on how debt affects our health from Northwestern University says: “high debt could be hazardous to your health.” Debt is connected to higher diastolic blood pressure and poorer self-reported general and mental health in young adults (24-32-year-olds). When you have your blood pressure taken, diastolic is the bottom number or the measure of your resting heartbeat.
“We now live in a debt-fueled economy,” says Elizabeth Sweet, lead author of the study. “Since the 1980s American household debt has tripled. It’s important to understand the health consequences associated with debt.”
Higher debt holders had a 1.3 percent increase in their diastolic blood pressure – a clinically significant rise, according to the study. A two-point increase in that type of blood pressure is associated with a 17 percent higher risk of hypertension, and a 15 percent higher risk of stroke.
“You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see associations between debt and physical health in people who are so young,” Sweet says. “We need to be aware of this association and understand it better.”
If you thought retirement was a cakewalk, you might be heartbroken to learn there’s more walking than cake.
Nearly half of all Americans – 49 percent – don’t believe they will reach their retirement goals by the time they hit actual retirement age, the American Institute of CPAs says. Of the more than 1,000 adults surveyed, 5 percent of non-retirees have reached their retirement goals.
The lower the confidence level, the higher the anxiety level for non-retirees. The following are their biggest sources of financial anxiety:
- Healthcare costs: 71 percent
- Unawareness of personal health: 62 percent
- Being unsure about tax rates: 52 percent
Being poor in retirement isn’t anything new, and those delightful golden years are looking more like bronze as low income is not only contributing to anxiety, but also depression and loneliness in older Americans.
Where are Americans financially stressed most?
The majority of Americans are worried they can’t pay off their debts. But in Delaware and Washington, D.C., people are most worried about how to afford their lifestyles.
DC residents need to make $80,000 to live comfortably, due to facing the second-highest cost of living in the nation. But two-thirds of the country is more concerned with paying off debt like credit cards, according to a study from personal finance site GOBankingRates.
“Our survey results reiterate the impact the current debt crisis is having on Americans, really, no matter where in the country they are living,” says Kristen Bonner, lead researcher on the study for GOBankingRates. “Americans are suffering from paying off their past expenses rather than looking forward and focusing on setting up their financial future.”
This interactive map shows the greatest financial stressors residents of each state face…
Stress isn’t the only negative emotion that our finances bring out of us. Americans are afraid and even embarrassed about their financial situations.
Credit counseling company Affirm says two-thirds of young adults (22-44 years old) have an actual fear of debt, even though they constantly plan their spending.
“While a large percentage of consumers worry about the mismanagement of credit cards, they are simultaneously open to a healthy amount of debt,” the report says.
The survey of more than 1,000 Americans says 32 percent of them are scared of debt because they don’t know how long it will take to pay off. Also among the findings:
- Plan their spending weekly, twice a month, or monthly: 93 percent
- Have at least one credit card: 86 percent
- Have three or more credit cards: 31 percent
- Carry a credit card balance have at least $1,000 in credit card debt: 57 percent
Despite the heavy credit card use, the report says it’s not the only option among younger adults. More than one third – 36 percent – of non-credit card users prefer to pay with cash and 29 percent are “afraid they’ll spend more than they can afford.” More than half of non-credit card users said they want to build credit, however.
Most Americans don’t have much faith in their financial knowledge. And their financial ignorance is costing them tens of thousands of dollars throughout their lifetimes. But it’s also making them feel embarrassed in the present.
One personal finance writer logged her experiences of feeling shame over her financial situation. She’s mused that it wasn’t the fear, stress, panic, or resentment over her finances that hurt her the most. It was the shame that stayed with her.
“I remember hanging out with friends one night when I was 24, and the topic of student loans came up,” Casey Hynes wrote in personal finance site Make Change. “One of the guys there mentioned his loan debt and how he would have it paid off in a few years. He and his girlfriend began talking about how they were already saving for their future children, even though they were years away from being ready to have them.”
She recalled the experience making her uncomfortable to the point that it overwhelmed her physically.
“As the conversation turned increasingly to money topics, my cheeks burned with shame and my stomach knotted in anxiety,” Hynes wrote. “I’m never going to be able to pay off my student loans. I can never afford to have kids. I would die if everyone found out how much debt I’m in. They would lose all respect for me.”
Hynes sought advice to get her through her financial shame and you can, too. For starters check out the following tips to help deal with debt.
5 ways to deal with debt problems
At Debt.com, we work with people every day to help them get out of debt and get their lives back on track. Here are some tips to help you deal with debt and prevent it from crippling you…
1. Focus on concrete steps you can make right now
Because being in debt can feel overwhelming, it’s helpful to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. Regardless of how much you want to give up and stick your head in the sand, following the steps below can at least get you on the right track.
2. Make a budget, and stick to it
We write a lot about how to stick to a budget, but it’s worth repeating over and over because it’s so important. If you aren’t tracking your spending, that’s the first place to start. You can use digital budgeting products like Tiller. Or maybe you’re like most Americans who prefer budgeting with a pen and paper, according to research from Debt.com.
3. Keep yourself physically and mentally active
You don’t need a gym membership. Outdoor exercise, getting fresh air, going on a bike ride or a run all help improve your mood, and in turn, decrease your stress levels. Exercise releases endorphins, pleasure-causing chemicals that make us feel less stress and pain. And since exercising keeps your body in shape, it’s beneficial for both your body and your mind.
4. Get support
Finding a buddy to help you through getting out of debt will keep you accountable. He or she can provide a listening ear, emotional support, and encouragement.
Much like your dad used to tell you in high school, don’t run with the wrong crowd. In this case, that means sticking with people who know you’re sticking to a budget.
5. Stay positive
It’s cliche, but having a positive attitude is really necessary if you’re struggling financially. Because it’s easy to get bogged down, and pinching pennies sucks, having the right attitude can decrease the amount of stress you’re feeling financially.
Now that you’ve checked out these few tips, we recommend Debt.com’s extensive guide Coping With Financial Stress.