Money stress is triggered by financial pressures. It’s possible to reduce symptoms of stress by practicing relaxation techniques and learning to better manage personal finances.
If you’re feeling stressed about money, you’re not alone. Most adults worry over money at some point in their lives. Money stress happens when worries about finances are consistent and distressing.
Managing finances can feel overwhelming, particularly if your money gets stretched very thin to cover household expenses, student debt, or medical expenses.
“The majority of the American populous is living paycheck to paycheck,” says Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief and the senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com.
A consumer survey conducted in January 2022 for Bankrate, a provider of financial guides and resources for consumers, found that only 44% of Americans could cover an unplanned $1,000 expense, such as a car repair or emergency medical bill, without having to borrow money.
Hamrick cites not saving for emergencies and retirement as the top financial regrets for U.S. adults. He also says inflation is currently a top worry — it has the biggest impact on people with lower economic resources and flexibility.
In March 2022, a Bankrate survey found that about 3 in 4 (74%) U.S. adults say that inflation is hurting them financially.
“We are more stressed by things we cannot control, and finances may be out of our control,” says Debra Rose Wilson, professor, researcher, holistic healthcare practitioner, and Psych Central advisory board member.
Money stress can have both mental and physical symptoms.
The stress of being afraid you won’t be able to pay the bills or afford basic needs can weigh heavily on people, potentially leading to trouble sleeping, increased anxiety, strained relationships, and depression.
“When your thoughts are constantly on how to make more money or how to make the money you have to cover your expenses, that is always a telltale sign [of money stress],” says Jacquelyn Johnson, a clinical psychologist practicing in California and Psych Central advisory board member.
Signs and symptoms of stress include:
- difficulty focusing
- consistently feeling frustrated or irritable
- rapid heart rate
- high blood pressure
- digestive issues
- tensed muscles
- trouble sleeping
- lower immune system
- increase in alcohol or substance use
If you’re regularly up at night worrying about how to pay the bills, it’s likely a sign of financial stress. You’re also not alone.
A 2020 survey by Bankrate found that 47% of U.S. adults report losing sleep, at least occasionally, about a money issue. Of those surveyed, 23% said they lost sleep over everyday expenses.
When you cannot get quality sleep regularly, it can have physical effects.
“Lack of sleep further impairs immune function, reducing your body’s ability to recover from the effects of stress on your body,” says Wilson.
“Money can represent security, safety, comfort, and even peace,” says Johnson. “For those who constantly live with not enough or barely enough, thoughts about providing for basic needs can be all-consuming, leading to chronic worry, anxiety, fear, and general distress.”
Stress, including stress brought on by money issues, can have negative long-term effects on mental health, especially for those with a mental health condition.
Research also suggests that there could be a connection between being stressed about money and having depression.
Financial stress can even have a negative impact on relationships. Economic pressures — such as low income, job loss, trouble paying the bills, or finding affordable housing — may increase conflict and tension between married couples, according to a
While you might not be able to control your financial situation, there are still things you can try to reduce stress.
Consider these tips:
- take a walk outdoors
- get some exercise
- practice breathing techniques
- reduce screen time
- practice self-compassion
- write in a journal
- listen to music that lifts you up
“I encourage folks to not forget that they also deserve to experience pleasure, joy, and happiness,” says Johnson. “Finding free or low cost ways to do that — taking a walk in nature, going to the beach, visiting free museums and events — are also important to fill your cup.”
Challenging the way you think about money might also help reduce some of the heavy feelings of money stress.
Farnoosh Torabi, editor at large of CNET Money and host of the Webby-nominated podcast “So Money,” says we give money too much power in our lives.
When she spoke with Psych Central, there was one message Torabi wanted our audience to hear: Don’t attach your net worth to your self-worth.
Torabi believes that this could be problematic because it can lead to shame.
“Sometimes people aren’t where they want to be,” she says. “This can lead to feeling less than, and that keeps you up at night.”
After interviewing people who have lost everything in a fire or had their whole life savings stolen, Torabi says she recognized a pattern.
What she recalls hearing in all of their stories is this: “Look, I had to stop thinking about what I didn’t have, and I had to start thinking about what I did have.”
Torabi says that when things feel completely out of control, the aspect you can control is where you focus your attention. You can choose to attach value to things other than money, such as how you spend your time, people in your life, etc.
We tend to view money in terms of numbers, which is a big part of it. At a fundamental level, to save or reduce debt, you must bring in more money than you spend.
But much of the way you manage individual finances can come from how you were taught to view money when you were young.
Torabi recommends asking yourself the following questions to help unpack the way you were taught to think about money based on your childhood experiences.
- What were some of the lessons I learned about money growing up?
- What do I remember about money as a kid?
- What were some of the common pieces of advice that I’ve gotten?
- What have I seen modeled for me?
Torabi says this exercise isn’t to blame but to help identify patterns and determine what financial lessons you learned as a kid might be contributing to your current thought patterns and behaviors.
You can also explore these thoughts with a financial therapist.
Here are some tips to consider trying for money management.
Track your spending
To make a financial plan and find out which resources are available for your situation, it helps to know how you’re spending.
You can track your spending by looking at how much goes to bills, debt repayments, and necessary expenses. Then look at how much goes to other things.
Free apps can do this for you by syncing with your bank account and credit cards. You can also use a spreadsheet to make your list.
“Once you’ve tracked your spending for a month or two, you’ll have a better sense of how your spending calibrates with your income,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.
McBride says there are several reasons people may be living paycheck to paycheck. For some, it’s because their income isn’t enough to cover expenses. Others may have a higher income but spend more than they take in.
It’s easier to figure out a game plan once you know where you stand with income and spending, McBride says.
Consolidate and negotiate debt
Debt can be a big source of financial stress. You may not be able to get rid of it, but knowing how much you have and putting a plan in place to reduce it can help lessen feelings of stress and anxiety.
Ted Rossman, senior credit card industry analyst at Bankrate, recommends a combination of finding more money to put toward the debt and lowering the interest rate.
To lower credit card debt interest, he advises signing up for a zero percent balance transfer credit card to consolidate debt from higher interest credit cards.
For debt that isn’t linked to a credit card, you can try negotiating it down. Sometimes creditors or collection agencies are willing to settle for a lower amount if you call and ask.
Nonprofit credit counseling groups provide free advice on managing money and debts and often have free educational materials or workshops.
Set financial goals
Once you know your debts, spending habits, and income, you can set some financial goals. Think about what you’d most like to accomplish financially. What would help ease your money stress?
For example, your goal might be building an emergency fund or paying down high-interest debt.
“Savings is your sleep at night money,” says McBride. “When something does happen, now you have something to cover it.”
He recommends saving 10% of your income for retirement or emergencies but acknowledges that this number may be too much for some. In that case, he says to establish your own savings goal based on income and expenses and decide how you’ll get there.
Creating a plan for achieving your financial goals can help you start to take some of the control back and make progress.
Torabi recommends sharing your savings goals with like-minded people to help create accountability and support. She says that when we share goals with others, we’re not only more likely to achieve them, but we may even exceed them.
Explore other sources of income
If you’re not bringing in enough to cover expenses or pay down debt, consider looking for ways to make extra money.
Here are a few ideas:
- try out the gig economy temporarily as a second source of income
- sell unused or unwanted items online
- perform a service for friends and neighbors that they’ll pay for
Both Hamrick and McBride say the labor market is strong right now, with a low unemployment rate and plenty of open jobs.
This is good for job seekers because it gives them the opportunity to find employers offering higher pay.
“The most effective way for an individual to make more money is to get a new job,” says Hamrick.
According to McBride, one of the best ways to make sure you’re saving money is to automate it.
You can do this by setting a regular contribution to a 401k account or by setting an amount to automatically transfer from your checking account to your savings account each week or month.
Just like budgeting, some apps will do this for you based on your financial situation.
If you’re not able to save much during the year, you can still add to an annual savings pool by putting your tax refund into a savings account instead of spending it.
It’s not uncommon to experience money stress, but there are free tools that can help you manage your finances and relaxation techniques to help you reduce stress.
Try to practice self-compassion.
Remember that your value as a person isn’t tied to your finances, and you can set achievable financial goals.