How to Manage Financial Stress

Whether it is from the latest news on Wall Street (the DOW is down another 400 points as I write this), or the pile of bills stacked on kitchen table, economic stress is something that must be managed or it can lead to serious issues.

I remember just a few years ago I was deep in debt, and often spent sleepless nights worrying over our bills. I wanted desperately for there to be an instant fix, but deep down I knew it would take many months of hard work and discipline to get out of debt.

At one point in particular, when a family member was dealt a serious health blow, and the financial collapse was well underway in late 2008, I had just about given up hope of ever being debt free, of ever having savings, and ever realizing financial peace.

Fortunately, we persevered and we eventually reached the debt freedom we so desired. I was right; it did take many, many months and a lot of long days, but it is so worth it.

During that time of economic despair, I thought a lot of bad thoughts. I won’t get into specifics, but you can imagine for yourself what someone with a wife and two kids and a pile of debt might be feeling. There were many sleepless nights.

I managed to keep a somewhat positive perspective by tracking my debt level each month. Every month I saw that number go down was a win. Every month I saw a rise in my debt I tried that much harder to make a dent the next month.

I began to look forward to pay days because it was another opportunity to knock out some debt.

I began to look forward to extra work because it increased my income, and provided a chance to knock out some debt.

I started tuning out the naysayers. I ignored people out there who said being in debt was normal, that everyone had a car payment, that everyone had to borrow money to finish school, and that everyone used credit cards.

I started having mini conversations with myself like:

  • Maybe I didn’t want to use credit cards.
  • Maybe I didn’t want my kids to have to borrow money for school.
  • Maybe I didn’t want a car payment again, ever.
  • Maybe I wanted to live debt free and not owe anyone a dime.

I wasn’t going to let someone else, or some tired financial conventional “wisdom” dictate my life. I was responsible for creating my situation, and I was responsible for turning it around.

In addition to these lines of thinking, I also practiced the following to help lower my financial stress levels (and still do today when I feel the blood pressure creeping up).

Turn off the television (and the radio, and the computer). It is good to disconnect every now and then. Instead of being glued to the television as talking heads pour over the latest thrashing on Wall Street (as I did on Monday evening), turn off the television.

  • Go for a walk around your neighborhood.
  • Call a long-distance relative you haven’t talked with in a while.
  • Toss the ball with your kids.
  • Go to bed with the sun and catch up on sleep.

Whatever you decide to do with your time, stay disconnected. No checking the smartphone or sneaking a peak at your portfolio. Trust me; it will feel refreshing.

Surround yourself with positive influences. I can’t stand for people to tell me everything will be fine when I don’t think it will be. That goes for the economy and many other areas of life. I’m not a pessimist, but I am a realist, and I can see things for what they are.

Having said that, it is easy to slide towards negativity when surrounded by downers – people who are constantly taking a “half is glass empty” approach. Seek out positive relationships with people who are genuinely optimistic about life.

If you happen to disagree on politics or economic theory, or whatever it is that stresses you, just suggest avoiding those topics and enjoy each other’s company for different reasons.

Maybe you can find someone with whom you share a mutual hobby, and can engage in it together.

Find an accountability partner to help get up and get to the gym early on a cold morning.

If you’d like to learn more about a particular subject, seek out a mentor to tag along with and learn from their experience.

I often get accused of being an old fart when I say things like this, but I honestly believe that the further we get from face to face, human interaction, the less connected we are with reality.

Many of us stay stressed because we lack this interaction, and in its place we’ve inserted more ways to stay connected to work, to finances, and to the never-ending, 24-hour negative news cycle.

Those things are good in small doses, but when it becomes a way of life, it simply adds to our levels of stress. Now go unplug for a while.

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