Payoff’s clinical psychologist, Dr. Ryan Howes, explains the impact of financial stress on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
If you have financial stress, you’re well aware it can affect you in multiple ways throughout your day. Maybe you check your bank account five times in an afternoon — or maybe you avoid checking your account for as long as possible.
“Financial stress puts the body on high alert, anxious about either being overwhelmed by financial stuff or trying to deny the financial stuff,” clinical psychologist Dr. Ryan Howes says. “Either way, financial stress kind of runs your life.”
Dr. Howes and the rest of the Payoff Science Team, led by Dr. Galen Buckwalter, have been looking at financial stress extensively over the past two years, including a study of more than 2,000 people who identified themselves as struggling with a degree of financial stress. He says he saw three areas impacted in just about every person he interviewed — thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
These three areas seem obvious, right? But Acute Financial Stress can impact you in multiple subconscious ways. Let’s take a look at the impact of financial stress and what you can do to better manage it.
The Impact on Your Thoughts
The negative thoughts surrounding your financial stress can spill over into other areas of your life, creating negative thought patterns about more than just your money. “It’s an anxiety issue,” Howes says. “People become preoccupied and worried with little pieces of their budget. ‘Can I afford this soda?’ ‘I have to tell my friends I can’t go to the movie with them because it means money.’ ‘Where am I going to be in 10 years?’ ‘Am I going to be a failure?’”
He explains this negative thinking centers mostly on people’s futures and wondering whether or not they’ll ever be able to get out of debt. The thoughts themselves are unsettling, but perhaps even scarier is the idea that you could be passing these anxieties on to your children.
It’s an anxiety issue …
“We pass them down, not necessarily genetically, but by example,” Howes says. “If we see mom or dad completely stressed out over money, we have a greater chance of being pretty stressed out over money ourselves.”
He says people are commonly unaware of the connection between their parents’ attitudes about money and their own. “One of the treatments [of financial stress] is to tell your financial story,” Howes explains. “We ask people, ‘Where did you learn your money habits?’ ‘Where did you learn messages about money?’ And they’re all totally shocked to find out, ‘Oh, wow, I thought I was doing something different, but I actually have the same beliefs as my parents.’”
The Impact on Your Feelings
“Emotionally speaking, we hear people feeling hopelessness, feeling a lot of fear, feeling at times angry with themselves,” Howes says. “They have to blame someone, but oddly enough, people are not always blaming the banks. A lot of times they are blaming themselves … like, ‘I’m the problem.’”
Money has become a very intimate topic for some people, and the shame they associate with their negative financial situations runs deep. “Almost every generation before us has made money kind of a god. It’s been an idol for us,” Howes explains. “It’s the key to happiness, the key to success, the key to well-being and worth.”
A lot of times they are blaming themselves … like, ‘I’m the problem.’
When it comes to the feelings associated with money, Howes says your generation makes a difference. “And I think the biggest problem is, it’s not just this generation that doesn’t talk about money with their friends,” he continues. “The earlier generations were even worse about that. For baby boomers and those born before, it’s completely impolite to talk about money in any kind of context. You don’t talk about your income, you don’t talk about your bills. No one talks about that with friends and family.”
The Impact on Your Behaviors
There are two categories of behaviors seen in people experiencing financial stress. Howes describes the first as being personal, for example, you jump when the phone rings, you react physically to an email or letter from the bank or you compulsively check an account balance. “[People] feel this sickening in their stomach, and they actually have this sort of physical disgust sort of response,” Howes explains. He goes on to say the financially stressed people he interviewed tended to fidget, avoid eye contact and even breathe differently when talking about their money situations.
The other category of behavior is relational, as in, you avoid the topic with others, you avoid situations in which money might be required — basically, you avoid any scenario or conversation in which money or finances may come up or be involved.
One hundred percent, they would all say, ‘I would rather talk about a sexual problem with my family and friends than a financial problem,’
This urge to avoid the subject of money is incredibly strong, Howes says. He asked people whether they would rather discuss with friends and family their financial problems or a sexual dysfunction. “One hundred percent, they would all say, ‘I would rather talk about a sexual problem with my family and friends than a financial problem,’” he says. And this lack of communication has the potential to strain how you behave with your spouse, partner, friends or other family members.
Howes says problems that can develop include a lack of trust and assigning blame, especially when two people have very different money personalities — like if one is more of a saver and the other is more of a spender.
But the strain isn’t always a result of a conflict. Sometimes what isn’t said can be just as alienating as what is said.
… a canyon that starts to develop between them …
“If this is a major stressor in someone’s life and they’re keeping it from their family, their friends, even their spouses, that’s a huge wedge, a canyon that starts to develop between them,” Howes says. “If I can’t talk about the most stressful part of my life with the people around me, then we’re done. You start to lose touch with one another. I see that happen all the time … And so that just results in isolation, which is not good for any sort of emotional issue.”
Manage Your Financial Stress
Financial stress is serious but there’s hope. It’s possible for people to successfully manage their financial stress and even improve their attitudes toward money. What’s the key? Acknowledging your fears and facing your stress head-on.
[Money]’s not just a side dish, it’s a main course.
“Money is an issue that comes up with almost all of my clients at one time or another,” Howes says. “I didn’t realize until doing this study that financial stress in itself is like a standalone problem that’s worthy of every bit as much attention and focus as any other disorder people have. It’s not just a side dish, it’s the main course. … I’ve seen people can overcome a lot of this distress with some fairly simple intervention — talking about it, being aware of it, learning to control and calm their body makes a major impact in people’s lives.”
He points out that people who managed to bring their financial stress up with friends discovered that many of their friends were experiencing similar stress and suddenly they didn’t feel so alone. “People keep it to themselves so much, there are just millions of people suffering silently and not even knowing that this may be a problem that can be treated,” Howes says.
We’re trying to shine a light on this and show that no one’s alone.
By starting the conversation about financial stress, we’re trying to take the power away from money and give people back control over their own emotions, thoughts and behaviors surrounding money. “We’re trying to shine a light on this and show that no one’s alone. Let’s kick the shame out of this and make this something we can talk about. If people are able to have discussions about how they feel about money, we’ll make huge strides in fighting financial stress.”
Are you interested in relieving your financial stress? If this sounds familiar to you, why sit back and let it overwhelm you? We want to help you manage and overcome that stress, so Howes and his team helped develop Joy to measure financial stress and provide innovative, science-based ways to manage it.
Try it now. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn in just 5 minutes.