It’s possible to manage financial stress using the clinically proven method known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Dr. Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist, along with the rest of the Payoff Science Team, has been studying the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat Acute Financial Stress (AFS). Dr. Howes describes CBT as a widely used therapeutic approach which can help you successfully manage many different kinds of stress.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Originally developed to treat depression, CBT is a form of psychotherapy that you can practice on your own, almost anywhere. Essentially, CBT is a form of mindfulness that enables your brain to override your physical response to stress.

Maybe you feel a spike in adrenaline when you see a bank statement in the mailbox or get a call from a creditor. CBT can actually lower your response to this anxiety — something you don’t entirely control — by putting the source of anxiety more in context.

CBT works in part because by focusing on our breathing, we slow our heart rate, get more oxygen and bring the focus back to our bodies.

Though it takes a little bit of practice, it’s as simple as focusing on your body and breathing, clearing out intrusive and stress-producing thoughts, and lowering your blood pressure one breath at a time.

By addressing your body’s responses to stress, you can lower your overall stress levels, change unhelpful thinking and assert control over sources of anxiety in your life. The bill may not go away, but with CBT, you’re able to calm yourself down and reduce the negative impact on your health.

The Evolution of Fear and Stress

Throughout our evolution, spikes in stress have been useful by engaging the fight-or-flight mechanism of our brains and bodies. Seeing a hungry animal charging required our ancestors to become hyper-focused and make quick decisions.

Modern times sees fewer animals hunting us, replaced with more complex kinds of stress — bills pile up, triggering stress and fear that feels every bit as intense as it probably did when our ancestors saw a sabertooth tiger.

When it’s a phone call, for example, we nearly hold our breaths until the moment passes.

“During hyper-arousal, we have shallower breaths, a rush of energy and a focus on the problem,” Dr. Howes says. “When it’s a phone call, for example, we nearly hold our breaths until the moment passes. CBT works in part because by focusing on our breathing, we slow our heart rate, get more oxygen and bring the focus back to our bodies. This introduces calm and because we don’t perceive this abstract thing, like a bill, any differently than we did a panther 10,000 years ago, we’re helping our bodies see the ‘threat’ for what it really is, which is the beginning of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”

Think of the times when a stressful moment results in a feeling of anxiety coursing through your veins. It’s powerful because everything in your body wants to respond and you’re left exhausted as the adrenaline dissipates.

This introduces calm …

You could think of CBT like a brain-hack on the fight-or-flight system in all of us, allowing us to perceive threats for what they really are. Once we get a handle on why we’re responding the way we are, we’re able to adjust our perspective to manage the challenge at hand.

Manage Your Financial Stress

Financial stress presents itself at different levels for each of us. Some of us barely notice it, while others develop AFS, which can really damage your life if it goes unaddressed, undiagnosed and untreated.That’s why we designed Joy, our mobile app that helps you be happier, less stressed with your money.

Dr. Howes, along with Payoff’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Galen Buckwalter and the rest of the Payoff Science Team, combined years of experience with proven research and field expertise to design the Payoff Peace program, a six-part, stress-reduction email series based on CBT. In fact, more than 70% of Payoff’s study participants responded that the exercises in Payoff Peace helped them feel more in control of their financial stress.

Having a plan has been proven to be soothing to many people and maybe you’re one of them. Knowing that there’s something you can do to address your concerns can offer immediate comfort and make you feel more secure.

Financial stress may affect us at different points throughout our lives, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it control us.

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