Financial Stress

What is financial stress?

Financial stress is the physical and emotional strain from worrying about money. It can come from challenges like medical or education expenses, losing your job, or concerns about saving for retirement. While changing your financial situation can be difficult, learning how to cope with your stressors can lessen your burden.

Dealing with financial hardship is especially challenging because it can create a cycle of repeated problems that require more money to fix. If your physical health suffers as a result of your stress, you may need to pay to see a doctor and receive care. Taking off time from work to rest can lower your paycheck.

What can happen if financial stress is unmanaged?

Unmanaged financial stress may cause health problems. As an example, there may be an increased risk of migraine headaches in those with certain genetic factors who are experiencing financial hardship. Unfortunately, financial stress can also have a negative effect on your health for a long time after you’ve experienced it.

Financial stress can lead to or worsen poor health habits. It is linked to:

  • Greater symptoms of depression

  • Lower quitting attempts and success with quitting for those who smoke

  • Poor sleep and eating habits

Who experiences financial stress?

In the U.S., financial stress is at its highest level since 2015. In February of 2022, 65% of responders mentioned feeling stressed about money in a survey presented by the American Psychology Association. For Canadians, almost half have experienced sleep issues as a result of financial worries.

While anyone can feel worried about money, those in lower socioeconomic and in some racial groups are at higher risk. 

African American women are more likely to have depressive symptoms due to financial stress. This is true if they live in a neighborhood with a high level of poverty - even with a secure income. 

Women, as a whole, are more likely to face metabolic problems (such as prediabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol) as a result of financial stress.

Needing medical care for serious conditions increases your likelihood of experiencing financial stress. To make matters worse, financial hardship may worsen symptoms.

What can you do?

Seek social support

Families who have a strong support system are less likely to experience stress due to financial hardship. While talking about financial struggles can be emotional, sharing your experiences with others can make it feel more normal and more bearable.

Work on money management techniques

Budgeting can help you do more with less money by setting reasonable limits on spending. It allows you to take a look at your spending habits, identifying why you have certain expenses. For example, some people use shopping as a stress-relief method. Recognizing this can help you find a different coping mechanism. 

The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions offers a guide to help you get started with budgeting. They recommend:

  • Calculating your income

  • Listing all spending and expenses

  • Setting both long and short-term goals, like saving for retirement and saving for vacation

  • Creating a budget using a system that works for you (for example, an app, spreadsheet, or paper log)

  • Reviewing your progress and adjusting your budget as needed

Finding resources

Medical Expenses

If you are facing financial hardship due to medical expenses, most hospital systems have programs available. Condition-specific organizations may provide support - for example, cancer patients and the American Cancer Society. They can help you find support and services in your area. Canadian citizens can find help through the Canadian Cancer Society.

Local Organizations

Nonprofit organizations in your area may be able to help. Findhelp.org shows financial assistance opportunities in the US based on zip code. You can select specific assistance programs like transportation, housing, and education. For Canadian residents, canada.ca has a section for financial help with challenges such as disability, caregiving, and housing.

Seek Financial Counseling

Financial counseling can be helpful if you feel that you need extra guidance. In order to ensure your financial advisor is reputable, look for someone who is certified as an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC). 

The Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA) has several free tools available if you are unable to hire a professional. They include a free counseling session, student loan education, and a debt relief tool. You can also find a credit counsellor in Canada via canada.ca.