How to Cope With Financial Stress

Tips for couples, retirees, singles and kids stressed out by the economy.

Sept. 30, 2008 — -- This week's market meltdown has Ana Gomez, a legal secretary from Chicago, so worried she says she has trouble watching the news.

"Basically I think about this every day now," Gomez said. "You go to bed thinking about this, and then you wake up in the middle of the night."

Nearly two-thirds of people in the country cite the economy as a significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

Experts warn that too much concern about economic issues can take its toll on our mental and physical health, fueling depression, addiction, obesity and heart disease.

Managing Money Stress

Life coach Martha Beck has a few tips for keeping your financial anxiety at bay, whether you're a worried retiree or trying to talk to your kids.

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Breathe and stay active. Fear manifests itself physically with a "fight or flight" response and your body floods with adrenaline. So get up and walk around, go punch a punching bag. If you freeze, if you sit still, you will panic.

Coping for Couples: Money can be a huge source of strife in relationships even in good times. If one partner goes into a rage about it or panics, the other is biologically wired to have the same response. So you have to refuse to go into that spiral of panic or rage with them. As long as you are aware that this is what you're wired to do, you can resist the temptation to do it. Grab the other person by the shoulders and say, "It's OK, we're going to be OK."

Coping for Kids: First of all, don't lie to them because that scares kids to death. They tend to blame themselves for their parents' stress, and they may think they have no one to turn to tell them the truth. Sit down and tell them things are really complicated right now and it's pretty scary, but reassure them that it's all going to be OK. But you have to stay calm yourself. Look around and tell yourself that all is well in this moment and you'll get through the tough times no matter what.

Coping for Retirees: Don't scare yourself with "what if" scenarios. Don't tell yourself panic-inducing stories about the future, because you'll begin living in this catastrophe that hasn't actually happened. Instead, look to the past, at the stories of how you've rebounded before. We're in a time of incredible uncertainty but the future is never certain -- remember the tough times you've made it through before.

Coping for Singles: Don't isolate yourself, get out and connect with your friends. Tell them your stories and let them tell you theirs. Go out to a bar or another social spot, and you'll find people who are worried about their money right now. You need to be with other people who can reassure you that you're not alone.