Jan. 23, 2012 -- Financial problems, whether lack of funds, bad investments, loss of work or general economic struggles, are the number one, top-of-the-pack stress inducer for Americans today.
Yet not having enough money to meet our personal needs, and the needs of our families, has far more of an impact on our lives than we even imagine. Financial stress, experts say, is a leading cause of medical ailments like coronary artery disease, cancer, accidents and respiratory diseases that afflict so many people.
We are, by nature, creatures of habit. On some level, we are well aware that being stressed is a not a good place for us. Still, we choose to imagine there is little that we can do to reduce the stress we feel. We tell ourselves we have no control over its causes.
Here is the news flash: that is not true!
We may not be in control of stressful situations, but we are in control of how we respond or react to them, and that is the part that causes the stress in our lives. Therein lies the point where we can make a huge difference in our own lives.
So, while you may not be able to make immediate changes to your financial situation -- like paying overdue bills, reducing your debt or saving for your kids' education -- you can, indeed, change how you react and respond to the issues causing your strife. It's your reaction to the difficulties that creates the stress.
Try the suggestions below to help you live your life with less stress, and reduce the load the struggling economy is bearing on your life.
FACE YOUR FEAR: One of the first, and worst issues, with financial distress is the difficulty of facing the reality. We don't open the bill, look at the amount owed, answer the phone call, or open the IRS envelope. If you can relate to this avoidance tactic, face the music and face it now. Open the bill, call the person, hear the facts, know the reality and move forward. It will surprise you to learn how much taking action will empower you, and in turn, reduce your stress.
KNOW YOUR BALANCE: Do you know what you're spending each month? Do you know what you must spend each month? The only way to know where you really stand is to track your spending. Many people find when they learn exactly what their monthly budget is, it reduces the stress they had when they just guessed at how much they needed, or hoped they had enough. Knowledge is power, know your situation as well as you can. It's often the one financial element you have control over.
DECIDE WHERE TO CUT: Many of us imagine we can't cut our spending any further. But, financial experts say, there are good places in our family living budgets from which to cut. Try cancelling your cable TV and watch movies online instead. Cancel your gym membership and workout at home or outside. Planning meals with your family instead of eating out can help you save nearly $200 per month on average. Find a ride share or carpool with neighbors and coworkers to save money on gas.Cutting down your budget will empower you to know you're doing something about a situation that needs attention. Try it. It'll cut your stress in half.
STAY IN THE MOMENT: We've heard it our whole lives, and it is the truth. Nothing is more effective than living your life in the moment, particularly in times like these. When thoughts of the future and what we might not have, or might not be able to do, come in and induce fear inevitably stress follows. Force yourself to focus on the moment you are in. It can help you feel less of a burden to stress about the things what will be, whether you think about them or not. Your stress will have to wait its turn!
ALLOCATE A TIME FOR STRESS: Put into practice the idea that you will no longer allow the things that stress you to monopolize your thoughts all day long. As the issues we worry about come and in and out of our thoughts during the day, we can become overwhelmed with fear and question. We then roll that wheel over and over until our stress becomes perfectly destructive. Make the commitment to pick a specific time in your day-which is the only time in the day you allow yourself to think about the topic of stress. Put yourself in the driver's seat and manage it, rather than letting your stress manage you.
KNOW YOUR NEEDS vs. WANTS: Most of us can use a reminder about the difference between the terms "need" and "want." Understanding the difference is often more difficult for adults than it is for children, but once we're able to wrap ourselves around the reality that most of what we spend money on is really a want; it can help instill the perspective many of us are missing today. Give yourself a test. Write down what you spend in a day, and circle the things you really needed. When you see how many items were wants and not needs, you will be surprised, but also relieved to have found another way to lessen your spending and, in turn, your stress.