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Have you ever thought about how much time you spend worrying about your finances? A poll released in February puts a staggering number on it: 15 hours a week. That’s like working two extra days each week, but instead of earning a paycheque, it is time spent stressing about bills, routine expenses, debts or a lack of savings. It could even lead to increased, rather than decreased, spending.
The thing about worrying is that it doesn’t usually result in a solution. None of the worrying gives you more energy to take on a second job, start a part-time gig or pick up more hours at your current job. To move your situation forward, it takes a clear mind, which is hard to come by when you’re awake half the night worrying. Sleep deprivation can lead to health issues. It also makes it hard to communicate with your partner, children, friends, creditors and co-workers, which can only make matters worse. The worry can even take on a life of its own, leaving you exhausted, frustrated and unsure what to do next.
To improve your situation in a meaningful way, start by identifying the real reason you are worrying. These are stressful times, with many people facing increased mortgage or loan payments and skyrocketing living costs. Give yourself a break and know that it’s OK to feel worried about money, but to avoid being swept away by media hype or a sense of collective worry, think about the root cause of your fears. Jot the reason down and be as specific as possible.
It might be that your family doesn’t have enough money to pay for the lifestyle basics you’re accustomed to. It could be that you work in an industry that is experiencing a lot of layoffs and you fear you could lose your job at any moment. Debt stress might be the cause if you have a lot of bills to pay. Maybe you have enough to get by right now, but worry your savings aren’t enough to make ends meet if something happens. Or maybe you were on track to reach your financial goals, whether that was paying off debt or retiring by a specific date, but your current expenses have forced you to extend your timeline.
Once you’ve identified the root cause, consider the options you have to deal with it. For example, if you are worried about losing your job, you could start by dusting off your resumé and reference list, updating your LinkedIn profile, attending a networking event or signing up for a course you need to renew a certification you have.
It can be easy to turn to unhealthy coping strategies when stress and worry consume our thoughts, rather than proactive actions to create positive outcomes. Overeating, alcohol, substance use and even gambling are all unhealthy ways people cope with financial stress. Instead, try focusing on options to deal with why you’re worrying, and a solution may take shape.
Any financial stress that disrupts your day-to-day routine and interferes with your enjoyment of life needs to be addressed. Take back control of your thoughts and feelings by outlining specific things you can do right away. Some options might be easier to implement than others, but an action plan refocuses your worries about the unknown from what is beyond your control to what you can control.
This might mean outlining a more realistic household budget, cutting up your credit cards, calling your doctor or therapist, having a family meeting, setting (new) goals or taking care of your mental health with time dedicated to self-care.
Outline some small steps to take so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. If creating a whole budget is too much, start by tracking where you spend your money. Then use an intuitive budgeting calculator to come up with the rest. If you’re not familiar with self-care strategies to alleviate anxiety, start with a walk outdoors, give yourself a half-hour to wind down with a bath or good book before bed, or connect with a friend for an activity you enjoy.
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If you feel you need professional assistance to help you cope, don’t delay. Reach out to your family doctor, emergency health centre, licensed therapist, accredited financial counsellor or a trusted friend. There’s no shame in asking for help if you feel so overwhelmed that your mental health is wreaking havoc on your overall well-being. Medical help, professional guidance or a little help from a trusted friend can make all the difference.
Sandra Fry is a Winnipeg-based credit counsellor at Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization that has helped Canadians manage debt for more than 26 years.
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