Mind, money, and body: What financial stress does to your health

Father holding young daughter who is laughing.

When people talk about their health and wellness, they think about things like exercise, nutrition, and routine checkups — not necessarily what’s in their bank account.

And yet, financial health is a big piece of overall well-being and many people struggle with it. According to the American Psychological Association, nearly 3 in 4 adults worry about money.1

But it’s not just about dollars and cents. Financial stress can affect other areas of your life, like your mental and physical health. For example, one study found that people who had serious financial stress were 13 times more likely to have a heart attack.2 From worrying about making rent to paying off debts, financial strains can also upend social relationships, job performance, and even a person’s ability to find joy in life.

That’s scary, yes, but here’s the flip side: Feeling good about your finances can help promote positive improvements to your mind and body. The challenge is to learn how to go from “financial unwellness” to financial well-being.

Small steps can take you there, and this guide can help you find them.

Financial stress and your holistic wellness

Many types of stress are inevitable. In addition to money worries, we feel stressed about the health of ourselves and loved ones, political and social issues, and future uncertainties. For some of these stressors, you have more control than you might think. For others driven by outside factors — like societal unrest and politics — you may not be able to control the stressor, but you can control how you respond to that stress.

Financial stress sometimes seems like it’s out of your control. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Many people feel overwhelmed about their financial situation. In fact, financial stress is the leading stressor in the workplace at 59 percent, which is more than job stress, relationship stress, and health concerns combined.

But it’s important to do what you can to take back control so you can prevent financial struggles from snowballing into other problems. Without taking action, financial stress can manifest into these adverse effects:

  • It can impact your physical health, raising your risk of chronic illness, sleep problems, and more. One study has even found that having financial stress makes a person 20 percent more likely to suffer from migraines.3
  • It can impact your mental health, raising your risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
  • It can impact your emotional health, raising the risk of relationship problems (such as strains on marriage and friendships), job performance and satisfaction, and your overall outlook on life.

What’s more, financial stress can be a cycle that disrupts your balance of overall wellness. For example, it can lead to health problems, which can then lead to medical bills and debt and compound your stress.

Recently, money stress has been exacerbated by the current economic climate of COVID-19. In late March, a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of people felt like the pandemic had affected their mental health.4 This mental health crisis coincides with a high unemployment rate that hovers just above 8 percent and food insecurity that has millions of people seeking help from food banks for the first time.5,6

With everything going on, the kind of financial stress we see today may seem like something that’s out of your control. But here’s some uplifting news: there are many things you can do to take back control and regain good financial health. In doing so, you can find harmony in your own well-being.

How to take back control

If you feel embattled with financial stress, one of the first and best things you can do is to create and follow a holistic wellness plan with a strong focus on financial health. This plan can help you envision your future and aim for health and wellness in every way, every day. It’s your path to a better, happier you.

As part of that wellness plan, try focusing on three important elements: get well, live well, and retire well.

1. Get well

Identify areas of your life that feel out of balance and give them the attention they need:

  • Diagnose the sources of financial stress, including debts, bills, tuition, and household expenses.
  • Reduce spending where possible and prioritize debt payoff.
  • Ask your HR department whether you have financial wellness resources available to you and explore them if so! Many employers recognize financial stress among their workforce and now offer employees these programs for free.
  • Create a savings cushion.
  • Seek out professionals who can help you tackle financial stress — not only a financial professional but a mental health professional, too.

2. Live well

Wellness requires a commitment to making healthy choices. Just like cooking healthy meals or staying physically active, financial health is an area that relies on good choices, from everyday decisions to life’s significant milestones. Here are some steps you can take to live well:

  • Establish an operational budget that works for you, allotting for both living expenses and discretionary spending.
  • Check yourself on financial compulsions for both small and big purchases.
  • Separate needs from wants — but treat yourself every once in a while.
  • Work with your partner to align financial expectations and set goals.

3. Retire well

Wellness is a journey, and you should imagine where you’d like that journey to go. There are many resources to help you make the most of your retirement goals. By taking small, consistent steps, you can greet your golden years with a better sense of well-being and retire comfortably.

  • Work with a financial professional to build a retirement plan.
  • Set up retirement accounts that work for your needs, such as an IRA or 401(k).
  • Create recurring deposits and watch your goals take shape.
  • Reassess your finances during significant life events, such as the birth/adoption of children, becoming a homeowner, or changing marital status.

Together, these three areas can help give you comfort during life’s uncertainties, restore your financial confidence, and boost your overall well-being.

Taking steps toward a healthier you

Stress can wreak havoc on every aspect of your health and well-being, but remember: You’re in the driver’s seat! It’s up to you to take steps to gain control of your financial health so you can get well, live well and retire well. Take the first step today, and reach out to a financial professional to start your path to financial wellness.


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