Financial stress is not worth it

7/27/2017


Two weeks ago a dear friend of mine had her first heart attack. She took her kids for a bike ride and after about 10 km of riding, she collapsed. It was scary for her kids as they are all under 10, the youngest being 6 years old.

When I got the sms, I was at a funeral. My heart just stopped. I couldn't believe it. I rushed to Milpark hospital to see her. She was back to her usual self but just a little silly because of the injections she got. The doctor said that if she spends another 30 minutes on the floor, after the heart attack, she would not have made it. When I asked what happened, I was told that it was stress related. And when everyone left the room, and it was just me and Nthati (another friend) we probed her about what caused her stress. At first, she kept going around. Then she opened up... with tears rolling down her face. Her stress was caused by money.

I could feel my cheeks burning a bit and eyes welling up.

She told us that she's been having financial problems. She is a single mom of two. Her ex is not contributing anything and she felt that she didn't want to burden her friends with such details. Nthabi and I were annoyed that she didn't ask for help and we called her out. Being a mother of two, her stress wasn't worth the money.

She was discharged and we helped her finances. For a single mother, she is doing pretty good. She made a few adjustment and now she's sorted. She just needs to keep adjusting her plan.

Her experience affirmed my beliefs that we need to start caring more about our emotional health and well-being than we do about money.  And I know that money pays the bills. But what's the point of having all of this money and yet fail to enjoy your life?

A study by Psychology Science found that simply thinking about the prospect of financial insecurity was enough to increase pain. People reported feeling almost twice as much physical pain after recalling a financially unstable time in their life compared to those who thought about a secure period.

Some of the causes of financial stress identified by experts include dealing with unexpected expenses, paying for essentials and saving for retirement. When people are having a difficult time paying for basic needs, it’s not surprising that unexpected expenses would also be stressful.

No one is immune.  The high unemployment rate and steep prices of everything are real issues, and this are things we can’t control, but they affect our wallets nonetheless. Even having a decent nest egg of savings and a solid financial plan is no cure for money worries because the more you know about personal finance, the more you understand how fragile any plan and any investment programme can be.

One of the negative impacts of financial stress is that people will go without medical care. I know this to be true. When I was struggling financially, the first thing I did was to cancel my medical aid. I survived on staying in bed and home made remedies. I didn't consult the doctor because I didn't have the money to do so. And looking back now, that freaks me out. I mean, I didn't know what was wrong with me.  I could have cancer or some serious disease but because I lack a diagnostic care, I wouldn't be able to pick it up.

There was a time when money was a constant worry for me. Even when I had a lot,  I remained nervous about running out of money someday.   I still do my fair share of stressing and over-analysing every purchase. Sometimes I leave the store without buying anything and then realising that I really needed something. I know this is not healthy at all but I'm working on it.

I'm learning to take care of myself and celebrating every progress I make regarding my finances. Actually seeing progress helps me stay calm about our finances.  Financial goals take a long time to accomplish, and tracking progress is the best way to stay encouraged.

I'm also working on calming myself down. The stuff that goes on in my head sometimes shock me. Once I quit those "bullies" down, I notice that I always had the perfect amount of money in my current state.

 I know that some of you are in a tough spot through circumstance;  maybe you’ve lost a job, you’ve faced illness, or worse.  I've learned that there is no point of worrying about money. The economy will run its course and you will one day have a bulky wallet again.



In the meantime, here is what you do:

Create a plan to manage your stress. I started with this because when we are stressed we tend to neglect our health.  Exercising, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep are just a few key things you need to do to take care of yourself. Find healthy stress relievers, like meditation, an engaging hobby, or time with friends. I love reading so I got myself a library card to get books to read.

Stay rational. From time to time when I am hungry or when I am lying in bed and are about to go to sleep I sometimes become mentally vulnerable. And so worries can more easily start buzzing around in my head. Most of things I worry about have never happened. So when I find those little worries roaming freely in my head, I just stop them. And start playing the gratitude alphabet game. I start with A, naming something I appreciate that starts with that letter. Then move to B, and I do the same until I get to Z. It works and shifts my focus.

Identify your fears.  Ask yourself what you are afraid will happen. Usually, the worst-case scenario isn't as tragic as you might envision. There's a good chance you're stronger than you think. And sometimes we get so caught are in thoughts like, "I running out of cash," that we don't take the time to ask ourselves, "What am I going to do that is practical when I run out of cash?" This helps you to have a plan. And acknowledging that you can handle the worst-case scenario can help you put your energy into more productive exercises.

Avoid getting lost in vague fears. When you lack clarity then it is very easy to get lost in exaggerated worries and disaster scenarios. Spending a few minutes on finding clarity in this way can save you a whole lot of time, energy, and suffering.

Determine what you can control.  You can't prevent a storm from coming, but you can prepare for it. You can't control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you react.

Share your problems with trusted friends and family. Just venting for a few minutes can make a big difference and after a while, you may start to wonder what you were so worried about in the first place. If you do not have anyone to talk to at the moment about the worry, talk to yourself (yeah I know you are already doing that - so I give you permission - just do it) otherwise, you can always write down, read it aloud and see if it makes sense.

Refocus on the small step you can take to move forward.  To move out the worried headspace I find it really, really helpful to just start moving and taking action to start solving or improving whatever I am concerned about. After that, I find another small step and I take that one too.

We all worry about money. And on some days, money stress is inevitable. But by keep tabs on where it's likely to appear and having remedies available, you can keep your money stress to a minimum and spend more time concentrating (and enjoying) your life. Remember, a healthy you is your best gift to yourself and others.

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