Dealing With the Stress of a Financial Crisis

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While money is a relatively common cause of stress and marital tension, a serious global economic downturn can have many people concerned about losing their home or their savings—or both. If you’re finding yourself stressed about money, the following steps can lead you to a greater sense of peace, and a brighter financial future.

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Money Issues

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares what to do when financial stress is impacting your mental health. Click below to listen now.

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Remain Calm

When we feel threatened, our fight or flight response — the body’s stress response — kicks in and makes changes in the body. The heart rate quickens, stress hormones like cortisol are released, and a host of other changes occur that allow the body a quick burst of energy to run away fast or stay and fight.

While these strategies have worked for thousands of years, they aren’t always practical now. While that jolt of energy and alertness can inspire you to act, if your body remains in this state for long periods of time it can be damaging to your health.

That’s why it’s important to have some stress relief strategies that can be used in a variety of situations, to calm your body’s stress response so you can think clearly and stay healthier. Then you can work on solutions.

There are a few "all purpose" stress relief strategies that can work well here.

  • Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises work well because it can be done anytime and anywhere. People don’t have to know you’re even doing it, but focusing on your breathing can help you calm your body and soothe tense emotions within a few short minutes.
  • PMR: Progressive muscle relaxation is another fast-acting stress reliever. It’s simple, free, and can be done just about anywhere. Again, it can calm your body’s stress response so you don’t remain in a state of chronic stress.
  • Journaling: For those who are really stressed and need to feel that they’re doing something, journaling about stressful emotions can help get them out of your head so you don’t end up ruminating on what stresses you. Be sure to end your journaling session with some brainstorming on solutions, and you’ll get a better sense of control over the situation and a more positive attitude.

While we can’t always control what happens to us, much of how we respond to life’s events depends on how we view what’s happening; how we make sense of it all.

If we see a life event as a threat, for example, we may react more negatively and helplessly than if we see it as a "challenge." If we blame ourselves and imagine that things will never change, a stressful situation feels more overwhelming than if we remember that we can always find a silver lining with the dark clouds and that this, too, shall pass.

Reframe the Situation

Here are some specific types of reframing that can be very useful in getting through a financial crisis:

  • If you’re feeling that your financial crisis is a form of personal failure, remind yourself that many, many people are in this situation as well. The situation itself is not a failure on your part, and working through it only demonstrates your strength.
  • If you’re concerned about the impact on your family, remind yourself that families can grow stronger and closer when they weather challenges together and that this experience (although you may not have willingly chosen it) can make your family stronger, too.
  • If you’re stressed about the uncertainty of the future, remind yourself that these changes also bring opportunity; down the road, you may find yourself in an even better place. Even if you don’t have more money, you may have more happiness.

By acknowledging the feelings and thoughts you have, and gently redirect your attention to the positive, you can lessen the stress you are experiencing. When you’re not feeling crushed under extreme levels of stress, you may even make choices that better maximize the opportunities that you still face.

Take a Break

Another way to reframe a situation is to take a break from it and return later with a more relaxed attitude and a fresh perspective. Many people don't know how to 'take a break' from stressful thoughts, especially when stressing about finances. They tend to ruminate and remain stressed.

Spending more time doing fun activities with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, or even simply watching TV comedies can get you into a better frame of mind. These activity-oriented reframing techniques, as well as the mental reframing techniques mentioned, could lead to less stress and an "upward spiral," rather than a downward one.

Focus On Learning

A financial crisis presents significant change and challenge to be dealt with, but can also be a valuable learning experience, and a stop on the road to more stable financial times and a healthier long-term attitude toward money.

For example, a financial crisis can inspire more frugal habits, better long-term planning, and an attitude of gratitude for material possessions and other important things in life. Even serious financial problems, like foreclosures and bankruptcies, can be overcome. That’s why it’s not only important to make a plan to get through these tough times, but it’s important to have a positive attitude toward the future.

Make a Plan

Keep your eye on the possibilities of the future. Keep in mind that much better times can be created ahead by dealing with financial challenges of today.

When creating a plan, you should look at all the possibilities you have open (even if it may not seem like there are many). Talk to as many wise people as you can in order to be sure there are no avenues you’re overlooking.

You may want to speak with a financial advisor or credit counselor, for example, and get a clear idea of where you are right now and where you’re going. Your plan may span several years, but it’s important to have an idea of how you’re going to handle this crisis.

Not only will it be easier to know what to do, but having a plan can put your mind at ease so you’re not thinking about finances and "what to do" all the time.

Set Goals

In addition to making a plan and maintaining a positive attitude, it’s important to keep your positive vision for the future in mind. Focus on setting both long-term and short-term goals.

Your long-term goals may include a stable financial situation for yourself and your family and a life that includes joyful activities and close relationships. Your short-term goals may simply include getting through the next month—or week—in a relatively peaceful state. Both long-term and short-term goals are important.

You can create a vivid mental image of what you hope to find in the future, and revisit it often, or you may want to create a vision board for yourself to flesh out what you’d like to see in the future.

Keep your eyes on your goal, and don’t look down.

How to Ask for Help

If you feel that the stress of your financial situation is too much for you to handle, it’s important to ask for help. Often people are afraid or ashamed to ask for help from others, but asking for help is sometimes the wise and necessary thing to do. Help can take many forms:

Friends and Family

The people who love you don’t want to see you suffer alone. If you need a wise ear or a shoulder to cry on, friends and family are usually very good at offering the type of comfort and support. In fact, that’s what they’re there for.

Financial Advisors

In financial crises, sometimes the type of professional help you need can come in the form of someone who understands money crises better than the rest of us. Often, getting a plan put together with the help of a professional can take much of the stress away — you may feel more in control, less alone, and more optimistic about your situation.

Mental Health Professionals

Don’t underestimate the importance of the other type of "professional help" when you’re experiencing a crisis. Sometimes the stress of a financial crisis can be more than one person can—or should—handle alone.

If using stress relief techniques does not help relieve this type of stress as much as you need, it may be time to talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

If you’re feeling an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, a lasting loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy, or a general feeling that you probably do need more help, for example, a professional can offer more in-depth options that can help you through these difficult times.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.