Financial stress is debilitating; it can add a layer of unwelcome, even toxic, distraction to everyday life.
It can affect our relationships and our productivity at work; plenty of research shows this, including research commissioned by financial mindfulness.
But people under financial stress don’t need research to confirm it, anyone under financial stress knows how it slows us down and makes everything that bit harder.
Financial mindfulness is a tool for reducing personal financial stress using mindfulness, goal-setting, and financial literacy.
“It’s useful to remember financial stress is a type of stress – and it’s helpful to look at what stress actually does to us,” says Dr. Michael Takagi, a Melbourne clinical neuropsychologist.
It’s also important to remember there are a variety of well-practiced stress reduction techniques which we can use to help address financial stress too.
Stress and financial decision-making
Stress can have a profound impact on us, Dr. Takagi says.
When it becomes chronic, it can adversely impact our lives in many ways, including our sleep, cognitive functioning, physical wellbeing, and overall health.
“Imagine trying to make a complex and impactful decision when you are sleep deprived, your scatterbrained and not able to focus, you have a headache, and your back is sore, and you feel rundown and exhausted,” Dr. Takagi says.
“It is not a recipe for good decision making.”
In the short term, we are more likely to make decisions that alleviate our immediate need for relaxation and help us to feel better, so-called retail therapy, buying expensive takeaway meals, drinking, or even gambling.
Doing those things to try and ‘feel better’ can add to our financial stress.
“In the long term, we are less likely to delay gratification and less likely to make the decisions that are necessary for long-term financial stability,” Dr. Takagi says.
Stress management techniques can help us reduce our overall stress levels, reducing the adverse side effects of stress, which helps us make better financial decisions.
Valuable activities for stress reduction
In general, exercise is among the best options, Dr. Takagi says.
The specific type of exercise is less important than ensuring you regularly do it. As an example, gardening can be a good option that people may not consider exercise.
While gardening doesn’t usually raise the heart rate, many people find it useful – you’re outside, getting fresh air, and exerting yourself.
These activities produced stress-reducing brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, where you exert yourself.
“Going for a walk with a friend is another excellent option; you’re exercising and socialising at the same time,” Dr. Takagi says.
Socialising with a trusted friend produces stress-reducing brain chemicals such as oxytocin.
Similarly, team sports, going to the gym, and running are all good options.
The primary considerations should be enjoyment and a degree of physical exertion, which produce the feel-good natural highs of dopamine and serotonin.
“If you enjoy doing something, you’re more likely to make it a part of your routine,” Dr. Takagi says.
Including someone else can help too – you’re more likely to exercise if there’s someone to do it with you, keeping you accountable with the bonus of that important social aspect.
Mindfulness is also an excellent stress reduction technique, particularly with stress caused by financial stress.
Mindfulness has been shown to stimulate all the ‘happy’ brain chemicals, especially serotonin and (when we stick to a regular practice) dopamine.
The anti-stress benefits of positive routines
Stress reduction techniques and activities do not have to take a huge part of the day, and they can change, Dr. Takagi says.
This could be incorporating a morning walk into your routine a few days per week, a 10-minute mindfulness session before you start your day, or a 5-minute progressive muscle relaxation session before you go to bed.
“The most effective stress management techniques will vary from person to person and vary on when they are most effective during your day,” says Dr. Takagi.
“Identify the stress management techniques that are most effective for you (e.g., breathing exercises, mindfulness, walking) and then work on incorporating them into your routines,” he says.
This means getting curious about what works for you. Try something and if it doesn’t help reduce your stress, try something new.
You can maximise the benefits of stress management techniques and activities by incorporating them into a routine and continuing to do that routine.
We need to simplify how we do this, and one way to achieve that is to do positive things at the same time every day.
Many people find it effective to have a stress-reduction routine in the morning while having plenty of energy before their focus is taken up by work.
This could look like some meditation and a phone call to a friend when you get up, or a brisk 15-minute walk, then you begin with a firm foundation for the day.
But if it works best for you to have a stress-reduction routine after work or in the evening, then try and stick with that.
The main point here is to have a routine and try to stick to it. If you miss a day, don’t worry, just start the next day again.
- Financial stress can be reduced in several ways.
- A program specifically aimed at reducing financial stress is beneficial.
- Financial stress is a type of stress, and there are many stress-reduction methods.
- Exercise is one of the best, so is socialising and mindfulness.
- Experiment and get ‘curious’ about what works for you.
- Incorporate stress-reduction techniques into your daily routine.