Using Mindfulness practice to help reduce financial stress

Using Mindfulness practice to help reduce financial stress.

Mindfulness has been a big buzzword for several years.

The cabin-fever worry of the COVID pandemic reinvigorated mindfulness as a solution too. Mental health organisations, major news outlets, universities and of course meditation programs  were discussing the merits of mindfulness as a way to deal with COVID stress.

In recent years, mindfulness stress-reduction programs have emerged as a key plank in corporate wellness programs too – the new gym-at-work, except for the mind.

Mindfulness programs, run by external trainers and delivered in-house to stressed-out employees are in hot demand as employers seek to curtail the impacts of a big range of lifestyle and mental health issues that lead to costly absenteeism and its sneakier sibling, presenteeism.

There is little doubt mindfulness practices – which range from yoga to tai chi and the most popular recently, mindfulness meditation – work.

Researchers for the American Psychological Association, Daphne Davis and Jeffrey Hayes found many clear benefits from a broad review of prior research into mindfulness.

Davis and Hayes’ 2012 practice review What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research, found mindfulness “decreases rumination” (or ‘over-thinking’), improves memory, reduces anxiety and depression symptoms, people to become “less reactive” and more flexible in their thinking.

People who meditate were found to be better at “self-observation” and could adapt better to “stressful and negative situations” and concentrate better after receiving “upsetting stimuli”.

But the issues that worry us enough to interrupt our work and sleep are so mind-bogglingly varied that general, one-size-fits-all mindfulness programs could conceivably frustrate us as we are encouraged to gradually become more mindful across every areaof life.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to apply targeted mindfulness practice to one or two areas of life? Maybe the ones that stress you out the most?

Think about that: don’t we need distinct mindsets to resolve relationship issues, compared to say, problem-solving our career stagnation, compared to finding the calm and patience to cope with a major health scare or crisis, compared to the action needed to reign in our ballooning credit card debts?

One of the biggest issues stressing out employees is something not often associated with mindfulness meditation: financial stress.

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in Americansurveys consistently report high rates of financial stress. In 2020 it found that 73 per cent of Americans with a household income of under $50,000 reported money was a significant source of stress.

It’s not a one-off result. 73 per cent of all Americans rank their finances as the No. 1 stress in life, according to new Capital One CreditWise survey.

Another survey by Thriving Wallet, a project backed by Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Discover, found that 90 per cent of Americans said financial considerations have an impact on their stress levels

In Australia, it is estimated at least 2.44 million people are suffering financial stress, with about a quarter of women in financial stress, compared to 14 per cent of men.

The numbers come from AMP’s 2019 Financial Wellness report, which found that financial stress has affects more than personal lives.

“While many people think money worries are a personal issue, our research shows being financially stressed spills into your working life, increasing absenteeism and impacting productivity,” said AMP Director of Workplace Super, Ilaine Anderson.

The report estimated that financial stress costs businesses $31.2 billion a year in lost revenue.

While one solution AMP suggested was financial goal-setting, given the amount of distress and discomfort money causes us, could there be other answers too? What if mindfulness practice could dramatically change not only the way we view our money problems, but lead us to concrete actions that solve some of them?

Andrew Fleming, Founder of Financial Mindfulness,says mindfulness practice can help with obvious but hard-to-control problems like overspending in two ways. The first is to help you stop re-living the kind of fantasy in which it’s somehow okay to continue living beyond your means.

“You become more aware of the situation not as you want it to be, but as it really is,” he says.

“The second thing it does is to create calmness, less emotional reactivity and a balanced mind, so you can deal with the ups and downs of life. Then you are better equipped to deal with whatever situations you face, with calm focus and clarity.”

So mindfulness may not directly improve your financial circumstances, at least not straight away, but it is capable of quickly reducing the pressure you feel about money – which is by definition your sense of financial stress.

Fleming says practicing techniques like meditation can go further too, putting you in a frame of mind to find solutions to stubborn problems with their personal finances.

“Most people from when they wake up to when their head hits the pillow mind are constantly switched on, moving from task to task to task all day long. When the mind is constantly switched on, it’s inevitable stress will occur.

“Mindfulness is a maintenance tool to help develop clarity of thought to create space in the mind for new ideas and innovations, new ways of changing or improving current circumstances.”

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