Five Tips to Beat Financial Stress

(That Have Nothing to Do with Money)

In a recent community survey, we asked Innovation members to vote for the cause that mattered most to them. They were given a choice among several categories. These included supporting Arts and Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, Education, Environmental Causes, Health and Wellness, Poverty Assistance, and Sport and Recreation. Which category do you think won? If you guessed Health and Wellness, you’re right.  Out of the 2,000 votes across the country, the majority selected Health and Wellness, specifically Mental Health, as the cause they would like to support.

At Innovation, we’re always listening to what our members have to say. As the results of the community survey showed, mental health mattered most to Innovation members. So, we donated $5,000 to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Saskatchewan Division.

(To learn more about how the donation was used and for full details on the Innovation Community Survey, read our blog.)

As both our community survey results and the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, mental health has become a major cause for concern. It is important to make our mental health a priority in order to live a happy and productive life. When our mental health suffers — everything suffers. Poor mental health affects so many things:

  • physical health,
  • sleep patterns,
  • appetite and weight,
  • relationships with family and friends,
  • our ability to work and participate fully in the workplace,
  • our ability to enjoy our hobbies, and
  • being a productive member of society. 

There are many factors that can lead to poor mental health. It could be due to a chemical imbalance, a traumatic episode, real or perceived loss, or prolonged periods of stress. As you can see, the coronavirus pandemic ticked many of these boxes. 

While a chemical imbalance or global crisis is not something within our control, stress is something we can definitely take steps to regulate. To understand how to control our stress, we need to understand why we feel stress. A simple explanation is that we feel stress when we are not able to cope with the demands put on us. People face so many competing expectations at home, work, from friends; even doing hobbies you enjoy! When you feel like you can’t complete everything expected of you, you experience stress.

Now, task-related stress is one kind of stress. As long as this happens only occasionally, it will not really affect your mental health. When you are constantly under stress for long periods, also known as prolonged stress, that will most certainly affect your mental health. What causes prolonged stress? Prolonged stress is caused when there are continuous demands placed on you that you are not able to (or think you are not able to) cope with.  Some of the most common types of prolonged stress in modern times are job stress and financial stress. Now we can’t really just quit our jobs or forget our debts to end this stress. What we can do is find ways to regulate our response to stress. Remember, we feel stressed when we feel we are unable to cope. So, the best way to beat stress is to reduce the factors that cause stress in the first place. When we feel we can cope with the demands placed on us, we will feel less stressed. The fewer the demands, the better we can cope. 

When it comes to financial stress, the stressors are usually debt and unhealthy financial choices. Of course, reducing or removing these stressors is easier said than done. However, we’d like to help you reduce the amount of stress in your life and enjoy better mental health. After all, we do know how much our Innovation members value good mental health.

So, without further ado, here are five ways to help you deal with financial stress: 

Identify the problem

The first step towards solving a problem is identifying the problem area(s). Do you have too much debt? Maybe you’re spending more than you earn and living beyond your means by buying things and experiences you really cannot afford. Perhaps you’re addicted to shopping and buy things when you’re bored or anxious, using it as a coping mechanism. Or, maybe it isn’t as extreme as any of these - and you’re just not very good at managing your finances. Once you know what the problem is, you can make a plan to deal with the issue. So, step one, take a good hard look at your debt: your income, your spending habits, your savings, your credit rating, and everything else that falls under your financial control. Find out what exactly is causing you financial stress. 

Be realistic about the solution and positive about the outcome 

As much as you’d like it, your financial woes cannot be solved overnight. Nor will you be able to simply quit unhealthy financial behaviours cold turkey. In fact, expectations like these will only cause you more stress and disappointment. Instead, make a realistic plan and for how you will try to reduce the things that are causing you financial stress — and realistic expectations for yourself. It will take time, and it will take perseverance on your part. While being practical is important, keep in mind that you need to stay positive as well. Even though you can’t get rid of your stressors in one swoop, or you may stumble and fall back into old behavior patterns, remember that you can always choose to start again. A setback does not mean failure. In fact, the next two steps will really help you to stay positive and on the right path towards reducing your financial stress. 

Take small steps 

Extreme measures are never sustainable in the long run. For example, if you find that you are spending more than you can afford on takeout meals, you can plan to reduce the number of times you order food per week. Reduce the frequency gradually. In the first month, maybe you only get takeout three nights instead of five. In the next month, reduce it further. In time, you can condition yourself to only order takeout occasionally. Taking small steps makes the transition much smoother. It’s easier to resist a couple of times a week than every single day. Eventually, these regular small wins will give you the confidence to successfully meet your goal — in this case, spending less on takeout. You can apply this tip to only one problem at a time or simultaneously to many different problem areas, as taking small steps allows you to progress in a manageable way. 

Track your progress 

When you’re trying to make a change, tracking your progress is crucial. For one, it allows you to hold yourself accountable. You can also check where you’re going wrong, and correct your course as required. For example, suppose you tend to shop when you’re bored. So, you decide to block all online shopping sites on your computer and mobile phone browser. But you decide to go for a walk to beat boredom and end up buying things from the corner shop instead. Then, you’ll know that going to the corner shop is off-limits when you’re bored too, and can add that to your realistic plan. 

Tracking your progress is also the best way to stay on track and get inspired to keep going. Seeing a visual representation of how far you’ve come helps to instil hope and raise confidence. Why does confidence matter? As we’ve explained above, we feel stress when we are unable to cope. By tracking your progress, you prove to yourself that you are capable. As you find yourself to be capable, your capacity to cope increases. The better you can cope, the less stress you feel. 

Ask for help, but seek the right support 

Stress can be isolating. It makes you feel overwhelmed and helpless. You may even feel like you can’t really share your financial stress with others because it is deeply personal. Many of us have been brought up to believe it is impolite to talk about money. There is absolutely no shame in admitting you have financial problems and need help to solve them. However, make sure you’re seeking support from the right sources. Your next-door neighbour may be not be the best person to give you financial advice. They may have practical tips, but for real solutions, ask an expert. This is because an expert will be able to give you solutions you may not be able to find yourself. For example, if you’re struggling with too much debt, your friend may suggest just taking a big loan to pay it all off, but an advisor will be able to suggest the most favorable loan options for your particular situation. Or, if you’ve identified that you’re always missing payments and having to pay hefty sums in late fees, your friend may ask you to set reminders, while an expert would help you set up auto-debits directly from your bank account. Getting the right help can go a long way towards reducing your financial stress. Remember, you don’t have to deal with it alone, but be wise about whose advice you follow when it comes to your finances. 

At Innovation, the expert support you seek is just a call or click away. Get in touch with an Innovation advisor to discuss the best ways to get your finances under control and reduce your financial stress to maintain good mental health.