Rising food and fuel costs, soaring housing prices, increasing interest rates, and a volatile stock market have left many people hurting financially — and emotionally. Even if you’re not in dire straits, spiraling negative thoughts and feelings about money can threaten your mental health.
A 2022 study found that even our subjective assessment of our financial well-being — including worries and perceptions regardless of our actual situation — is predictive of psychological distress.
Financial stress can leave you sleepless, delay your response time, and make you question yourself, according to financial therapist and advisor Ashley Agnew, MBA.
This distress can affect your ability to make good financial decisions, which can further erode your fiscal health and, in turn, your mental health.
“If financial pressures are causing emotional pressures that impact the way that you work, the way you relate to the people you care about, your self-esteem, and your ability to feel motivated to resolve these issues, know that there is help,” says coach and financial behavior specialist Saundra Davis, MSFP.
Financial coaching and therapy are two types of care that may be helpful if you’re trying to make emotional and fiscal sense of your situation. We asked Davis and Agnew to share their insights about how you can relieve the stress yourself — and when to seek professional advice and care.
1. Get grounded.
The first thing to do is be present with what you’re feeling, says Davis. Feel your feet on the floor, breathe, and notice where you’re holding tension in your body.
“Mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to sit on a cushion and be quiet with your eyes closed,” she adds. Journal about your feelings or about your financial strengths and weaknesses. (Explore these six types of journaling practices that can offer meaningful benefits for your mental health.)
“When you’re making quick financial decisions, the same hormones release in your brain as those that prepare you for battle,” explains Agnew. Anything you can do to reduce stress helps — whether that’s exercising, singing, or playing. “The less stressed you are, the better decisions you can make.”
2. Examine your beliefs.
Challenge any thoughts that keep you stuck in a money story, Davis advises. “If a client is saying things like ‘I’ll always be broke’ or ‘I’ll never have enough money,’ I’ll ask them, ‘Is that true? Has there ever been a time that you did have enough? What would enough look like?’”
In a journal or with a confidant, look for a gap between the reality you’re experiencing and your thoughts about what your experience means. Feelings of shame, for example, can cloud your belief in your ability to make change.
“Your financial struggles do not define you,” says Agnew, noting that these times are particularly challenging for many people. “If you’re behind on a bill, that instance does not make you a bad financial manager or bad with money. Treat yourself with compassion.”
Financial therapists can help with the cognitive, emotional, behavioral, relational, economic, and integrative aspects of your financial health.
3. Start where you are.
“In times of high inflation, there are only three things you can do: You can make more, spend less, or do a combination of the two,” says Davis.
To move forward in this environment, look at what you’re already doing: What’s working? What’s not working? What further information do you require to make changes?
You may find that you’ve got what you need to make an action plan for yourself and start executing. But you may find you need further help, either with the emotional side of this work or with the practical side. Or both.
“Talk to someone,” advises Agnew. “Talk to a financial coach or financial advisor who has training in financial therapy, because it’s all going to be more connected.”
“Even in times like this, you have a choice,” adds Davis. “You can work with someone who can help you recognize your strengths, identify your weaknesses, and create a plan.”
How to Find Financial Care
The Continuum of Financial Care
If you are struggling emotionally or financially during these hard economic times, know that resources exist to meet your needs. Coach and financial behavior specialist and founder of Sage Financial Solutions Saundra Davis, MSFP, outlines a continuum of care that can address a wide range of financial and emotional circumstances.
Financial education: “We can’t do better if we don’t know better,” says Davis. Financial education refers to a basic transfer of information to improve financial literacy and basic competencies. Look for financial education and financial literacy programs in your community or online. The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has a resource directory you can explore as well.
Financial counseling: For more specific advice on topics such as debt, budgeting, and housing, seek out financial counseling. Many programs are offered by nonprofit organizations or government agencies, but banks and other financial institutions may provide these services as well.
Financial coaching: “Coaching is more about exploring behavior and alignment with your values,” explains Davis. When there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be, and you have sufficient mental health and stability to be forward thinking and forward planning, coaching may right for you, she says. Coaching can help you explore motivation and barriers to motivation, create action plans, and provide support and accountability.
Financial planning: Working with a financial planner or advisor can help you meet goals through the proper management of your financial resources, Davis notes. These planners offer a range of services and skillsets, from managing your investments to offering comprehensive planning for all areas of your life.
Financial therapy: These practitioners help with the cognitive, emotional, behavioral, relational, economic, and integrative aspects of your financial health. Financial therapy is particularly important if you have a history of overspending, hoarding, or financial infidelity challenges between family members, explains Davis. “If the situation requires a deep dive and a deep look at your history and how you got where you are, a financial therapist is going to be a better approach,” she says.