If you’re like many people, these past two years have been the most stressful of your life. Whether the COVID-19 pandemic caused you to be laid off, take a pay cut, lose a loved one or be stretched too thin balancing work and family life, you’re not alone.
In fact, 78% of Americans cited the pandemic as a significant source of stress in their life, according to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America 2020” survey, conducted by The Harris Poll. Two years later, scientists at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere are still discovering ways in which the pandemic has affected mental health.
Being extra stressed certainly isn’t fun, but what you might not realize is it can also impact your finances. Whether the pandemic is the root cause or something else, it’s important to find healthy ways to get a handle on your troubles.
Spending Money To ‘Problem-Solve’ Stress
If you have a habit of trying to shop your stress away, you’re not alone.
“This is a common one I see with my clients, specifically those clients who don’t have the necessary skills yet to manage unpleasant and painful feelings,” said Sara Weand, a relationship and anxiety therapist in Annville, Pennsylvania. “They see the ‘bad’ emotion, such as anger, loneliness or sadness as something to be ‘solved.'”
In the short term, she said spending money initially helps them feel better. However, she said the spending is usually done impulsively, and when they don’t have the extra money to spare, it adds to the high stress they’ve already been experiencing.
Racking Up More Debt
Trying to combat stress by spending money can leave you low on cash in the short term. However, it can also become a much bigger long-term issue if you get yourself into debt – especially when factors you can’t control, such as high inflation, compound the effects.
“When people are exhibiting additional stress, they don’t always use their best judgment and use their credit cards to purchase things they don’t really need,” Weand said. “This can create a cycle of using credit cards to pay off credit cards, which will only end up making things worse.”
It’s important to remember that money can’t buy you happiness. Instead, identify the root of your stress, so you can tackle this issue once and for all — and avoid going deeper into debt.
Expensive Unhealthy Habits
Shopping isn’t the only high-priced way people blow off steam. It’s not uncommon to develop at least one problematic fixation when you’re seriously stressed, as this can temporarily take your mind off your troubles.
For example, you might drink too much alcohol, pick up smoking or take to gambling. These behaviors can be costly in more ways than one, as they’re both expensive and could ultimately lead to an addiction.
If you become dependent on these unhealthy habits, your health could suffer, causing you increased medical expenses. You might also need to seek treatment for your addiction, which won’t come cheap.
Failure To Save Money
When you’re overly stressed, the pressure you’re feeling can easily change your standard behaviors. You might normally be diligent about saving money every paycheck, but instead opt to spend it on something frivolous.
It might not seem like a big deal to skip saving once or twice, but engaging in this practice for several paychecks in a row can add up fast. Before long, you’ll have spent a significant amount of money that should’ve been in your savings account.
This can impact your long-term plans because it could cause you to fall short of goals you’ve set. For example, if you’re saving up for a down payment on a house, you might have to delay the buying process if you don’t have enough saved.
Poor Performance at Work
Being weighed down by stress can make it hard to focus at work.
“When people experience high levels of stress, their sympathetic nervous systems kick in — the fight or flight response,” Weand said. “While a low level of stress at times can motivate some people, for others who are always highly stressed, it can be debilitating.”
Everyone has days at work where their productivity lacks a bit, but if this becomes your normal, it can be problematic.
“For someone who’s experiencing high stress for long periods of time, they end up living in a constant ‘crisis’ mode, which doesn’t allow the parasympathetic nervous system to bring them back to baseline,” Weand said. “This can contribute to their ability to work effectively, be productive and may even lead to disciplinary actions at their place of employment due to poor work performance.”
Lack of Ambition
Being under a great deal of stress can easily occupy most of your time and energy. When you’re constantly worried about something, it can be hard to focus on other matters that used to be a priority.
This can be problematic for your career. Even in the absence of poor performance, if you’re less driven and slower to step up to take on extra responsibility than you were before, your boss will notice. You might’ve been on track for a promotion, but if you don’t find a healthy way to manage the extra stress, you’ll be passed up by a colleague. This can have a negative impact on your finances because pay raises tend to accompany promotions.
Using Up All Paid Time Off at Work
Dealing with stress can cause increased absences at work, which Weand said could lead to having to take time off without pay.
“When someone’s living with extreme stress, it will undoubtedly increase the chances for that person to get sick or exacerbate a person’s chronic health problems,” she said. “If someone is constantly calling off due to sickness or additional doctor visits, sooner or later, that accrued paid sick, personal and vacation time will be depleted.”
Receiving a smaller paycheck can make it hard to keep up with the bills and other living expenses, which is an added stressor in its own right.
If you’re under extreme, prolonged stress, your sleep will almost certainly be affected, Weand said. More than just unpleasant, being constantly exhausted can be dangerous.
“When someone lacks sufficient amounts of sleep, their decision-making ability and judgment will be compromised,” she said. “This can contribute to getting hurt outside and/or inside the workplace due to avoidable accidents.”
Suffering an injury can be costly in several ways, including medical bills and possible time away from work. If the injury results in serious bodily damage, you could end up with a chronic condition that forces you to switch jobs or leaves you unable to work at all.
Extra Healthcare Costs
The importance of seeking care for stress-related health issues cannot be emphasized enough, but it can definitely be expensive.
Stress-related illnesses cost Americans as much as $133.2 billion per year — but that’s likely much higher, due to the underreporting of mental health-related diagnoses — according to a report by the Asia Care Group. In fact, findings revealed that between 4% and 19% of health expenditures are caused by stress-related illnesses.
If you’re being treated for stress-related mental illness and/or physical ailments, this is likely impacting your wallet. Even if you have health insurance, you’re probably still responsible for copays and a portion of your premiums.
Products and Services To Help Fight Stress
Feeling the weight of extra stress is beyond challenging, but thankfully, there’s no shortage of products and services to help. However, most of them will cost you.
For example, 20- to 25-pound weighted blankets are priced from approximately $25 to over $200 at Target[. Additionally, premium memberships for guided meditation apps Calm and Shine are priced at $69.99 annually and $64.99, respectively.
You could also get a massage, where the national average cost is $100 per session, according to Thumbtack. If you’d rather move your body, yoga classes average $10 to $20 across the country for a single session, according to Lessons.com.
But you don’t have to spend money to find relief. Connecting with other people, getting plenty of exercise and venturing out into nature are easy, cost-free ways to tame stress.
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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.