The holidays are always a stressful time of year — and finances are likely in the midst of it. Did you overdo it on spending? On family travel or entertainment? Were you expecting an end-of-year bonus that just didn't arrive? Does having family (even friends) around raise the stress levels even more? Even during non-tumultuous times, about 65 percent of Americans are losing sleep over money worries, according to a CreditCards.com poll. It's likely not only impacting you at bedtime but also at work and in other parts of your life.
As we're headed into a new year, how about taking some steps to make it a more relaxed one? There are ways to turn financial stress on its head and use it to move forward. Here's what to do.
Make a list
Make a list of everything that's stressing you out financially. Then, rate each item by how in control you feel on a scale of one to 10. Once you're finished, circle the things you feel are most out of your control — those are the areas you'll focus on addressing. Research shows it's important to specifically target anxiety produced by out-of-control feelings, says John J. Medina, developmental molecular biologist and affiliate professor of bio-engineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. As for how to address these feelings? Try taking a few minutes each morning to practice mindfulness or think about everything you're thankful for. You'll likely create a better game plan — and make better financial decisions — when you're calm.
Change your story
If you don't feel it, fake it. There is research that shows putting a smile on your face — even if it's not a real one — can help you begin to feel happier. In the same vein, changing your views about your financial picture is an important step in reducing the stress you feel about that picture. Every morning in the mirror, try saying an affirmation like, "I hold the power in my financial life," or "my money, my choices." The change won't be evident on day one, but after a few weeks, you should start feeling stronger.
Every morning in the mirror, try saying an affirmation like, "I hold the power in my financial life," or "my money, my choices."
Remember your support squad
Financial rumination — or being so stressed about money that you feel your mind spinning in circles — can lead to both health problems and more money problems (like borrowing at high interest rates that could increase debt). To combat this, take a minute to ask yourself: Who's got my back? Take note of the first three people that pop into your head, and write them down. A 2016 study by researchers at Columbia Business School suggests that when financially stressed individuals wrote down the names of three people they could confide in, they were less likely to make poor short-term financial decisions. "Reminding yourself of the people you can confide in — and maybe getting over the shame and actually confiding in them — can be a really powerful way to short-circuit the stress response in your body," says Sarah Newcomb, behavioral economist at Morningstar. Tap into that support, and use the space you've created to reassess your situation to make a game plan for addressing the problem.
Find the right financial role model
Many people tend to compare themselves to others more than ever in this age of social media — and not to a good end. Newcomb's research has shown that regardless of how much money people make, they're most likely to compare themselves to those they think are better off. How does it make them feel? Terrible, naturally. Gratitude is the antithesis. Instead of focusing on what they have, focus on what you have and how life would be without it. Another way to reap the benefits of someone else's success without comparing yourself to them is to find a financial role model and emulate their moves. Take note of things they're doing that you'd like to mimic — like giving thoughtful holiday gifts without amassing any debt — then establish a plan to get there yourself (small steps, please). It doesn't matter if you know this individual personally or found them online, but when making your choice, you should both feel a connection to the person and believe you can actually attain their level of success. Otherwise, this could devolve into an unhealthy comparison instead of an inspiration. "It's like with any goal — if you really don't believe you can achieve it, it's not a good motivator," says Newcomb.
With Hayden Field
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