The term financial health is generally used to describe the state of your personal finances, including your debt to income ratio, general savings, retirement savings and how you manage your money day-to-day. Just like physical health, financial health exists on a continuum, with balance changing over time.
Most financial planning programs and tools take a linear, no-nonsense approach to money. Money itself is, after all, just a tool to use to indicate earnings, costs, investments and savings. Yet, regardless of the interaction, a real human being is using the tool of money. And, with that comes both mental and emotional stories and triggers about the meaning of money. All of those stories and triggers create stress and stress impacts the physical body. So, in a sense, managing money is very much a health issue.
In fact, the stress of financial problems, including a sense of lack or scarcity, according to the Financial Health Institute, impacts the Prefrontal Cortex– the part of the brain dedicated to the exact planning and rational thinking necessary to take on tasks like budgeting and bill paying.
In addition, financial stress has been linked to migraines, ulcers, sleep disturbances, cardiac problems including higher blood pressure and risk of heart attack, anxiety, depression and suicide, according to the American Psychological Association. Instead of executing a plan of action toward financial issues to alleviate the stress, many find themselves in a loop of maladaptive coping mechanisms, like overeating, shopping and using drugs and alcohol to numb from their financial realities.
If you find yourself using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with financial stress, the first step is to notice the behavior. How is it serving you? What is it helping you to avoid? What stories about money are you telling yourself? What stories about money did you learn and retain from your childhood? By simply becoming aware that you are avoiding taking action and why, you have taken an important first step toward financial health.
The next step may be to ask for help, either from a therapist, financial coach or counselor or financial planner. Keep in mind, if you are mentally and emotionally triggered, look for assistance from someone who is trained to understand and help you first with this emotional aspect of your finances. Getting clear about the stories you are telling about money are necessary for real, lasting change to occur. If you don’t look at the underlying issues that drive your financial stress, the problems will continue to manifest.
Another important step on your financial journey is to normalize your experience. You are not the only person impacted by money issues. You are not the only person who has stories and triggers about money that keep them from taking productive action steps. Stories about money exist in families, cultures, religions, places of employment, financial institutions, educational institutions and essentially every aspect commerce. You are not alone in your feelings and in fact, you are likely in the majority.
One of the fundamental core beliefs that plague many families and cultures is maintaining the status quo of “We don’t talk about money” or “It’s not polite to talk about money.” Because of this, people feel isolated and alone, as if they are the only ones that just don’t know how to do it “right.” Buddy up with a friend to create emotional support while taking on financial challenges or look for a support group, either locally or online.
Just remember, you’ve already taken the first step toward financial health. By noticing your behaviors and the stories and beliefs you have internalized about money, and acknowledging how it is impacting your physical, mental and emotional health, you have become aware. Awareness takes you beyond coping toward asking for help and exploring possible next steps toward achieving financial health.
Check out other articles in this series “Better Money Management for Better Health” for tools to help you create your own path toward financial wellness.
By Alana Karran