Dr. Eric Weiser Offers Expert Tips for Managing Financial Stress Amid Pandemic on WalletHub
The biggest source of stress for Americans in 2021 is money problems, according to personal finance website WalletHub. Professor of Psychology Dr. Eric Weiser is featured this week on WalletHub to offer tips for reducing stress over finances.
See the full article here or read the tips below.
What tips do you have for fighting stress without spending money?
Stress becomes especially “stressful” when we believe that we have no control over the difficulties and challenges we face in life. Although that may be true in some cases (e.g., the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 mitigation measures), the truth is, except for those who are incarcerated, we actually have more control over our lives than we realize. There are, in fact, many things we can do to exercise that control which does not require much if any, an expenditure of money. We can go to the gym as many times per week as we like. We can go for afternoon walks. We can text and Zoom close friends, or – better yet – meet in person and enjoy cocktails by the backyard firepit; as the pandemic (hopefully) is soon put into our rear-view mirror, in-person social gatherings will again become a thing, so there is much to be optimistic about there. To boost our moods, we can watch humorous videos on YouTube each night and laugh uncontrollably. We can plunge into learning a new skill, like a programming language, oil painting, or electronics, that not only could enhance remuneration opportunities, but also could foster a sense of pride, self-efficacy, and personal accomplishment. The point I am trying to make here is that we are truly masters of our own destiny. If we can appreciate that, and purposefully put it into practice every day, we can enjoy fulfilling and satisfying lives and minimize the degree to which we feel overwhelmed and stressed, all without emptying our bank accounts or running up massive debts.
What steps can people take to reduce stressing over finances?
Unless one is independently wealthy, most of us experience anxiety over finances from time to time. My best advice here is to avoid unnecessarily putting yourself in a position that is likely to result in stressing over finances. All too often, financial stress is the natural corollary of spending money we do not have or spending it irresponsibly. Do you truly need the latest tech gadget that is introduced every month? How many designer handbags or suits does one really need? Is the $10,000 family vacation essential every year? Why subject yourself to a $600-per-month car payment for a brand new vehicle (which loses a significant chunk of its value the minute you drive it off the lot) when more affordable and quality used vehicles are widely available? Of course, if you can afford these things or are assured that you will be able to pay them off shortly with no difficulty, then by all means enjoy. But if not, who are you trying to impress? Although it is human nature to want to view ourselves as the center of attention, the reality is that the great majority of people neither notice, nor do they especially care, whether our clothes or cars are top-of-the-line, where we went on vacation, or how state-of-the-art our smartphones are. One can remain technologically up-to-speed, dress and accessorize tastefully, have a good time with the family, and drive a sharp and reliable vehicle without going into debt. There is also the matter of saving money, both for emergencies and for retirement. Conscientiously putting money aside each month – no matter how little – in, say, an online saving account (paid interests vary, so check this out carefully), not to mention taking advantages of 401ks and IRAs, are things we should all be doing and will help foster a sense financial security and, by extension, peace of mind.
Should insurance companies cover treatments that help reduce stress?
Yes, I think that insurance companies should cover such treatments. In a sense, some insurance companies already do this somewhat by reimbursing a portion of gym membership fees (and exercise definitely helps reduce stress!). I realize opinions vary on this matter because stress is largely a matter of interpretation; as Hans Selye (a pioneer in the study of stress) once noted, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you take it.” This means, simply, that stress is largely in the eye of the beholder: one person’s stress is another person’s challenge of the day to conquer. However, it is abundantly clear that excessive or chronic stress – if, of course, perceived as such – leads to a cascade of physiological responses that, over time, often lead to or worsen many illnesses and diseases, especially those involving the cardiovascular system, which is among the leading causes of death each year. Thus, covering treatments designed to reduce stress would seem judicious because these treatments could reduce the likelihood of more serious (and expensive) health problems down the road. However, I should qualify my earlier statement in that I believe that only those treatments that have been empirically and rigorously proven to reduce stress should be covered.
What tips do you have for parents trying to minimize their children’s stress levels?
The ways children behave and respond emotionally to the world are often “caught” from their parents, meaning that children pick up on what they see their parents do and how they react to other people and life events. The best advice I can give here is for parents to model healthy reactions to stress. In much the same way that children pick up aggressive behaviors when their parents model such behaviors, they can pick up more favorable reactions to stress when parents demonstrate such reactions. If a parent is predisposed to having emotional meltdowns or tends to fly off the handle in response to stressful situations, children will learn to react the same way when faced with challenges. However, if a parent demonstrates the ability to remain calm, think positively, and proactively address problems, that parent’s children are more likely to approach life’s difficulties in the same manner. Essentially, to reduce a child’s stress, a parent must first effectively manage his or her own stress. Also, parents sometimes put too much pressure on their children. We can love our children without insisting they be the best at everything they do. When children are given the freedom to pursue worthwhile interests (rather than pushed into activities in which they are disinterested), encouraged to set realistic goals, and praised appropriately for each step they make, and when parents demonstrate responsibility, self-respect, self-discipline, and a problem-focused approach to life’s vicissitudes, children acquire a healthy level of personal agency, a sense of self-efficacy, and a spirit of optimism; they will realize that the great majority of life’s challenges are neither insurmountable nor permanent.
What can people do to address the financial stress caused by the pandemic?
As I mentioned earlier, it is always best to avoid putting yourself in stressful financial situations, to begin with. Of course, the pandemic has created numerous financial difficulties for many; as with any kind of stressor we may face, it is vital to do what we can to regain some degree of control. If one of those difficulties involves a reduction in income due to a salary cut or layoff, the best way to establish control, generally, is to commit to living within one’s means for the time being. The first step, of course, is “trimming the fat,” or honestly assessing what expenses are unnecessary and eliminating them. The next step would be to keep track of how much you spend each week and aim to spend a percentage less the next time; for example, if you spent $100 on groceries last week, try for $80 next week (what is on sale next week?) As difficult as it may seem, it is still crucial to attempt to save money during this time; even if the best you can do is $25 per month in an online savings account, it is better than nothing and will add up over time. Each of these steps is within your control and helps ease financial stress somewhat. Also, the stock market has been volatile recently, which is usually an ominous sign. If you are invested in the stock market, the best thing to do right now in my opinion is suppressing the natural impulse to “do something” and instead do nothing; the volatility makes buying, selling, or moving money a risky proposition at this point, so in the best thing here is to keep your money where it is until things stabilize. If market volatility leads to fears about losing a substantial amount of money (especially if one is close to retirement), it may be worthwhile to consider a stop-order, whereby a broker will sell a stock once it reaches a certain price, thereby minimizing financial loss.