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Americans, Money, and Stress

Stress’s Impact on Your Body

When humans are faced with a perceived threat to our survival, we go into “fight or flight” mode. The key word here is perceived. We could be going on a hike in the woods and see a shadow out of the corner of our eye and perceive that shadow to be a bear. Whether that shadow is a bear or not, our body sends adrenaline into our body to either fight that bear or run away from that bear, whether there’s a bear there or a shadow from a big tree. In the short term, stress hormones, like adrenaline, are helpful. Long term, stress hormones wreak havoc on our bodies.

Stress hormones cause the heart to pump faster and the breath to quicken. This allows more oxygen to flow to the muscles, which is useful if you actually have to face a bear. If stress becomes chronic, it can exacerbate breathing issues, like asthma, and/or cause high blood pressure. The quick breathing and increased heart rate can go on to affect the digestive system, and one may experience acid reflux as a result. Food may move too quickly, too slowly, or in the wrong direction through the tract. The muscles that would need to be tense to fight or run may stay tense during chronic stress periods, causing headaches and other bodily pains. In addition, stress hormones send the immune system into overdrive to help in those immediate situations, but this response can weaken the immune system over time and make us more susceptible to illness.

Blood even flows differently within the human brain during times of chronic stress, away from the rational areas and towards the ones geared toward survival. This effect can lead to poor decision-making.

Americans and Money

Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are some stats about how Americans are handling their finances from an earlier blog post called, How Bad Are Americans With Their Money?, posted here.

  • Emergency savings: More than half of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. General guidelines suggest having 3-6 months of expenses saved.

  • Credit cards: 21% of Americans have more credit card debt than emergency savings. Overall, 38% of Americans have credit card debt, with an average balance of $16,048.

  • Student loans: 65% of seniors graduating in 2017 had student loan debt and the average debt was $28,650 (source). Of all student loan holders, 43% are not making payments.

  • Car Loans: Auto loans are becoming an increasing percentage of American debt, up to 8%. Average payments ($580 new, $381 used), loan amount (almost $30,000), and loan terms (68.5 months) are all increasing as well.

  • Retirement: One-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement. A little more than half (56%) have less than $10,000 saved. These are sobering statistics when you consider you may need about $2 million to retire.

Americans and Money Stress

Survey said: Americans are stressed about money. Rightfully so, based on how they’re managing their money (see above).

That’s almost 200,000,000 Americans that are stressed about finances, around 100,000,000 Americans that are constantly stressed about those finances, and 120,000,000 Americans who feel money is the biggest thing stressing them out. We’re talking about over one hundred million people experiencing at least some of these symptoms: breathing issues, high blood pressure, headaches, body aches, digestive issues, etc. And most of them are worrying at work.

6 Ways to Decrease Stress Over Money

1. Don’t ignore your finances, learn about them

Sticking your head in the sand ostrich-style does not help, although it might seem like a good idea due to the uneven flow of blood in your brain due to the financial stress you’re feeling. Ignoring financial problems doesn’t make them go away, and they’re going to get worse the longer they’re ignored. Reading this blog and others on the Adulting Is Easy site is a great start!

2. Ditch the shame Credit Sesame found that 40% of those with credit card debt experience shame. Take a leaf out of Vicki Robin’s book, Your Money or Your Life, and adapt the “no shame, no blame” mentality.

3. Budget

A budget is a planning tool that allows you to know how much money you’re spending in each spending category. If you create and stick to a budget, you don’t have to wonder if you have the money for that nicer bottle of wine at dinner – you’ll know, and you won’t need to stress about it. Check out 9 different ways to budget here.

4. Save enough for emergencies

Once you have 3-6 months of living expenses saved, you will not have to worry about getting fired from your job or your car breaking down because you will know you are able to handle it. Having an emergency fund is freeing.

5. Save for retirement

It would be understandable to be stressed about retirement if you haven’t started saving. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount initially. Go ahead and put 5% in an employer-sponsored plan or another retirement account.

6. Get advice

There are people (financial coaches, advisors, planners, etc.) whose job it is to help people understand their finances and plan for the future. Here are some ideas for preparing for a meeting and here are some sample questions you can ask once you’re in the meeting.

Stress is natural, and it is meant to be helpful. As they say, too much of anything is not a good thing, and that is very true for stress. Chronic stress can lead to many physical issues. A huge stressor in our modern American society is our financials, with millions of people dealing with financial stress. Luckily, there are steps everyone can take to minimize stressing about money, and therefore feel happier and healthier.

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