How to Deal with Financial Stress

Financial stress is very common – an estimated 44% of Americans rank money as the #1 thing they worry about. And, with millions of folks laid off or on furlough with no end in sight, if you're one of the many worrying about money now more than ever, you're not alone.

Feeling concerned about finances makes anyone want to shove their proverbial ostrich head deep in the sand – but actually, the only way to feel better about financial stress without completely ignoring it is to understand it, confront it, and make a plan to deal with it.

What is financial stress?

Financial stress is any stress reaction that occurs due to your financial situation, and is often exacerbated by a feeling of scarcity. This stress can be short-term – for example, unexpectedly losing money or learning that your car repairs cost twice as much you imagined. But it can also be long-term or chronic – a common example being student loans that may take 10 or more years to pay off.

As with many different types of stress, your reaction to thinking about money might be physical or psychological. Some people get literal headaches when writing out their budget for the month; others can’t sleep at night from excessive worry and spiraling thoughts that darkly say, “No one will marry you because you have no money.”

Other common physical symptoms of financial stress include stomach aches or stomach ulcers, weight gain or weight loss, acne breakouts and a weaker immune system. In terms of psychological symptoms, racing thoughts, inability to focus, and feeling negative are all signs of financial stress.

Understanding the impact of financial stress

Recognizing how (and why!) financial stress plays out in your body and mind is the first step in finding a way to decrease this anxiety, worry, or frustration. Considering where you are in your life at that moment is a great place to start.

Here are some examples of common life stages when financial stress reactions pop up:

Break down all your stress into more manageable pieces

After understanding where your stress is coming from, it’s time to break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces to address. To start tackling your stress, break down your spending and costs into categories, and then break those categories down into measurable, discrete items.

Take the following examples:


Living expenses



Considering all your incoming resources and outgoing expenses can help you to set a budget, make priorities, and feel more equipped to tackle each source of stress, piece by piece.

Examine spending behaviors that contribute to financial stress

Now that your spending is put into categories, consider where you can make changes to your spending behaviors to decrease financial stress.

Some common spending behaviors that can contribute to financial stress include:

As you devise a plan to tackle your financial stress, pay attention to what feels comfortable to you and what feels even more stressful to consider. Look for those behaviors that are within your control to change, and remember, the goal is to work on your finances, but it’s also to make sure that you feel less stressed!

Enlist support from sources that feel the most comfortable to you

When you’re ready to address financial stress, find some supports to help hold you accountable.

Social supports might be friends, family, financial advisors, mentors, or even support groups. While it may be best to find someone who can relate to your situation, speaking with anyone that you trust makes a difference – someone to help you keep on track, check in with you how you feel, and join you in celebrating progress!

Consider working with a therapist to address financial stress

When financial stress becomes overwhelming, some people turn to coping behaviors such as gambling, excessive or harmful drinking and drug use, or isolation from loved ones. If you notice unhealthy patterns – that is, ways that you’re making yourself feel better in the moment but have a negative impact on your physical or psychological health – then know that talking to a professional might be helpful.

Types of therapy that can help with financial stress include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, or even couples therapy, if your financial stress is experienced within the context of a relationship.

Therapists who focus on practical, solution-focused therapies can also help you build (and stick to!) a budget that will help you feel more in control of finances, while also taking a look at the beliefs, values, and behaviors that drive spending habits.

Take advantage of additional resources

When it comes to dealing with financial stress, you are not alone out there! There are plenty of resources to look into regarding personal finance. Here are a few examples:

So, feeling up for the challenge? Even though you’re feeling stressed out, even sitting down to make a plan to deal with financial stress shows that you’re doing something to help yourself – and that’s a big step!