Managing Stress in Tough Economic Times
As talk of falling housing prices, rising consumer debt and declining retail sales bring up worries about the Nation’s economic health, Americans are feeling stress and anxiety about their financial future.
Money is often on the minds of most Americans. In fact, money is a top source of stress for eight out of 10 Americans, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2008 Stress in America survey. Add to the mix headlines declaring a looming economic recession, and many begin to fear how they can handle any further financial crunch.
But, like everyday stress, this extra tension can be managed. Psychologists first recommend taking pause and not panicking. While there are some unknown effects in every economic downturn, our Nation has experienced recessions before. There are also healthy strategies available for managing stress during tough economic times. The American Psychological Association offers these tips to help with stress about money and the economy:
Pause, but Don't Panic.
There are many negative stories in newspapers and on television about the state of the economy. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, but refrain from getting caught up in doom-and-gloom hype, which can lead to high levels of anxiety and bad decision making. Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused.
Identify Your Financial Stressors and Make a Plan.
Take stock of your particular financial situation and what causes you stress. Write down specific ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your finances more efficiently. Then commit to a specific plan and review it regularly. Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, putting things down on paper and committing to a plan can reduce stress. If you are having trouble paying bills or staying on top of debt, reach out to your bank, utilities or credit card company for help.
Recognize How You Deal with Stress When it Comes to Money.
In tough economic times some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. The strain can also lead to more conflict and arguments between partners. Be alert to these behaviors — if they are causing you trouble, consider seeking help from a psychologist or community mental health clinic before the problem gets worse.
Turn These Challenging Times into Opportunities for Growth & Change.
Times like these, while difficult, can offer opportunities to take stock of your current situation and make needed changes. Consider alternative, healthier ways to manage your stress. Try taking a walk — it’s an inexpensive way to get good exercise. Having dinner at home with your family may not only save you money, but help bring you closer together. Consider learning a new skill. Take a course through your employer or look into low-cost resources in your community that can lead to a better job. The key is to use this time to think outside the box and try new ways of managing your life.
Ask for Professional Support.
Credit counseling services and financial planners are available to help you take control over your money situation. If you continue to be overwhelmed by the stress, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your financial worries, manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.
*This tip sheet was made possible with help from APA member Nancy Molitor, PhD.
Copyright © 2008 American Psychological Association
Is Worrying About Money Controlling Your Life?
- Restlessness/feeling keyed up
- Feeling cold/clammy
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Nausea/stomach problems
- Lowered immunity/getting sick more often
- Dizziness/feeling unsteady
- Tight/tense muscles
- Increased frequency of headaches
- Increased intensity of headaches
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty focusing
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling incompetent
- Increased irritability/short tempered
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of motivation/apathy
- Blocking others out; not wanting to be close
What About Your Kids?
- Increased sadness
- Increased feelings they are bad
- Drop in school grades
- Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Increased activity level; acting silly or giddy
- Increased angry outbursts
- Increased fears about unrelated things (i.e., separation, the dark, etc.)
- Clingy behavior
- Nightmares/difficulty falling or staying asleep
Counteract Your Stress by Doing Something You Enjoy, for Free!
- Do yoga
- Watch an enjoyable movie
- Do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle
- Take a walk/hike/ride your bike
- Draw/paint/do something creative
- Work in the garden
- Play a game with your kids
Identifying Productive vs. Unproductive Worry
This is the type of worry that motivates you to take steps to remedy the situation. Even the smallest step can allow you to move from worrying about the problem to trying to fix it.
This is the kind of worry for which there is no answer. Unproductive worry paralyzes you. It leaves you feeling helpless because there is no active attempt to problem-solve and there is no one who can alleviate your concerns. Examples of unproductive worry: How long will this financial crisis last? Will I be able to take care of myself financially when I am old? What will happen to my family?
Tasks for Productive Worry
- Define the problem causing the worry.
Example: I'm spending more money than I make.
- Get as much information as possible about your spending patterns.
Review your records, or begin keeping them. How much is coming in? How much is going out?
- Develop a budget.
- If you don’t know where to start, here is a basic format: http://financialplan.about.com/cs/budgeting/l/blbudget.htm
- Identify essential expenses.
- Figure out where you can cut back.
- Look at ways you can supplement your income.
- Keep lines of communication open with your family; don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
Tasks for Unproductive Worry
- Learn to accept uncertainty.
- Become familiar with those things in life you cannot control.
- Change your perception of the unknown.
- Rather than equating the unknown with danger, think of it as neutral; you cannot be certain of its value until it becomes known.
- Worrying about the unknown won’t affect the outcome. It’s more productive to worry about things you can do something about.
- Make room for "worry time."
- Set aside a specific place and time to do your worrying.
- Seek sage advice.
- Avoid rumors and do a "reality check." You would seek advice from a doctor if you were ill; talk to a financial advisor.
If Your Worst Fears Actually Come True, How do You Think You'll Cope?
People often underestimate their personal coping skills. We never know how we will respond to a crisis until it happens, but most of us are better survivors than we think.
Talk to Your Kids about Your Financial Situation
Children, no matter what their age, need to know that they are not being punished when you tell them you can’t buy that certain something they simply must have.
Age-appropriate explanations that help them understand how the current economic downturn has affected you are important for many reasons. These explanations can teach children about the relationship between income and household expenses, which also helps them understand how your money is allocated the way it is. Explain to them that all of you will have to make sacrifices until the situation improves. Emphasize that it will improve; things will not be this way forever.
Challenging Unproductive Worries About Money
|Examples of Unproductive Worry
||Challenge the Unproductive Worry
||Take Positive, Productive Action
|I'm concerned about the impact of furloughs on my financial situation.
||There's no way I can know what the future will actually be, but I can begin preparing for what may come.
||- Review your budget - plan now.
- Take a look at needs vs. wants.
- Talk to your family about how changes in your financial circumstances might affect everyone.
- Start cutting expenses.
|What if I can't pay my bills?
||I don't have any idea what the future holds for me, there are things I can do to maintain my good credit.
||- Talk to creditors to see if you can negotiate reduced payments and/or lower interest rates.
- Contact a certified credit counselor to explore all financial options.
- Establish a realistic budget based on actual income.
- Limit your expenses to necessities.
|Identify one of your own unproductive worries.
|Challenge the worry:
|Identify productive actions you can take to ease your worry:
Always remember those things in life that are truly important!
Hang on! It's Going to be a Bumpy Ride:
42 Money-Saving Tips for Surviving a Recession
With credit to frugaldad.com, 75 Tips to Survive a Down Economy
Regardless of how economists refer to this economy, recession or no recession, people are hurting. When you combine the rising costs of gas and food, declining home values and a deflating dollar, we need to be more creative in our efforts to make ends meet. Here are some ideas for spending less:
- Examine your spending habits and create a budget (see http://financialplan.about.com/cs/budgeting/l/blbudget.htm.
Knowing where you spend your money is the first step in knowing where you can save money.
Cut your expenses at home:
- Scale back the cable TV.
Switch to basic cable and you’ll be amazed at how much money this will save.
- Hang up the land line telephone.
If most of your calls are to other cell users in the same network, consider canceling the land line and using your cell phone exclusively.
- Look into combined service packages.
If you need a land line telephone, many companies offer combined telephone/cable TV/Internet access.
- Every now and then, designate a no-spend weekend.
Try to go an entire weekend without eating out, shopping, or ordering anything on-line.
- Do it yourself.
What can you do yourself instead of paying someone else? Consider mowing the lawn, washing the dog, doing your own manicures/pedicures — even changing your car’s oil.
Cut your transportation expenses:
- Check your vehicle’s tire pressure each time you fill up with gas.
Under-inflated tires and dirty air filters can reduce your gas mileage.
- Change your driving habits to save on gas.
Stop "flooring it" when you set out after a stop and lower your freeway speed. Both will save gas consumption.
- Carpool a couple of times a week.
Take turns driving to the office with a co-worker, especially if they live reasonably close to you. This will lower your gas costs and reduce the wear and tear on your car.
- Buy a used car.
You can save thousands of dollars by purchasing a used car. Make sure to have an independent mechanic check it out before you pay.
- Wash your own car.
A wash-it-yourself service costs about half the amount of a professional car wash. But remember—there is currently a ban in the City of Los Angeles on washing your car in your driveway, unless your hose has a shut-off device. You may be cited for excess water run-off.
- Consolidate errands to one trip.
Plan your route, too, to avoid driving in circles.
- Unload your trunk.
Extra weight in your trunk cuts down on gas mileage and increases wear on your tires.
- Perform regular maintenance.
Change your oil every 5,000 miles. Look for specials on oil changes. An independent mechanic can save you money, especially on major repairs. Get a recommendation from a friend or co-worker.
Cut your entertainment budget:
- Skip the movie theater — rent instead.
Consider signing up for an on-line DVD rental service. No late fees and no gas wasted traveling back and forth to the rental store.
- Say no to meeting with friends for dinner at a restaurant or agree to meet after dinner.
It’s not fun to turn down a chance to go out with friends, but there are ways to say yes without spending a fortune.
- Host a simple pot-luck dinner at your house.
Make sure everyone brings something, so that your budget doesn't go out the window.
Money and Investments:
- Get accurate information about the current budget situation at CSUF.
- Diversify your income.
Look for ways to increase your income outside of your full time job. Do you have a hobby that you could turn into a small business?
- Don’t pay anything for banking privileges.
There are many free checking options out there that include no-fee basic services such as check writing, use of a debit card and ATM.
- Save money on your insurance.
Assuming you have an adequate emergency fund in place, consider raising the deductible on your auto and/or home insurance; this will lower your premiums. If you participate in a health plan with premium deductions, you may want to consider moving to a $0 cost medical plan during Open Enrollment. See http://hr.fullerton.edu/Benefits/
- Look into the CSU Health Care Reimbursement Account (HCRA) and Dependent Care Reimbursement Accounts.
If you have out-of-pocket medical expenses or pay for child care, set aside pre-tax money and file for reimbursement. Judge carefully; unused funds are not refunded. Sign-up is available during the fall Open Enrollment Period. See http://hr.fullerton.edu/Benefits/
- Adjust your W-4.
If you received a huge refund this year, increase the numbers of exemptions and increase your take-home pay. Check out http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96196,00.html to help calculate the right number of deductions for you to break even.
- Put away the credit cards.
Establish a pay-as-you-go attitude. Use credit cards as an absolute emergency (not a trip to Hawaii). Put money aside in a separate account for large-ticket items.
- Stay away from the stores.
Stay out of the malls, especially, unless you know what you’re shopping for and what your budget is. “Recreational” shopping leads to impulse buying.
Cut down on your food bill:
- Pack your lunch.
It could be a sandwich, fruit and a bag of chips...or how about terrific leftovers, creative salads, or veggies and dip? In a pinch, a pre-made salad from the grocery store is less expensive than ordering salad in a sit-down restaurant.
- Drink tap water.
Remember when nobody bought bottled water? If you have a sensitivity to tap water chemicals, consider buying a water filter for your kitchen faucet.
- Bring your own mug of coffee.
Coffee drinks cost between $.99 and $5.00. Extend that out a year, and you’re saving real money (and the earth)!
- Eat less meat.
Try a meatless dinner once a week. Beans and soy products such as tofu provide plenty of protein and cost less than meat.
- Look for specials.
Start reading the food ads in Thursdays’ newspapers. Buy items on special and on the “reduced to sell” rack.
- Shop at farmers’ markets for fresh and affordable produce.
Local farmers sell only what’s in season, and often cheaper than in the supermarkets. This also reduces your “carbon footprint.”
- Use coupons wisely.
Cut coupons for only the things you normally buy. Try to use the coupons the same week they come out — stores often have the coupon items on sale.
- Buy generic.
There is sometimes no difference between a brand name and a "plain label" product. Read the list of ingredients. This also goes for cleaning products and over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin.
- Look at the unit price.
Packaging costs money! Buy more if you’ll use it before it spoils. And repackage food yourself — the convenience of single servings is costly and creates more waste.
- Switch to cloth napkins.
Cloth napkins are a great alternative to paper ones, which increase waste and add to your non-food budget.
- Buy the right amount.
If you have room to store 18 rolls of paper towels, it makes sense to buy them in bulk and on sale. Buying 3 pounds of ground beef on sale only makes sense if you are able to use some and freeze some.
- Make it yourself.
It’s never too late to learn the basics of cooking. You’ll not only save money, you’ll also cut down on unintended salt and chemicals from packaged foods.
- Take it with you.
Whether it’s a picnic at the beach, a soccer game, or the Hollywood Bowl, pack that cooler and save money.
- Reinvent the leftover.
Whether it’s a picnic at the beach, a soccer game, or the Hollywood Bowl, pack that cooler and save money.
- Eat breakfast.
Breakfast staples, especially cereal, can be healthy and cost-effective. Add milk and a glass of juice, and you’re set for the morning.
- Serve on smaller plates.
You can put enough dinner on a 7-inch plate to fill most appetites, and it won’t look like you’re skimping. The remaining food can make a good lunch for the next day.
- Avoid convenience stores.
"Convenience" here means prepared foods, lots of packaging and more costly than the same item purchased at a supermarket.
Web and Community Resources
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PO Box 10528, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
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Mortgage, Eviction, or Foreclosure Problems
Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure
(US Department of Housing and Urban Development – HUD)
Hope for Homeowners Program
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Federal Housing Administration
Phone: 800-CALL-FHA or 800-225-5342
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L. A. Housing Department Renter’s Hotline
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Fair Housing Council of Orange County
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