While stress is definitely a motivational force, too much can prove to be downright debilitating. LearnVest has found out exactly how it affects your body and how you can outsmart it.
Stress is pretty personal. What stresses you out (say, negotiating down the price of a car) might be downright fun for your neighbor (who gets a rush from fighting for bargains). It's OK that we all get stressed out by different things; some scientists actually find that a little stress is a good thing.
But a survey conducted earlier this year by the AOL/The Associated Press found that too much stress is linked to illness. And not just general stress, either. They found that money stress, in particular, may lead to physical illness.
What's So Bad About Money Stress?
Even if you've paid off mountains of debt, annually max out your IRA, and diligently stick to the budget you establish in the My Money Center, there's a good chance you've felt it: money is a pretty common source of stress.
The 2011 APA Stress in America report found that out of the eight top sources of stress in America, five were financial: money, work, the economy, job stability, and housing costs. The Associated Press and AOL examined debt stress, the pressure a person feels when she owes money, in a recent survey. Respondents with high debt stress suffered more:
Headaches and migraines (44 percent with high debt stress versus 4 percent with low)
Depression (23 percent versus 4 percent)
Heart attacks (6 percent versus 3 percent)
Muscle tension and lower back pain (51 percent versus 31 percent)
Ulcers and digestive problems (27 percent versus 8 percent)
Read on for more.
We Can Fight Back
This doesn't mean that if you're stressed about money, then you're bound to get sick. Here's how you can rehab your body and mind:
Related: 20 Creative Solutions Under $20
1. Get to the Root of the Problem
"Money stress" is pretty vague. What exactly are you stressed about? An intimidating amount of debt? Worried that your income doesn't cover your costs? Scared that there might be an emergency you can't afford?
Once you identify the problem, you can start taking steps (baby steps!) to fix it. If you're stressing over debt, then our free Get Out of Debt Bootcamp will start you down the right path. If you're worried about your income, then we have a whole section of our brand-new Knowledge Center devoted to earning. If you want guidance on how to be a better saver, then we have a section for that, too.
And if you're finding your source of money stress hard to pin down, then Take Control Bootcamp is a good place to start. Often the most overwhelming part of money stress is that we don't know where to begin.
2. Reach Out
Dr. Kate Levinson, psychotherapist and author of Emotional Currency: A Woman's Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money, says: "It's important to talk with others, to not let the shame of the situation or the self-criticism stop you from getting support. Talking with others not only helps us to problem-solve, but also to feel not so alone and isolated in handling the situation. That's huge. To go through this problem with other people absolutely brings a better outcome."
If you can't think of a partner, friend, or family member you want to confide in, then head to our LearnVest Facebook page, where we hold daily conversations with community members, or post anonymously and trade advice on our forum, LV Discussions.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall well-being. It's been proven to strengthen your relationships, improve your finances, and it doesn't have to cost any money at all. (We have the right exercises for every budget here.)
The Mayo Clinic recommends 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. For ideas on how to work in your workouts during your workday (that work!), take advice from these 10 readers who manage to exercise without spending an hour at the gym.
It may seem like no big deal, but back pain is actually one of the most common reasons Americans visit their doctors. If you're one of those visitors, then try exercises that strengthen your core, the muscles that support your back. Need ideas? Try these.
4. Give Your Eyes a Rest
We take our eyes for granted, but eye strain is one of the big ways we can give ourselves headaches and migraines (the medical symptom that showed the biggest difference between those who were and weren't stressed about money).
While the study didn't address the exact mechanics of why money-stressed people get more headaches, one of those causes may be that they are focused more intensely on their computers, on "getting things done." Even if you're feeling harried, force yourself to take minibreaks. Follow the 20-20-20 rule by focusing on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
You might work at a high-stress job, but you can make your cubicle more comfortable, ergonomic, and, ultimately, more productive and free from stress by following these four tweaks.
5. Revamp Your Eating Habits
We know it can be hard to find time to cook, especially when you've got a lot of other things on your plate. But, as our mothers have been telling us since elementary school, eating healthful food is a key way to stay healthy.
A few ideas for that: We have healthful, affordable recipes (and a Cheap and Yummy Pinterest board), many of which can be whipped up in hardly any time at all. If you really don't have the time, then it's OK to get that packaged meal to save time and sanity. We made a chart to show you which packaged foods are actually healthy, so you can make your choice with peace of mind.
6. Sleep Better
As for getting enough sleep, following our earlier point about exercise should help — the more activity you have during the day, the more your body should be ready to sleep at night, as long as you don't exercise too soon before going to sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep, then try that classic glass of warm milk. The jury's out on whether it really helps biologically, but even if it's just a placebo, the comforting feeling it gives you might be enough to calm your nerves and help you sleep.
But if you are swamped, stressed, and simply don't have the time to sleep for eight-and-a-half hours tonight to catch up, then try not just to sleep more, but to sleep better. Here are some ideas for that.
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