Money worries: How to cope?

Eight of 10 adults say economy a big stressor


Nearly half of all adults say they are “increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs,” according to a late-2008 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.


Recent bad news about tens of thousands of layoffs across the nation makes Trudy Scherting, owner of Moka Joe Coffee, really nervous.

“It puts a knot in my stomach when I hear about 50,000 people losing their jobs,” Scherting said.

She said news like that has led her to tighten up ship at Moka Joe and be very mindful of their cost of goods and the tasks at hand.

“I let our employees know that we are on high alert and their time here needs to be very productive,” Scherting said.

However, she said that stress over the economy is something that both she and her employees have to deal with.

“I might seem more on edge to my employees, but I try to be conscious of that,” Scherting said. “I don’t want to alarm anyone.”

One thing is certain, however: Scherting is not alone in her anxiety. When it comes to money and the economy, there is a lot to be stressed out about these days.

At first, the bad news may have only been on the nightly news. Then there’s word that local businesses start to go under and friends and family start to lose their jobs. Suddenly the bad news is all around and people are worried about providing for their families.

For many of Regan Sheppard’s clients, the past year was one of stress and anxiety due to dismal economic news and money worries.

“I had so many people say that 2008 was the worst year of their lives,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard, a counselor with the Center for Emotional Health in Fairhaven who teaches “The Psychology of Money, a class that explores issues of money and self-worth, said anxiety over money and the economy starts on the horizon and slowly moves closer.

“People start seeing what is happening in society and then it starts affecting families with levels of depression, domestic violence and suicide going up,” Sheppard said.

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) “2008 Stress in America” survey released in late 2008, 80 percent of adults said that the economy was a “significant source of stress” and nearly half of all adults said they are “increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs.”

“With the deteriorating economy dominating the headlines, it’s easy to worry more about your finances than your health, but stress over money and the economy is taking an emotional and physical toll on America,” said Katherine Nordal, psychologist and executive director for the APA in a statement.

However, Sheppard said that it doesn’t have to be that way.


Suffering in silence

Sheppard said one of the biggest contributors to financial stress is that no one talks about it.

“People will talk about sex before they will talk about money,” Sheppard said. “We are all living silently in this really scary place.”

Money and the economy cause the initial stress and anxiety, but Sheppard said not talking about it only compounds the problem.

“If people could talk about it then that is an anchor for them to see that we are all connected and we’re all feeling this — and that feels good,” Sheppard said. “It’s anxiety-reducing in that sense.”

Sheppard, who also works as a couples therapist, said that a lack of communication about money leads to disagreements because the couple failed to form a collective script about finances.

“It is shocking how rarely couples talk about money,” Sheppard said. “When they do, it’s in times like these when there is all this heightened emotion and there hasn’t been a foundation of how to manage money and how they feel about money.”

With few people talking about it, Sheppard said, parents pass on non-verbal behaviors regarding money, but few pass on financial advice about how to deal with it.

“We are molded from childhood to have very specific ideas about money,” Sheppard said. “We walk through the world believing the same things our parents did about money in a rapidly changing society.”

Sheppard said that in the absence of family messages about how important or unimportant money is, people fill those voids with media messages that make people think they need more things and, by extension, more money, which causes more stress.

All this, Sheppard said, contributes to a society where money is tied to self-worth.

“We need to really tease these things apart and make sure that our self worth stays away from this bartering system that we have developed,” Sheppard said. “If we fill ourselves with our own ideas about money, that is a good defense against media messages that come in and can be damaging.”


Negativity breeds negativity

Sheppard said before stress can be alleviated, people must first become aware of how these stress factors are affecting the body.

“Our brain might be telling us one thing while digesting tons of information, but you should really sit down and think about how it’s all affecting you and the feelings you have about it,” Sheppard said.

Often, bad economic news can cause people to panic, but Sheppard said that negativity breeds negativity.

“If we have this idea that we are just waiting for the impending doom, we start bringing that energy toward us,” Sheppard said. “Instead of focusing on the negative, start thinking, ‘What can I do? What tools do I have at my disposal?’ That way we give our brain a new direction to go.”

According to the APA’s stress survey, more people reported physical and emotional symptoms due to stress in 2008 than in 2007. Almost half of the survey’s respondents reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress.

“The health consequences of extreme stress are most severe when people ignore symptoms and fail to manage their stress well,” Nordal said.


‘Ewstress’ and distress

Marie Matteson has been working for more than 20 years to help people relieve stress and be more mindful of the connection between the body and mind.

Matteson is a licensed massage practitioner and recently received her master’s degree in biokinesiology, a field that studies how the mind and emotions affect the body and movement.

Matteson said there are two kinds of stress: “ewstress,” the good stress that can come with a big event like a birth or wedding, and distress, the bad stress that can accompany rough financial seas.

Right now, Matteson said, she is seeing a lot of people in distress.

“I’ve seen things like families that are on the brink of divorce, but start working things out instead of splitting up because it can’t be afforded,” Matteson said. “The two spouses are not getting along but they cannot afford to live independently.”

Matteson said that during hard times, many parents are stressed that they can’t spend a lot of money on their kids. But Matteson said if the family usually goes out to dinner and sees a movie, they can maintain the routine with a family dinner and walk around the neighborhood.

“It’s not about the activity — it’s really about the quality time,” Matteson said.

Matteson also said that lots of physical activity, sleep and laughter can be great stress reducers.

“You can find laughter just by watching a silly sitcom or reading a book,” she said. “Hugs are also great medicine.”

Matteson said that venting, in some form, is also an excellent stress reduction technique.

She said that a family can vent together about the external and internal factors causing stress or an individual could write out their feelings for 20 minutes nonstop to vent about sources of stress.

Nordal from the APA said people’s emotional health is more vulnerable in these tough economic times, but they can control what news they are exposed to. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, but refrain from getting caught up in the doom-and-gloom hype. Take stock of your particular situation and what causes you stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, then consider seeking professional help.

Sheppard agreed and said instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the positive.

“Expose yourself to new and interesting information that challenges who you are as an individual, so that you are not just spiraling downward.”

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