Learn what is financial stress and where it comes from.

What is Financial Stress?

With rising interest rates, inflation, and fears of a recession just around the corner, most Americans are dealing with a lot more financial stress. The best defense is to be prepared. Learn what financial stress is, how it affects you, and what you can do about it.

Stressing about money – and so much more

Financial stress occurs any time you find yourself worrying about money, the ability to pay for things, to reach your financial goals or maintain your lifestyle. It can mean worrying about whether you’ll be able to retire, raise children, get out of debt, pay for college, or more.

Financial stress is not the same as being greedy or materialistic. Most clients I work with face financial stress because they want security, not wealth or high status. They just want to be able to enjoy their life without fearing it will be snatched away from them by bills and debt. In one of the richest countries in the world, that’s not an unreasonable ask!

What is financial stress from a situation?

I find it useful to distinguish whether financial stress comes from within yourself, or from the situation you’re in. This helps you identify what you need to do to address it.

Your situation might give you financial distress if you are in poverty, live paycheck to paycheck, have irregular income throughout the year, lose your job, have a lot of debt, or encounter a disaster or sudden massive bill. The underlying question here is: How will I afford the things I need? The solution to this kind of stress has to address the situation: organizations like FindHelp.org to reduce your bills and get social support, unemployment benefits if you’re laid off, and SNAP and Medicaid to get food and medical assistance.

However, assistance programs in the USA still have many gaps, and it’s extremely difficult for many people to get out of poverty or debt. We need institutional reform such as a single-payer healthcare system to ensure that people at all income levels can survive. But that’s another topic – let’s focus on what you can do, as an individual.

What is financial stress from within?

The other kind of financial stress can happen even if there is no obvious problem to cause it. You may be able to pay your bills, and see no reason why that would change, but you still worry. You might feel privileged, and like you shouldn’t complain because others have it harder, but you still feel guilty about spending money on “unnecessary” things or wonder if you need more.

This kind of financial stress is less dramatic, but still a real fear many people struggle with. You might have grown up without much money, and worry about going back to that state. Maybe nobody taught you how to manage money effectively. Or perhaps you struggle to gauge how much you have and how much you need. If you suffer from anxiety, or general worries about your future, those often manifest as financial stress, too.

What you can do

My specialty is mental health, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on. For more assistance with external money issues, I recommend FindHelp.org – it’s a great directory for free and low-cost services ranging from elder care to groceries to job training, and more. They have a section for low-cost mental healthcare, too!

I’ll be writing two more posts in this series, one on the effects of financial stress, and another for how to cope with it. For now, the most important things to know are that you are not alone, and you have a right to feel this way. Just because someone else might “have it worse” doesn’t make your stress or anxiety less real. You are not being silly or selfish by wanting to take care of yourself financially, or by not giving money to everyone in need of help.

The most helpful thing, for me, was not trying to figure everything out alone. I had to reach out to relatives who understood money better than I did, and who were willing to teach me. Look for a friend, relative, or local class that can help you, too. (The library is a great place to ask!) Most people will not look down on you for trying to get to a better place. And if you want more intensive support – especially for handling stress, relationship, or anxiety issues at the same time – don’t hesitate to reach out for therapy.