Stress reduction is big business these days.
Half of Americans report that they’re more stressed than ever about providing for their family’s basic needs, according to the recent “Stress in America” study from the American Psychology Association. Specific top stressors included money and the economy. Now add the typical holiday challenges—gift giving, decorations, parties, time with relatives—and you’ve seriously upped the ante on your anxiety level.
To help lower the stress, MainStreet turned to Dr. Alan Keck, an Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based psychologist, for five keep-your-cool strategies for when life turns up the heat.
1. Control your information flow. Know what’s happening with the economy and your own financial situation, but don’t exaggerate reality or worry about what might happen, advises Dr. Keck. “It’s easy to get a doom-and-gloom perspective when the media constantly reports negative news,” he explains. “Hearing the same negative reports over and over can make you feel overwhelmed.” Instead, stay clued in to how events may impact you (for example, a budget cut at work or rising food costs), but limit your exposure to different sources that cumulatively will make feel more anxious, rather than informed.
2. Accept what you can’t control. If the economy is truly having an effect on your finances (say, you’ve lost your 401(k) or your daily expenses have skyrocketed), take charge, says Dr. Keck. “People who twiddle their thumbs and worry feel worse than those who honestly take stock and make changes in their lifestyle—some productive action is better than none,” he says. “You cope better when you’re in control and empowered.” The same is true when you acknowledge what you can’t impact: You worry less because you know you’ve looked at the situation realistically.
3. Know yourself. Check in with how you normally handle stressful money issues, Dr. Keck says. When times are tough, do you tighten the purse strings or go on a spending spree? “Some people become miserly and cut out what they don’t need, while others put on blinders and become impulsive spenders,” he explains. “If you realize you’re someone who handles stress in a self-destructive way, make a conscious effort to do something different.” That means instead of shopping, meet a friend for lunch, go for a run or test-drive a new hobby, then stash your savings for a rainy day.
4. Look for opportunities. Much of the quality of our life experience is based on our attitude. The same is true for a tough economy. “You can choose to focus on danger or opportunity,” Dr. Keck explains. “Try to turn your challenges into a chance for growth and change.” For example, you may have to cut back on eating out, but rather than see this as a sacrifice, consider that it’s the perfect excuse for the family to spend quality time together cooking. Or, if you’ve gotten laid off, rather than worry, rethink your career—would you like to change industries, get more education, start a business? Then take steps to make change happen.
5. Keep holiday expectations in check. Money tensions rise even more when “'tis the season” to spend, give gifts and create the perfect amount of family cheer. “It’s normal to feel like you have to match what you see in advertisements, movies or television shows, but most of us aren’t capable of this,” says Dr. Keck. “Most families aren’t perfect, nor do they have the amount of money it takes to look picture perfect.” Focus on having fun, rather than creating perfection, he suggests. After all, your family wants you to be happy, not completely stressed out.