MENTAL HEALTH WELL-BEING: Personal finance as a mental health stressor

Brittany Bennett

As summer days come to an end, we will experience changes — kids engaging back into school work, parents’ efforts to balance their work and family life, continued COVID-19 uncertainty, and each of our own life stressors. Which got me thinking, what are some of the most common life stressors reported that affect our mental health?

To my surprise, upon my research, I came across a study that specifically looked at the most common Googled mental health concerns per state. In 2019 a life insurance company called TermLife2Go began collecting this data with some eye-opening findings. Alaska, for example, had a recurrent Google search for Seasonal Affective Disorder, while Hawaii residents commonly Googled concerns related to sleep deprivation. New Jersey residents commonly Googled concerns related to feeling lonely, while those in Missouri are concerned with anxiety.

In New York state, in 2019, the most commonly Googled mental health concern was financial stress. That's very different than the more commonly thought of mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, changes in sleep and concentration, or irritability — which is a reminder that our mental health is often influenced by a combination of life stressors, our environment, our self-worth and our connection with others.

Discussing financial stress may be helpful to gain insight on how often, and in what depth, financial stress is discussed amongst ourselves, with our partners, and financial planners. A discussion on how to manage the worry and emotional toll of financial stress appears equally important. I had the opportunity to discuss the aforementioned with local Retirement Planning Specialist Nicholle M. Overkamp, CEO and founder of Wilcox Financial. Here are Overkamp's answers to some of my questions.

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Q: Are you surprised to hear that the No. 1 Googled mental health stressor in New York was regarding financial stress? 

A: I am not surprised. Within our community of clients, friends and family, money has been a huge topic of discussion. I think this pandemic has brought a lot of financial cracks to light. ... People have had time to realize they aren’t where they want to be financially or don’t have the reserve that would have otherwise gotten them through this time with less stress. ... What is interesting about this specific time is that many people know they need to start putting together a financial plan or getting help, but they are still doing nothing because they’re completely paralyzed thinking they need to wait until times get better to take action — which I find actually places more of a burden on them with increased stress and anxiety.

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Q: What do you hear or observe as some of the most reported stressful financial concerns? 

A: Right now, the most pressure is on parents. They’re unsure how to juggle working from home, playing a part-time or full-time teacher role while still having the same amount of household to-do’s to tackle. ... Families are having to pay for additional computers at home, creating learning spaces, hiring tutors and child care. Some parents are even electing to send their children to private school so that they can attend full time, a cost that wasn’t in their initial budget. ... Other stress we see involves saving and paying off debt. We most often see that people are unsure of where their money goes and how to get control. They are just spending! So many families are so busy that they fail to pause to take time to plan and budget.

 

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Q: What are the questions and thoughts you wish people were more aware of when considering finance management? 

A: Important questions for people to ask themselves are what do I want to achieve and where do I want to see myself in 3 to 5 years. Thinking about goals is really important because it allows us to create a plan on how to achieve them, but also creates empowerment around their ability to do so. ... Starting with the simple task of writing things out that we want to accomplish is helpful. We also have our clients think of what they are most proud of in terms of accomplishments and the most difficult thing they’ve ever had to deal with in life. This helps us to keep their "hard" in perspective as we go through the financial planning journey.

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Q: Do you find that your clients and those in your personal life have difficulty discussing finances? 

A: I think this is most challenging with couples. We see it all the time where the discussion is avoided because it's uncomfortable or they're afraid of the outcome. Often couples have the same goals but their method of achieving them is different. This can create tension. If money types are different it can also snowball into later resentment if it’s not handled on the spot. For example, one may like to have a plan, control spending and have savings, while the other is big on living in the moment, spending and generally feels that everything will work its self out.

I also find with couples who are seeking finance management, generally, when it comes to talking about money, it's always easier to say we will talk about that tomorrow, and life continues to happen, and tomorrow never comes unless there is a huge life event making the discussion more urgent.

We do find that the sooner the conversation is started, no matter how hard to do so, a burden is lifted after and stress decreased. We get this comment a lot when working with couples, that now there is a general feeling of relief that they are at least taking action steps. And that they have a neutral third party to guide them which helps take the stress off each other where one would otherwise feel responsible for making all the right decisions and have a fear of being wrong.

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Q: Any other thoughts that come to mind about finance and stress reduction?

A: I think the most important thing for people to know is that no matter how overwhelming, painful or simply non-urgent financial planning may be, the sooner you start the more options and ultimate future financial freedom you’re creating for yourself. You’re putting yourself in a position to be prepared for anything life throws your way that we can’t plan for — which reduces stress, anxiety and allows you to have an increased feeling in confidence and decision making around money, career choices and future plans.

So many of our clients during this pandemic commented on how although the news and unknowns are stressful and terrifying, money wasn’t something they were stressing about because they had the reserves and a plan. And they were so thankful to have it be one thing off their plate in an otherwise relatively traumatic time.

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Until next time, remember: We cannot be our best for others if we are not our best for ourselves, and people do not know what we are going through unless they ask (and we tell them the truth), or if we tell them ourselves.

Brittany Bennett of Niagara Falls is a licensed mental health counselor. Send your questions to her at bbennettlmhc@gmail.com.

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