Most Americans Still Stressed Over Money

If money is causing stress and anxiety in your house, take it easy. You’ve got company.

The same thing is happening in the house next door. And the one across the street. And just about every other home in your neighborhood.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2014 survey on “Stress In America” says that 72 percent of American adults are stressed about money at least some of the time and 26 percent are stressed about it most of, or all the time.

“Not a surprise,” Dr. Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, said. “Money is one of the greatest stressers for people at all levels economically. We always hear ‘Don’t worry about money,’ but people do.”

Most of the takeaways from the 2014 APA survey paint a concerned picture of America’s relationship with money. That is not surprising given the anxiety created by the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. Memories of unemployment, home foreclosures and massive credit card debt are still fresh as people work to regain their financial balance.

Most People Just Making It

Some of the survey highlights include:

  • 54 percent of adults say they have “just enough” or not enough money to make ends meet at the end of the month.
  • 31 percent of spouses and partners say that money is a major source of conflict or tension in their relationship.
  • 53 percent say they try to save money by shop during sales or use coupons, while 52 percent save by cooking more at home.
  • Nearly one-third (32 percent) say that their finances or lack of money prevent them from living a healthy lifestyle and 20 percent say that they have either considered skipping (9 percent) or skipped (12 percent) a visit to the doctor in the last year because of concerns over medical debt.

The one good bit of news from the survey is that the overall stress factor in the U.S. has been on a slow decline since 2007. Participants were asked to rate their stress on a scale of 1 (little or no stress) to 10 (a great deal of stress) and the average score dropped from a high of 6.2 in 2007 to 4.9 in 2014.

Parents, Young Adults, Women Struggle

Unfortunately, not all segments of the population have benefitted equally from the improving economy. Parents, women and young adults show significantly higher levels of financial stress than the rest of the population.

Parents dealing with rent, utilities, car payments and student loans, have the highest marks on the 1-to-10 scale with a score of 5.7. Young adults of the Millennial and Gex-X generations are next at 5.5 and 5.4. Women rank their stress levels at 5.0, compared to 4.3 for men.

“I think these groups reflect the stress that comes with not being able to provide for your family at whatever ideal you set for yourself,” Dr. Winston said. “Whether you’re not keeping up with your peers or facing real poverty, it’s enormously stressful.”

Neither the survey, nor Dr. Winston, offered solutions for reducing the tension over finances in the home, but there are some easy-to-follow steps that could help.

  • Make good choices: Anyone with an income, has financial choices to make every month. It’s hard to put money into retirement plan or an emergency savings fund when you have three credit cards that are maxed out, but it was your choice to use credit. If you look at the credit card bill and see charges from restaurants, entertainment, clothing and vacations, you can question whether those were appropriate choices.
  • Consolidate debts: Keeping up with payments due on rent, auto, credit cards and utilities can be overwhelming. Settle down. Consolidate those bills into one payment, due at the same time every month. Reduce anxiety and focus on making the one payment.
  • Ask for help: There are credit counselors and financial advisors that can help you prioritize your debts and show you ways to eliminate debt. Talk with them. The “Stress In America” survey showed that people who had emotional support did considerably better dealing with stress and finding a positive outcome to their financial problems.
  • Think positive: Yes, it’s a cliché, but positive thinking and body language can help reduce stress in the same way constant moaning over what’s wrong with your finances can create stress. Stay focused on the present and goals you can reasonably achieve. Keep a chart that shows successful steps you’ve made toward eliminating debt.

“Don’t mistake worrying for problem solving,” Dr. Winston said. “A lot of worry isn’t going to solve your problem. The happiest people in the world are the ones who have a modicum of money to support their needs and don’t worry about how much more they could have.

“Consider living life according to your set of values, not according to your monetary value.”

Winston, who also is the co-author of the book “What Every Therapist Needs To Know About Anxiety Disorders,” is a professional member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). The ADAA is sponsoring Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week May 3-9.

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