Updated on 06.04.15

10 Strategies for Handling the Stress of a Financial Crisis

Trent Hamm
woman climbing subway steps

Living with financial stress can feel like you’re climbing up a down escalator, but there’s no time to waste: Devise a plan, and start taking steps to turn that plan into reality. Photo: Dennis Skley

When that moment comes when you realize that you need to make major changes in your life, it’s incredibly stressful. Often, it’s the culmination of a lot of minor stresses building up to one big breaking point, and then suddenly everything rushes through, creating a tidal wave of worry and fear and stress.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced it. It can feel like everything you’ve worked for in your whole life is slipping right through your fingers. When you finally look your financial mistakes in the eye, what you see there can shake you to your core.

The truth is that much of the early success you might see from your turnaround occurs thanks to being able to handle that wave of stress. It can hit hard and it can cause you to really take your eye off the ball. Here are 10 strategies to keep that stress at bay.

Strategy #1: Stop Wasting Time

Many people respond to stress by using time-wasters to procrastinate. They’ll dump time and energy into activities that have nothing to do with their problem in order to distract themselves for a little while. The problem with that is that it usually makes the problem worse when they face it again.

Stop procrastinating. Focus on the problem at hand. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by it at the moment, get real rest so you can attack it with mental focus tomorrow.

So, how do you actually “focus on the problem at hand”? The next several strategies will help you do just that.

Strategy #2: Cut Off Your Avenues to Easy Spending

One of the biggest challenges in turning around a financially challenging situation is the sense of hopelessness. Until you have your finances in order, it’s sometimes incredibly difficult to figure out where all of this money is going. Why is the checking account always empty? It’s usually unclear – and that can be incredibly frustrating and stressful and scary.

The best response to that challenge is to simply stop the most obvious leaks, and you can do that by cutting off your tools for easy spending. In other words, take your credit cards out of your wallet or purse and leave them at home when you go out. Similarly, delete your card numbers from online accounts.

This is the equivalent of throwing a rag into a leaky bucket. It won’t completely stop the leaks, but it will certainly clog them up and slow them down until you can figure out better solutions.

Strategy #3: Burn Through Your Already Available Resources

Another challenge that adds to the stress of a financial crisis is the oncoming crush of constant expenses and bills. You and your family need food, water, clothing, and shelter at the very least and those things mean constant expenses.

Here’s the thing, though – you already have a ton of those resources. This is the time to start using up all of the stuff that you have on hand.

Start going through the pantry and the cupboards and make as many meals as you can with the items you already have. Dig into the back of your closet and wear all of the clothing you already have. Go through all of the options for entertainment that you already have.

You have a ton of value already in your home. Take advantage of it before opening up your wallet elsewhere.

Strategy #4: Devise a Plan

You’ve stopped most of the financial leaks – for now. So, what’s next?

The next key strategy is to devise a plan to take on whatever your financial crisis is all about. For many people, the crisis has to do with crushing debt; for others, it may be a health emergency or an oncoming rush of retirement.

Whatever it is, you need to devise a plan for dealing with it, and the best way to come up with a plan is to hit the library and do some homework on how to solve your specific problem. Head there and look for books on your specific situation – debt reduction and elimination, retirement, or whatever else you may be facing.

There are books out there that will help guide you through almost any type of financial crisis that you might be facing and aid you in developing a plan to take on that crisis. Use their advice and build a plan that will take you from the painful place you’re at to where you want to be.

Simply having a plan of action in hand can be a tremendous stress reliever.

Strategy #5: Take Tangible Action on the First Steps

No matter how powerful a plan might be, it’s useless without action. You have to take tangible steps to make that plan real. Not only that, taking real action in a positive direction is perhaps the biggest stress reliever that there is.

If you’re facing debt, one great real action might be to sell off some of your stuff on Craigslist to knock that first debt down. If you’re facing retirement that’s closer than you think, one great action might be to simply sign up for a retirement plan.

Look at your plan, define something you can do right now that will help, and do it. Then, rinse and repeat. Make these kinds of actions part of your daily life.

Strategy #6: Talk It Out

One of the best strategies for dealing with a financial crisis is to just work through the crisis and your thoughts on solving it, step by step.

For an introvert like myself, one effective way of “talking it out” is to simply keep a journal of one’s thoughts. Whenever I struggle with something, I brainstorm through it on paper, writing down my thoughts and responses and trying to organize them.

For extroverts, this process often works better through actual conversations with others. Find someone you deeply trust and talk through the whole situation piece by piece.

If nothing else, talking through a problem can help you see things in a whole new light, which can in itself reduce stress. Quite often, it can reveal new solutions, too.

Strategy #7: Hide Nothing from Your Spouse

Financial problems can bring marital challenges like almost nothing else can. Money issues break up countless marriages, and money problems can eat away at already existing cracks in a marriage.

The best solution to those problems is complete honesty. Don’t hide anything from your spouse. Bring complete honesty about your own mistakes and missteps to the table.

If you expect honesty from your partner, you have to be willing to give the same, so step up. Be the one that takes the lead and brings the honesty and self-reflection that a healthy marriage needs. Lay it all on the table.

Strategy #8: Eat a Healthy Diet

This strategy is one of the best ones for dealing with any kind of stress, financial or otherwise: simply eat healthy.

Instead of eating unhealthy convenience foods, pack your meals with fresh fruits and vegetables and make them the cornerstone of your diet. Eat a wide variety of produce to ensure you’re getting a wide variety of vitamins and micronutrients.

If your nutrition is a bit off due to a poor diet, it’s easy to be off your physical and mental game. When you’re facing a crisis, even being a little bit off can make everything substantially harder to deal with.

Strategy #9: Get Adequate Exercise and Rest

These two tactics go hand in hand with eating well – they’re guaranteed to put you in the best possible physical and mental shape for defeating the stress in your life. Not only that, exercise and sleep tend to also work together, making the effects of each stronger.

Put some time aside each day for exercise. Go for a walk, or even do something as simple as some jumping jacks or push ups in the living room for 10 minutes. You don’t need an aerobics class to get your heart pumping and your muscles moving.

Similarly, give yourself plenty of time to sleep each night. Start going to bed earlier so that you’re not awakened by an alarm but by your body’s natural rhythms. Adequate sleep makes your mind far clearer and washes away many of the negative mental aspects of stress.

Strategy #10: Use Free Leisure to Your Advantage

A final tip: Find some free things to do that you genuinely enjoy, not just things to pass the time. Many people confuse the two and substitute “burning time” for actual leisure.

A leisure activity involves actively doing something that engages your body and/or your mind, but it’s something you choose because it brings you personal enjoyment. It’s not something you settle on because you don’t have anything else to do, like channel surfing or web surfing.

Look for free things to do that genuinely engage you and leave you feeling happier after having done it. A good leisure activity doesn’t just feel like you’re blocking out your troubles. Instead, it actively lifts your mood and spirit and leaves you more prepared to tackle the challenges before you.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with a personal financial crisis can be incredibly challenging for anyone, but if you don’t have some smart strategies in mind, the challenge becomes even more overbearing.

No matter what financial issues you’re dealing with, these strategies will help you cut through the stress and tackle the problem with a clear mind and a strong spirit.

Good luck.

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