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Is the Cost of Living Causing You Stress? Here’s What You Can Do

By Jacquelyn Buffo, MS, LPC, CAADC

April 14, 2022

High Cost Stress

You have probably noticed that the cost of living has increased pretty significantly lately. Gas prices are rising, food staples at the grocery store have increased, and the cost of services is higher. If you are experiencing stress related to the rising cost of living, you are not alone. There is no denying that the cost of living has increased, and millions of people are experiencing the stress related to inflation. Luckily, you can take steps to help relieve the stress associated with the rising cost of living.

Cost of Living

The term “cost of living” has been widely used lately. You hear it on television and read about it in the news. You may have a general idea about what that term means, and it is helpful to understand what cost of living means. According to Merriam-Webster, the cost of living is the cost of purchasing services and goods at a standard level of consumer goods and services refer to groceries, personal hygiene items, maintenance on your car, and any other service required to maintain your activities of daily living. When the cost of these goods and services goes up and your paycheck remains the same, it takes a toll on your financial health. Finances are a significant stressor for many Americans across the country.

Cost of Living Based on Location

The cost of living is largely dependent upon where you live. Your location across the country influences the amount you pay for goods and services. As you may already suspect, states such as New York and California have a higher cost of living than other states. More specifically, studies show that the areas with the highest cost of living are the Northeast, west coast, Hawaii, and Alaska. The Midwest and southern states have the lowest cost of living.

Financial Stress and Your Mental and Physical Health

You may already be aware that financial stress impacts your mental health. However, it may be surprising to learn just how impactful financial stress is on your overall mood, physical health, and ability to function daily. The connection between financial health and mental health is incredibly strong. For example, a survey conducted in December 2020 found that the number one cause of stress is our finances and money; this supersedes politics, family, and work. Therefore, individuals are significantly impacted by financial strain caused by an increase in the cost of living.

Stress, in general, can negatively impact your physical, mental, and social functioning. Stress is the mental or physical response to an external trigger. Stress can last short-term without many negative outcomes, or it can be a chronic issue that you experience over an extended period. The effects of stress range in severity and can be mild to severe. Stress can impact your ability to function daily.

It may be surprising to learn that there are healthy stress levels and that stress can help you. For example, healthy stress levels can help you meet deadlines, achieve goals, and stay focused. However, unhealthy or chronic stress can have negative consequences such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches and body pain
  • Excessive worry or irritability
  • Changes in your reproductive health
  • Digestion issues
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety

The impact of financial stress can be felt on a physical and mental level. People with high financial stress are four times more likely to report ailments and are more likely to report poor overall health. Physical ailments and poor health can decrease your quality of life and make it difficult to function at your optimum level.

Additionally, studies show that:

  • People with high financial stress are more likely to experience migraines.
  • High financial stress contributes to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Financial stress contributes to a weakened immune system.
  • High blood pressure can be caused by high levels of financial stress.
  • Digestive issues are reported from individuals experiencing high levels of financial stress.
  • Increased muscle tension can be a result of high financial stress.
  • Heart arrhythmia can occur due to financial stress.

Financial stress can also contribute to or exacerbate the following health problems:

  • Eating disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Psoriasis
  • Substance abuse
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Cancer

Impact of Financial Stress

Stress can cause you to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t do. Many Americans are responding to financial stress in unhealthy ways, and it is impacting their physical health. Some people decide to put their physical health on the back burner because of financial pressure. For example, studies indicate that many people forgo seeing their doctor when they are ill in an attempt to save money. More specifically, 12% report skipping their doctors’ appointments entirely, and 9% have considered skipping their appointments. The impact of financial stress also weighs on relationships. 31%of adults report that financial stress is a large source of stress in their relationships.

Beliefs That May Increase Your Levels of Financial Stress

You may inadvertently be contributing to your level of financial stress based on how you view and think about money. There are four types of cognitive distortions, or thinking mistakes, that may be increasing your level of financial stress:

  • Money vigilance: Being secretive about your finances and being overly cautious about spending money
  • Money worship: Believing that an increase in pay or acquiring more money will solve all your problems
  • Money avoidance: Believing that you don’t deserve money or that money is bad
  • Money status: Connecting your self-worth to net-worth

What You Can Do to Manage Financial Stress

Financial stress can feel overwhelming, and the increase in the cost of living can contribute to feelings of powerlessness. However, you can take steps to feel empowered over your financial health and reduce your levels of stress related to finances and money.

First and foremost, review your spending over the past month and keep track of where your money went. This can help you develop awareness about where you spend most of your money and help you generate insight regarding where you can tighten your purse strings and cut back on spending.

Secondly, create a budget and be realistic with how much money you want to spend in various areas of your life, including groceries, rent/mortgage, leisure, gas, and utilities. Consider how much money you have coming in, how much is required to go out based on your bills, and what might be left over to save or put into social and leisure activities.

Additional strategies to help reduce and manage financial stress include:

  1. Get creative: Be open-minded to different ways to save money. Research cost-effective meals and meal plan accordingly. Be open-minded to different ways to find enjoyment and fun that don’t cost a lot of money. Perhaps plan a staycation, eat out on ½ off pizza days, or enjoy a two for one meal.
  2. Exercise: Physical exercise acts as a protective factor against depression and anxiety, and it can also help with focus and decision-making.
  3. Focus on your physical health: Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and adhere to a sleep routine that supports restful, adequate sleep.
  4. Limit your caffeine intake: Caffeine can increase your level of stress and anxiety.
  5. Reach out for help and support: Talk to a trusted loved one about the stressors you are experiencing. If you are experiencing high amounts of stress, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. You can also speak to a financial planner/advisor for guidance on how to improve your financial health.

Support Is Available

If you are experiencing stress due to the increase in the cost of living, you are not alone. Many people across the country are experiencing similar feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry. Fortunately, support is available if you find that your levels of stress interfere with your ability to function daily. If you are noticing an increase in irritability, experiencing chronic arguments and conflict with loved ones, or are having a hard time sleeping, it may be an appropriate time to reach out for help.

Talk to your doctor about your changes in mood, physical symptoms, and behavior. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional who can assist you in managing your stress and anxiety so you can resume your optimal functioning.

Your doctor may also prescribe you medication to help manage your stress levels. If you are having trouble paying for your prescription medication, ScriptSave® WellRx can help save you a lot of money on your prescription medication. 

Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.



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