Down on Dough

Financial stress rates as worst mental health issue in state

By Traci DeLore

Kovacs
Kovacs

Financial stress topped the list of mental health issues New Yorkers searched for online, according to a recent study by TermLife2Go., a Utah-based insurance company.

With the holiday season here, often one of the most expensive times of the year, finances are probably on a lot of peoples’ minds. But some area experts say there are things people can do to help alleviate financial stress.

Life today is stressful and fast-paced regardless of our financial situation, says Greg Kovacs, a marriage and family therapist it Utica. Life used to be somewhat predictable and stable, he says. We used to see the same people every day, and the people around us were generally similar to us.

Today’s digitally connected world has changed all that, he says. It almost provides too many options for us to see and it begins to erode people’s sense of self, Kovacs says. That has led to a society that tries to keep up with the digital ‘Joneses’, he adds. People want the lifestyles they see online, and some will go into debt to achieve it.

That debt creates anxiety, stress over paying bills, and lower self-esteem. “It isn’t so much being poor that causes difficulties in mental health,” he says. “It’s having debt.”

With that debt comes poor self-esteem and low self-worth. People feel bad about themselves for getting into debt, but instead of seeking help with their debt, they shop more because shopping releases hormones that make us feel good. With that, a vicious cycle is born, Kovacs says. He believes this is why so many people are feeling financial stress.

There are, however, ways to combat this stress, he says. The way we think creates physical reactions in our bodies, he notes. In today’s world, our thoughts often don’t always match the actual situation at hand, leading to decisions that add to our stress. For example, people may finance the purchase of a new phone when they really can’t afford it because they believe they must have the “right” phone in order to fit in and be successful.

“We have to make sure we are thinking clearly when we make a financial decision,” Kovacs says. Before making a purchase that’s going to put you in debt, stop and think, he suggests. “Is it a need or a want? If it’s just a want, ask yourself if you have the emotional ability to say no?”

What’s your real worth?

People need to re-learn what is important to define self-worth, he adds. That new phone doesn’t make you a valuable person. People need to “bring it back” to themselves to define self-worth, and steer it away from what we see on social media, he advises. That can help people avoid going into debt to fit in, he notes.

For those already in debt, there is also hope and help, says Whitesboro financial coach Diane Kingsley. It involves two things — learning a bit about finances and making some plans, she says. If you can take the time to plan a vacation, you can take the time to learn about finances, she adds.

Debt is, by far, the biggest stressor she sees with clients and that comes from not having a spending plan. A spending plan is a simple blueprint that shows how much income a person has and determines how much they spend on those needs and wants that Kovacs noted. Needs are things like housing, clothing, and food, and those things need to be budgeted before one can determine how much they have to spend on wants, Kingsley says.

Everyone should have a basic retirement plan, emergency plan, spending plan, and plan to get out of debt, Kingsley says. However, many people don’t cover all those bases, she adds. “I think people get overwhelmed and then run from it,” she said.

While there is a lot of information about financial planning online, it can be difficult to figure out and decide what works best for their individual situation, Kingsley says. Financial coaches such as herself can help people understand all their options and make the best choices.

The study by TermLife2Go used mental health sites including National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), TalkSpace online therapy (www.talkspace.com), and MentalHealth.gov to compile a list of the most common mental health conditions. It then ran those conditions with the corresponding symptoms and stressors though Google Trends to identify the concerns searched most frequently in each state.

The most searched terms for the nation were internet addiction, major depressive disorder, and memory loss.

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