Managing Your Money-Related Stress

Women, it turns out, are more worried than men. Here's how to keep from losing it.

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Women are worried. Very, very worried. About their stock investments, balloon mortgage payments, job security. Men are, of course, worried too, but economic stress could be taking a greater health toll on women, according to this survey of more than 2,500 people released yesterday by the American Psychological Association. (My colleague Liz Wolgemuth tells you why in this blog.) The survey found that 80 percent of folks say the economy is a significant source of stress, up from 66 percent in April. Women, though, were more likely to report being stressed about money—83 percent of them compared with 78 percent of men. Female baby boomers (ages 44 to 62) and seniors (63 and over) were most likely to report being worried over the economy, I'm guessing because they need to draw from those investments and retirement funds to send the kids to college and to live on.

Unfortunately, stress is taking a toll on our health. This survey of 104 women from BettyConfidential.com found that half of the respondents are experiencing a general sense of fear and concern, while nearly 1 in 5 is suffering insomnia. One survey taker said: "I don't sleep more than four hours a night. I get headaches. I worry that my kids can't go to college, and my doctor now has me on antianxiety meds. (Thankfully, they are cheap!)"

Worry for the sake of worrying, when we don't take meaningful action, gets us nothing but migraines, neck pain, tummy troubles, and an ill-functioning immune system incapable of fending off colds and other infections. So, once you've established a financial game plan for riding out this crisis, it's time to get proactive about putting aside those worries. The American Psychological Association recommends the following:

Tune in, but don't submerge yourself. You obviously can't stick your head in the sand and avoid all newspapers and evening news reports. But you shouldn't be checking the stock markets every 10 minutes throughout the day. OK, I'm a bit guilty of this, but I've vowed to limit myself to two times a day, max.

Recognize how you deal with money-related stress. Are you eating more? Imbibing too much? Have you taken up smoking or gambling? Sometimes, just having the self-awareness is all you need to put down the beer or bag of chips. If you need help in finding more healthful ways to deal with stress, consider talking to a professional.

See hardship as an opportunity for growth or change. As Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Maybe that teaching job will give you more joy in the long run than hedge-fund trading. Or perhaps this is a great time to volunteer for that Peace Corps mission that you were always putting off. Tara Parker Pope points out in this New York Times piece that kids may be healthier in leaner economic times just by having their parents around more.

Use stress as an excuse to exercise. OK, this is my own tip, but exercise is a fabulous stress reliever in addition to all its other health benefits. Taking a brisk walk outside—who can resist in this gorgeous fall weather?—will reduce stress hormone levels and take your mind off falling stock prices. It will also ramp up your energy and help you sleep better at night. Check out this piece I wrote for other ways to make stress work for you.