How financial wellness impacts your personal health
When we think of our financial wellness, seldom if ever do we consider how it can affect our health. After all, they're just numbers on a spreadsheet or ledger, right? How can something so detached from us have any effect on our physical being?
There are many ways the two are linked, as it turns out, perhaps far more than we realize. We just made it through the holiday season, a time when both our pocketbooks and the limits of our endurance are tested to the limit, which makes this topic all the more important as we recover and rise to meet the challenges of 2023.
The vicious cycle
See if this sounds familiar: You open a letter from your insurance agency only to find out that your premiums are going up substantially. It's going to cut more into your cash flow, perhaps more than your comfortable with, or can afford. Your heart starts to beat faster. The cold hand of worry grips you. How are you going to cope with this along with everything else?
With a slight change or two, this hypothetical situation could apply to any number of bumps and jolts that life throws at us on a regular basis. Money woes are one of the biggest contributors to stress, and stress is the gateway for all sorts of physical ailments. In fact, according to WebMD, if your financial wellness is low and you have high financial stress, you're twice as likely to have poor overall health. We are all aware of this on some level, but the degree to which this affects us is more than we likely realize.
Stress over our finances can drive us to all sorts of bad habits, whether it's eating copious amounts of junk food — and who hasn't tried to bury our feelings with ice cream? — or adopting unhealthy coping devices, such as smoking or excessive alcohol usage. This can impact our health all the more, perhaps resulting in more health-care expenses, which makes our financial situation worse. In turn, this increases our stress even more. And so on, and so on. It's a vicious cycle we often find ourselves in, one which only compounds over time.
The mind as a bridge
Just as we don't often associate our financial situation with our state of health, we often don't take our mental health into consideration when thinking about either of those things, though our mind has a strong influence over both. Our mind and body are not islands to themselves, but are part of the single, cohesive whole that makes us who we are. What affects one will surely impact the other.
Let's talk more about stress. It starts in the mind as a manifestation of our perceived reality, the expectations placed upon us by ourselves or others and the fear we feel for the consequences if we do not find a solution to our problems.
Stress can often lead to depression, increased blood pressure, issues with digestion, a lack of sleep and a lowered immune system. All of those things make it much easier to fall ill, either in the short term, long term or both.
So, the mind really is the bridge linking our external stress directly to how our body functions. When something like concerns about the economy, inflation or your 401K weigh down on you, those things can manifest themselves on you physically, so don't neglect your mental health.
The balancing act
We, as humans, don't want to just survive, we want to thrive. If you're not familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it's a fascinating concept that speaks to how our circumstances can determine how much mental bandwidth we have. In essence, the closer you are to a hand-to-mouth existence, the more you will be focused on just survival to the exclusion of other concerns.
This can be applied to your financial situation as well. If you're trying to raise a family, maintain a household, pay your bills on time, hold down one or more jobs, and generally have your hands full trying to keep things from falling apart, you will barely have the time to think about your dreams, aspirations or ways you can improve your overall situation or address health concerns. It may be all you can do to maintain the status quo.
The more you can improve your situation, however, the freer you may become to improve it further. It's getting over that initial hump — and staying there — that will help you reach higher ground financially, mentally and physically. So, how do you do that?
A proactive approach to health
It's January, a time when just about everyone is packing into the gym to shed some of the holiday pounds we picked up. It can be intimidating to say the least as so many try to make good on at least one of their New Year's resolutions. Don’t be discouraged. Here are some things to keep in mind as you get started:
- Start out slow: You don't have to hit the ground running like you're training for the Olympics. There's no need to install an expensive home gym, either. No, start small and at home, whether with a kettle bell, resistance bands, or a pair of barbells. You can find plenty of online workout routines that make use of these simple, and inexpensive, workout aids. Or, it could be as simple as walking around your block or taking 15 minutes to stretch out. Remember, it's progress you're looking for not perfection.
- Commit to it: The most important thing to remember is this: show up. After all, the best exercise is the one that you'll actually do. Make time for physical activity, get your diet working for you instead of against you, and when you hit a plateau, change it up. Challenge yourself, but be smart about it.
- Seek accountability: Find yourself an accountability partner, whether a spouse, a workout buddy or just someone close to you who wants to see you achieve your goals. They can help keep you on the straight and narrow when you might be tempted to stray off the path you’ve set for yourself. If you have the bandwidth, consider joining a local or online workout class or group to keep yourself accountable that way.
- Normalize an exercise routine: Making some level of physical activity a regular part of your routine is a great way to help your body deal with stress, increase your overall energy level and mental alertness. The good news is that, regardless of which route you decide to take, any level of exercise will be to your benefit.
A healthy approach to finances
Okay, so we're resolved to exercise more, right? What about the other side of the coin? Here are some basic things you can do to improve your financial health and set yourself up for future success:
- Make a budget: Get a good picture of what income you have coming in, what fixed expenses you have, and identify those places where you have some wiggle room. Give your spending a good, thoughtful look to decide what needs to be kept and what can be reined in. The important thing is don't go overboard. Just like a diet, if you make your budget too restrictive or too draconian, you won't keep to it. Just be real about what you can accomplish. If you already have a budget in place, maybe it's time to revisit it.
- Establish goals: Think about what you want to be able to do in the coming year and put it in writing. The more specific you can make it, the better. Let's say you want to plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park for late summer. Figure out the exact date you want to go, research how much it will cost, and then work backwards from there. This is where your budget can help you figure out how much per pay period you'll need to save to make the trip a reality. Rest and relaxation are key components to your overall mental and physical health, so run the numbers ahead of time and you'll have something to look forward to in the future.
- Reduce debt: A major source of stress is the amount of debt you're carrying at any given time. Homeowners, in particular, are quite familiar with this. If credit cards start running up, stacking minimum payments can greatly eat into your available budget. Not only that, a high balance can negatively affect your credit score, which can in turn cause more stress when making major purchases. Besides just watching your spending with those lines of credit, try to pay more than the minimum requires. Oftentimes, the minimums mainly cover the interest, so if you want to reduce or eliminate debt, you have to go above and beyond.
- Establish a rainy-day fund: Life is full of surprises — not all of them welcome, and frequently expensive. Whether it's to replace a tire on your car if one goes out, fix a leak in the plumbing or anything unexpected that's not in your budget, building up an emergency fund is never a bad idea. Just make sure it's put away where you won't be tempted to use it for something mundane if things get tight. The best part about it is simply the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have an ample cushion should life suddenly become...interesting.
Healthy, wealthy, and wise
As we said at the beginning, we all understand most of what is presented here on some level, but it takes a lot of mental and emotional unpacking to really get at the root of just how much our finances and well-being are interrelated. Both can affect how we live our life, and both can determine the quality of that life.
It's a fairly new concept to try to look at them both as part of an integrated whole, but it's one we should all adopt. Awareness of that fact is a good start, and we hope that this discussion has been an eye-opener for you. The more we understand about the push-and-pull of those things that affect us, the fuller and more beautiful our lives have the potential to become.
In the end, isn't that what matters most?