How I Deal With Stress Without Canceling Financial Progress
Over the past year, my wife has opted for a master’s degree to not only improve her professional skills, but also broaden her range of job opportunities and income. I’m glad she’s doing it and I fully support her. We can afford to pay for this degree on our own without resorting to any financial assistance, and we are both very confident that a higher degree will pay off in just a few years. So what’s the problem?
This post was originally published on The Simple Dollar .
The problem is that the class takes a lot of her time. She has a class after work once a week for four hours, plus a lesson every two weeks after work on Friday, and then most of the next day. On top of that, she had reading, homework and projects to work on, and she’s also working on a lengthy article.
As a result of this commitment, she has significantly less time to devote to other aspects of her life. Her time spent on housework is significantly reduced, and her time on hobbies and personal interests, as well as time with the children and with me, is also reduced.
This change has affected our family as a whole. I had to take a step forward and devote more time to a number of areas of our life. I took over most of the housework and most of the cooking. I spend a lot more time on parenting responsibilities, since at this stage it is almost always me who oversees homework, helps with homework, and takes children to extracurricular activities. These are tasks that I do not mind at all, but the time must come from somewhere. It’s time to take back the time I spent with my wife. It’s time to break away from hobbies. It’s time to move away from other social obligations.
What happens if you cut off the parts of your life that you deeply value? You feel stressed. You feel a little less happy.
It is during these moments of stress that the temptation arises to spend money in order to put a temporary bandage on the problem. There are many ways to spend money that can recoup some of the free time you could spend with your wife, or hobbies, or professional projects, time now spent doing errands, household chores, or cooking.
For example, on a busy evening, I could just order pizza for dinner or buy everyone sandwiches at the sandwich shop. This will reduce (but not eliminate) the time spent preparing food (I still need to order food, pay for it, do all the cleaning, etc., so there is only time reduction, not elimination of that). I could hire a local laundry to wash multiple batches and then deliver it folded, which would save washing time. I could hire someone for light cleaning, such as vacuuming and dusting. Sarah and I could hire a nanny and go on a date Saturday night when she’s out of class. We can spend money on a “special day” when we are trying to improve the perceived “quality” of family time, when “quantity” becomes difficult.
You get the idea.
Plus, it’s tempting to just spend money to feel a rush of joy when things aren’t easy. Quite often, this exacerbates stress in the long run, but at the moment, buying a new item or experience can take your stress away for a short while, and it’s very seductive.
The reality is that stressful life situations encourage you to spend money. There are many, many opportunities in life to spend money on something that would seem to save a little time or bring easy entertainment or light pleasure, and these temptations are heightened when difficulties arise. The problem, of course, is that when you spend that money, you usually end up exacerbating the stress in the long run.
Then the question arises, how to deal with stress without spending money on solving the problem? Here are the best solutions I’ve found, solutions that really help during this rough patch.
Protect yourself from “emotional spending”
The point is, when you feel stressed, the decision-making process goes wrong. You don’t go completely off the rails (usually), but you find yourself exaggerating the importance of certain factors and minimizing the importance of other factors when making decisions, and these changes occur in ways that you would not otherwise support without the stress of influencing to your mind.
I’ll take my own thinking as an example. As I sit and stare calmly at my stressful decision-making processes, it becomes apparent that I pay much more attention to “quick fixes” to problems. I am not looking at the best solution in the long run. Instead, I’m looking for some solution that most effectively takes this problem off my cymbal right now, and I’m jumping for it. For example, if I am unhappy, I will seek that big burst of instant happiness rather than harder and longer work to eliminate this source of unhappiness.
Am I unhappy because I don’t have time to go to a board game night with friends and miss it for weeks on end? I could react by buying a new game for that burst of happiness, or maybe even find a way to shirk responsibility to spend time with these playing friends, perhaps buying my kids takeaway food for dinner.
This choice is purely emotional. They are driven not by rational choices, but by stress and heightened personal feelings. So, one of my best strategies for dealing with the stress in my life without disrupting financial progress is to simply make emotional spending harder.
I do this by doing several things at once.
First, I automate most of my finances. Almost all of our bills are paid automatically, which means I don’t have to think about paying them. I also don’t need to think about saving for the future, because our savings and investments also happen automatically.
Second, I basically deny myself access to an ATM card. I do not use it. I almost never wear it. He’s at my place, but in a place where you can’t get to right away. Thus, when I am in an emotional state, I cannot just drive up to an ATM and withdraw cash from my checking account, and I cannot just use this card to buy something in a store. I don’t have access to it unless I really work on it, at this point I usually catch myself.
Third, I use a credit card with a fairly low credit limit for most of my purchases. I use it for gasoline and groceries and sometimes other things, but if I spend recklessly on it, I run out of credit pretty quickly. I simply refuse to increase my credit limit when offered.
Finally, I do not store my credit card information or passwords in online stores. To make a purchase online, I need to remember the password (it is not saved) and then manually enter my billing information (it is also not saved). Often these obstacles force me to completely rethink my purchase. I will understand how stupid it is, then I will stop.
Step away from lesser obligations and responsibilities
The tension in my life grows exponentially with each new commitment and responsibility. I deal with many commitments and responsibilities with ease, but there comes a point where adding another commitment or responsibility to the puzzle quickly escalates stress, and when I’m stressed, I tend to waste mistakes.
So one great solution is to simply remove the least important commitments or responsibilities from the mix for a while .
Personally, I often miss chores. I will leave the underwear loose and let it build up by just doing enough for people to have something to wear. I will not vacuum the floor. I’ll let the plates accumulate in the sink. I can handle it later, with less stress.
The realization that I don’t have to think about these matters right now seems like a relief. Instead, I can focus on other things that need to be done. If I just put my laundry aside for a day or two and wait for the weekend to vacuum the living room, I can easily cook dinner tonight or finish this article. Suddenly I feel more and more in control.
There are two main things you can do.
First, figure out which things on your to-do list can be delegated or deferred, and then delegate or defer them. Transfer tasks to other people. Postpone non-urgent tasks until the weekend.
Second, ditch long-term commitments if they are in good hands. You may be on a time-consuming committee and realize that this is not that important to you. Don’t be afraid to back down or walk away if you can ensure that whatever you are personally responsible for gets done.
Combining these steps can wipe a lot of things off your plate at a busy time.
Disable social media and electronic devices
Social media distracts your attention from your current tasks. Electronic devices, especially your mobile phone, help you distract yourself by providing easy access to texts, social media, games, and more.
Turn them off. Turn them off for a while.
When I’m stressed, my cell phone and my social media accounts do nothing more than prolong the stress (unless I use them for a very specific task). They distract my attention from what I need to accomplish, and the more time it takes me to complete what I really need, the less time I have for other life responsibilities and tasks.
When stress strikes, you need to be distracted as much as possible, and mobile phones and social media are the top distractions in today’s world.
Turn off your phone. Achieve your goal. When things are done, you have fewer plate requirements and thus your stress naturally goes away.
Find Free Ways To Relieve Stress
This last sentence is just a group of small tricks that I do not use to eliminate the source of stress, but to improve my ability to deal with stress and to minimize the psychological impact of stressful situations on my life.
I am very much of the category of people who want to deal directly with the causes of stress, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. The things in life that cause stress are sometimes out of your control, so simply knowing how to minimize stress without eliminating its source can be incredibly valuable in helping you keep your head straight.
Here are a few things I regularly use in my life to keep stress from overwhelming me.
Meditate and / or pray. This is what I set aside time every day for at least ten minutes, but usually for several sessions and sometimes longer. In practice, I believe they are very similar, and the only real change is the goal on which the attention is focused. I find that simple, regular practice melts away the effects of stress and actually strengthens my ability to focus as I continue to do it every day.
This is how I personally do it. I just find a comfortable place to sit or lie down and close my eyes. For ten minutes I focus on one thing. Usually for me this is my breath – inhale, exhale. You can focus on a word or a specific phrase. Just remember one thing in the spotlight.
Focus on one thing all the time. Your mind will wander. When this happens, pay attention to it, and then gently bring your mind back to the goal on which you focused your attention.
That’s all. Believe it or not, stress goes away when you do this, and your ability to focus on a task improves too, especially if you repeat it every day.
Spend time in nature. Whenever I have the opportunity to complete a task on the street or it takes time to think about something, I go out into nature. I usually go for a short walk to a secluded place and meditate or study there.
I have found that when I am out in nature, the positive effects are greatly diminished when I look at an electronic device. If I read a book or write in a notebook, it is somewhat abbreviated. The best positive effects come from just thinking, walking, and looking around. The stress just goes away for a while.
Keep a gratitude journal. Take a minute each day to list three things you are grateful for in your life. Think about the good things in your life, big or small, and just write them down. I usually do this with handwriting, as I find myself focusing more on what I’m writing and retaining it better if I’m writing by hand.
This practice forces you to deliberately distract yourself from life’s problems and challenges for many good things in your life. You have to think about the good things in life for this practice to work. In doing so, you will often find that the real stressors in life are not all that great. I recommend this as a great daily stress reliever practice.
Get enough sleep. Quite often, when you’re overwhelmed, you cut back on your sleep to get more done. In the short term, this is a useful strategy as it gives you a few extra hours of wakefulness at once, but in the long term it is detrimental.
A full night’s sleep essentially restores the person’s ability to make decisions. If you haven’t slept all night, you are not filling the tank. You can act, but your decisions start to deteriorate much faster than usual. This can be okay if you’re just trying to accomplish something that takes time and not quality work, but if you have something on your plate that requires quality work, you will have a hard time with that and your stress-relieving capacity. … management will be low.
Don’t turn off sleep. Take a nap if necessary. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Never, never leave yourself in a state where you don’t feel well rested.
Block private time. No matter how intense your life seems, if you don’t have time for things that are deeply important to you personally – whatever they are – you will become frustrated with your life and contribute to stress.
Lack of time for yourself leads to a cycle of negative feelings that only increase stress. You begin to feel that you are giving everything in your life to others – your energy, your time, your creativity – and you have nothing left for yourself, which makes you wonder why you are doing this at all. This translates into less progress on what is bothering you and less quality of effort. This in itself exacerbates stress factors.
The solution is to regularly set aside time for things that are personally important to you. Maybe that means spending an hour a day reading a book. Maybe this means an evening of the week spent playing games with friends. Maybe this means an hour a day spent running or exercising. The fact is that you spend some time on something that is personally important to you and gives pleasure, whatever it is.
This time not only relieves you of stress, but also leaves you with a life that seems more meaningful. You maintain a sense of importance in your life. You feel not just a servant of others, but a fulfilling person who matters.
Stress is a difficult task for everyone, but it gets even harder when you try to get on the road to financial independence. Given how easy it is to use money to temporarily relieve stress, it can become a button we press over and over again, delaying stress, but also taking us away from our dreams of financial freedom.
The best solution is to figure out for yourself how to manage our stressful situations, as well as manage how we respond to those stressful situations. The above techniques help me to reconcile all aspects of my life – they form a life line that keeps me on a good financial track, even when I combine responsibilities for my written contracts, my three children, my social responsibilities, my marriage, my wife’s diminished role in the home. au pair when she earns her degree; and many other subjects.
Good luck with any stress in your life.
Coping With Stress Without Canceling Financial Progress | Simple dollar