Financial Stress


Each one of us has, at one point, been a victim of financial stress regardless of where we are on the economic spectrum. You are or have been stressing about money. You have worried about an overdue bill, too much debt, expectations that needed to be met, providing for the kids, a spouse or partner who isn’t good with money, overspending, loss of employment, bankruptcy, business failure, or an unforeseen shock that destroyed savings or credit.

Financial stress is a condition that is the result of financial or economic events that create anxiety, worry, or a sense of scarcity. During this pandemic, many people have lost their primary sources of income either through the loss of jobs, closure of businesses, or lower revenues resulting from lockdowns and the contraction of the purchasing power of customers. Financial stress is amplified all over the world, as people worry about making ends meet and how they will eventually recover from financial debt.

Symptoms of Financial Stress

Financial stress can have both a mental and physical impact on you. You are financially stressed if:

  • You’re not sleeping at night, and you stay up thinking about money. Even when you sleep, you’re dreaming about your money problems.
  • You are not eating or overeating to cope with the stress.
  • You feel hopeless and suffer from anxiety and languor.
  • You’re agitated and picking fights with the world – Your relationships at home and work are suffering, and you’re becoming unbearable to be around.
  • You withdraw from society – staying home, avoiding friends and family, cringing every time the phone rings or someone knocks on the door. You’re not going to work or are underperforming at work because you cannot concentrate.
  • You have a general sense of malaise be it headaches, stomach problems, or just general lethargy. In extreme cases, your financial anxiety may be manifesting as chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
  • You avoid everything that requires spending money. Even if you’re sick, you will not go to the hospital to save on the expenses.
  • You run away from the problem, picking up detrimental habits to cope – smoking, drinking, using/misusing drugs including sleeping pills and antidepressants, gambling, borrowing, overindulgence in food and other activities.

If you nodded your head to any one of these symptoms, you have financial stress. Remember, it can be mild or acute, temporary or long-term.

Dealing with Financial Stress

Talk to someone. Be it a friend, family member or professional counsellor. Talk about how you feel and the help you need to get you back on your feet. Find someone who can empathise with you but still hold you accountable to your plans to get back on track. Don’t let anyone kick you when you’re already down.

Understand your finances: This requires keeping a record of your cash inflows and outflows and assessing your habits around spend, save, borrow, invest, and protect. Once you have done this, you can identify areas to improve on and triggers that affect your financial health.

  • Do you have sufficient savings?
  • Are you spending too much on repeat expenses?
  • Are you over-indebted?
  • Does impulse buying drive up your expenses?
  • Are you earning less than your expenditure?

Identify what needs immediate attention: Focus on the primary sources of your anxiety. Do you need to feed the family, pay hospital bills, make your loan payments on time, begin savings? Once you know where it hurts, you can craft a strategy to handle the problem areas.

Create a plan: Create a plan defining your next steps. Your goals should be realistic and achievable, including incremental milestones that will give you positive reinforcement to continue executing the plan.

  • Pay off your debt, starting with the most expensive and work your way down or you can choose to consolidate your loans.
  • Create a new source of income to supplement your current income, if you’re spending more than what you earn. If not, consider cutting down your spending on unnecessary items.
  • Invest in yourself. Investing in education can open up more opportunities for you, like promotions and career changes that enable you to earn more money.
  • Get insurance for your family instead of covering illness with savings.
  • Start saving now for the inevitable as well as your financial goals.
  • If you’re an impulse buyer or spend to alleviate stress, understand your trigger. For instance, I get an adrenaline rush out of retail therapy. To counter the urge to shop away my anxiety, I instituted three rules: Any spend above KES 1,000 needs to be planned, I never buy things immediately but give myself time to think about it, and I don’t carry cash.

Monitor your progress: What is worth doing can be measured, and what is measured can be improved. Keep track of your progress and tweak your approach to meet any changes in your circumstances. As you check off your milestones, you’ll motivate yourself to keep executing on the plan. Conversely, if you deviate, understanding your patterns and trends will help you refine your technique.

Seek help: If you’re having trouble coming up with a plan, you can engage the support of a professional to assist you. Remember, we can only help if we know the extent of the damage. Be honest and provide as much information and context. You could also enlist a friend or family member to keep you accountable, once you start executing your plan.

Be positive: Be kind to yourself and have a positive outlook. While it is daunting and scary to be in this situation, you can’t be too hard on yourself that you forget to execute on the plan or make yourself sick. Take the first step (show up to work, job hunt, take up part-time or volunteer roles, learn a new skill, start a business), take a walk, sleep when you need to, eat healthily, and be grateful. You’re alive, and you can fix this. Every day you stick to the plan is one day toward your financial freedom.