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Panic Day and how financial stress affects mental health

Panic Day

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Credit Sesame marks Panic Day 2023 with tips on handling financial stress.

Panic Day, Thursday, March 9, 2023, is upon us. Far from an official or nationally recognized holiday, this date on the calendar is one of the copyrighted Wellcat Holidays invented by Thomas and Ruth Roy. It’s meant to be a day when we acknowledge the stresses of everyday life, including financial pressures and economic anxiety, in the hope that we can better cope with these challenges.

“Panic day is a date designated on the calendar to remind people to take a moment to acknowledge and manage any feelings of panic, anxiety, or stress they may be experiencing,” says Daniel Colston, CEO of Upward Financial Planning. “It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to the importance of mental health and encourage people to take proactive steps to address any issues they may be facing.”

While you don’t have to carry around a paper bag to hyperventilate in on March 9, and you won’t find a Panic Day Hallmark card to give to a friend, the second Thursday in March this year can be an opportune time to acknowledge an attempt to resolve any feelings of financial overwhelm. Acknowledging that you may be experiencing financial tension is an important first step; the pros concur.

“Talking about or dealing with financial challenges can be sensitive. In fact, most Americans would rather divulge details about their sex lives than their financial lives,” Colston adds. “With something so sensitive and central to our lifestyles, it’s understandable how such a topic would be shrouded in anxiety for many.”

Behavioral neuroscientist Katherine Grill, PhD, the CEO/co-founder of Neolth, explains that any type of chronic stress can be detrimental to mental health.

“Financial stress is especially dangerous because it’s a threat to our basic needs – we go into panic mode when we don’t have money for housing, food, and other necessities,” says Grill. “When stress is prolonged for six weeks or longer, the higher level of circulating stress hormones like cortisol affects our brain. It’s a maladaptive form of neuroplasticity. That means financial stress literally causes the brain to change and how it is built and how it functions, leading to heightened anxiety, panic attacks, depression, trouble sleeping, and more.”

Financial fears can also cause relationships to suffer, impede our performance at work, and result in social withdrawal, weight loss or gain, and unhealthy coping practices like using illicit drugs or alcohol.

The American Psychological Association reports that money is the leading source of stress for Americans. Additionally, 84% of Americans feel that financial stress affects their mental health, based on a recent study by Northwestern Mutual. Among those in debt, 46% also have a mental health problem, and people are over four times more likely not to pay back their debt if their mental health is poor, according to the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute. Furthermore, two in three students have anxiety about their finances, and 86% of students say debt worsens their mental health, per Trellis Research.

“Keep in mind that good mental health is essential for good financial decision-making. When we are under stress, our ability to make sound financial decisions is compromised. We may be more likely to make impulsive decisions or take unnecessary risks. For these and other reasons, it’s important for people suffering from financial stress to seek help from mental health professionals, financial advisors, or other support systems like family and friends,” recommends Justin Gasparovic, a behavioral psychologist and personal development expert.

Ignoring the problem only puts you at risk for continued financial difficulties and worsens your mental health. Many insist that turning to experts for assistance is your best move.

“A therapist can help, especially if you are experiencing panic attacks, hopelessness, thoughts of self-harm, or an inability to go about your daily routine,” Grill continues. “A peer community, like a secure online forum or talk support group, is beneficial because you can get acknowledgment that you are not alone. And a financial expert can work with you to get a plan in place to manage your finances.”

Grill says using some combination of problem-focused and emotion-focused coping is an effective way to manage financial stress. The former works to address your financial situation, such as by sitting down with an expert to revise your budget and expenses. The latter aims to manage negative emotions related to finances – for example, using self-guided relaxation techniques or getting emotional support from a friend.

Arming yourself with financial education is another tactic that can decrease money-related stress and anxiety.

“Some great places to start are personal-finance channels on YouTube, industry-leading books, and blogs. Just be sure the purpose of the content is to educate you on wise financial decisions and not to sell you on a specific financial product or solution,” advises Colston. “The most helpful content will teach you how to create a budget, prioritize debt repayment, build an emergency fund, seek professional help if necessary, and practice self-care like exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.”

If you are suffering from financial stress and need help, let Panic Day inspire you to explore these resources:

If you feel overwhelmed by debt, consult the Financial Counseling Association of America and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

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Disclaimer: The article and information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Erik J. Martin
Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Costco Connection, The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, health care, insurance, and entertainment.

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