Escape the Abyss: Reclaim Your Mental Health and Relationships From Financial Stress

Aug 11, 2023

Money issues, far from just being a matter of numbers and cents, can spark a torrent of mental pressure leading to depression, anxiety, and other psychological complications. The strains can permeate personal relationships, inducing conflicts, fostering resentment, and even severing bonds entirely. Hence, the ripple effects of financial stress extend far beyond the pocket, influencing overall well-being and social harmony.


According to the American Psychological Association (APA), approximately 72% of adults encounter stress directly linked to their financial circumstances. This stress can emerge from various sources, such as mounting debts or the pressing worries of meeting rent payments. By understanding the underlying psychological factors influencing financial stress and embracing practical approaches to alleviate its burden, you can embark on a journey of personal and relational healing, creating a more secure and fulfilling future for yourself and your loved ones.

Understanding Financial Stress

Just as a doctor diagnoses the cause of a disease before prescribing medication, addressing the financial stress requires identifying the source of the strain. Financial stress can stem from various situations and pinpointing the root cause can help design a suitable strategy to tackle the stress. Understanding the cause of financial stress does more than merely offering a short-term solution. It provides a foundation for long-term financial goals, building a sustainable path towards financial stability.

Common Financial Stressors

Financial stressors, often a common denominator in money-related anxieties, come in various forms. Some of the most prevalent include:

  • Inflation: The rising cost of goods and services can erode purchasing power, making it increasingly challenging for individuals and families to maintain their standard of living. Over time, this strain can lead to substantial financial stress. Based on a Bankrate's survey, around 68% of Americans report that escalating costs are causing difficulties for their households, establishing inflation as their paramount financial concern. 
  • Saving for Retirement: According to a survey of 3,000 individuals conducted by Forbes, it was found that the average American starts worrying about their retirement savings as early as the age of 25. The thought of sustaining oneself without a regular income in the future can induce anxiety. Many people find it difficult to accumulate sufficient savings for retirement, leaving them worried about their financial security in their later years.
  • Student Loan Debt: Higher education often comes with hefty price tags, leading many students to take on substantial loans. The burden of repaying these loans, coupled with the struggle of establishing a career, often triggers significant financial stress. Findings from a study conducted by the University of Illinois suggest a positive correlation between student loan debt and all measured aspects of financial stress and difficulty.
  • Educational Expenses for Children: For parents, planning and saving for their children's education can be a significant source of financial stress. A recent survey by Discover Student Loans reveals that 70% of parents are concerned about funding their children's college expenses, a figure that has progressively risen from 63% since 2021.
  • Mortgage and Housing Costs: Housing is a basic need, but the costs associated with home ownership or rental can be substantial. Mortgages or rent often consume a large portion of income, creating an ongoing source of financial stress. According to the 2022 Cato Institute Housing Affordability National Survey, 87% of Americans are worried about housing costs, a sentiment likely fueled by a 40% increase in housing prices since the pandemic onset.

The Toll of Financial Stress on Mental Health

Financial stress carries a profound and often under-recognized toll on mental health. While the burden of financial concerns might primarily appear as a series of numbers, it goes far beyond that, impacting an individual's psychological well-being substantially. The perpetual worry about meeting financial obligations can trigger a cascade of emotional reactions, posing a real and severe threat to overall health and well-being.


Effects of Chronic Financial Stress on the Brain and Body

Chronic financial stress leaves detrimental imprints on both the brain and body, manifesting in various health issues:


  • Anxiety: Elevated financial stress can significantly affect individuals' wellness, escalating the levels of psychological unrest, anxiety, and depression. Research reviews have distinctly confirmed a correlation between financial strain and depression, with those on lower incomes being particularly susceptible. 
  • Headaches/Migraines: Migraine, a severe and incapacitating disorder, afflicts approximately one billion people across the globe. One key influence on this condition is financial hardship, which acts as a persistent stressor. When individuals face economic difficulties, their body's stress responses are activated, potentially disrupting the regularity of their circadian rhythms.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Financial stress can lead to significant disturbances in sleep patterns. This occurs as the worries and anxieties related to financial insecurities often keep individuals preoccupied, hindering their ability to unwind and fall asleep. As these financial concerns persist, they can lead to chronic insomnia, marked by consistent difficulty in falling or staying asleep.
  • Heart Arrhythmia: Continuous stress might lead to irregular heart rhythms, which can pose significant heart health risks. Research indicates that financial stress could heighten the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and overall mortality, with men appearing to be particularly susceptible.
  • Depression: Financial stress can indeed contribute to the onset of depression. The constant worry and anxiety over financial matters can create a state of chronic stress, leading to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness — all hallmark symptoms of depression. 


Financial Stress and Relationship 

Financial stress can wield a significant influence on personal relationships. The strain of economic difficulties often seeps into interpersonal interactions, breeding conflicts, mistrust, and distress within relationships. This underscores the far-reaching impact of financial stress that extends beyond personal mental and physical health, reaching into the social sphere of human lives. 

How Financial Stress Affects Intimacy


  • Emotional Distance: Financial stress can create an emotional chasm between partners. The anxiety stemming from money issues may cause individuals to retreat into themselves, dealing with their fears privately. A study conducted by Papp, Cummings, and Goeke-Morey (2009) found that financial stress could lead to emotional disconnection between partners. As individuals grapple with money anxieties privately, they often emotionally withdraw, causing a rift in their relationships.
  • Lack of Trust: Financial insecurity can lead to a significant erosion of trust in a relationship. This erosion could stem from real or perceived financial mismanagement, hidden debts, or unexplained expenditures. When trust - the bedrock of any relationship - begins to crumble, it affects every aspect of the partnership, including emotional and physical intimacy, cooperation, and future planning.
  • Conflict Avoidance: Financial matters, especially in strained situations, can be a contentious issue. Some partners may choose to avoid discussing money matters altogether to evade potential disagreements or confrontations. However, this avoidance strategy can exacerbate financial stress, as unresolved issues may fester, leading to resentment and further increase emotional distress.
  • Decreased Emotional Intimacy: Emotional intimacy is a key ingredient for a healthy and fulfilling relationship. However, the tension and stress originating from financial worries can strain the emotional bond between partners. Close to fifty percent of American couples grappling with financial strain acknowledge that it has adversely affected their intimacy with their partner. 
  • Blame and Resentment: Financial stress can foster blame and resentment, particularly if one partner feels that the other's actions or decisions led to the adverse financial situation. This blaming mindset can create a hostile environment, filled with resentment and negativity, which can gradually erode the affection and respect between partners  


Strategies for Addressing Financial Stress as a Couple

Financial difficulties can impose significant stress on relationships, and are often cited as a primary source of marital discord. Despite this, couples can surmount these obstacles and fortify their relationship by implementing thoughtful strategies. These strategies enable couples to collaboratively tackle financial stress, fostering a more robust and resilient partnership in the process.


Seeking Professional Help: the Role of Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy

Navigating through financial stress can be challenging, and at times, it's beneficial to seek professional help. 


The services of including Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ help individuals and couples to navigate and overcome financial stress together. 

Benefits of Seeking Therapy for Couples


  • Less Pain: Therapy can help couples navigate emotional distress and conflicts associated with financial stress. At times, professional assistance may be necessary to tackle certain issues. There are mental health professionals specifically trained to aid couples in alleviating emotional pain, restoring trust, and enhancing communication.
  • Improved Communication: One key benefit of couples therapy is the enhancement of communication skills. Therapists provide strategies and exercises that encourage open, honest, and respectful conversations about financial issues, helping to prevent misunderstandings and promote problem-solving.
  • Resolve Conflict: Couples therapy serves to foster understanding within relationships, facilitate conflict resolution, and enhance relationship contentment, employing a range of therapeutic techniques. Through this process, couples can learn how to communicate more effectively, negotiate compromises, and foster mutual understanding, thereby resolving current disputes and reducing the potential for future conflicts. 
  • Increased Happiness: Therapy can help couples regain a sense of control over their financial situation and relationship, boosting their overall happiness. By addressing financial stress, couples can focus more on enjoying each other's company and the happiness their relationship brings.
  • Less Stress: Through therapeutic strategies and methods including CBT, couples can learn how to effectively manage financial stress. This management not only lessens the immediate stress levels but also builds resilience against future financial difficulties, leading to a less stressful and more harmonious relationship.  


Managing Financial Stress and Promoting Mental Well-being

  • Building Financial Resilience and Long-term Planning: Financial resilience refers to one's ability to withstand and recover from financial adversity. This can be achieved by creating a budget, building an emergency fund, and investing wisely. Long-term planning involves setting financial goals like homeownership or retirement and mapping out steps to achieve them, such as consistent savings or investing in retirement accounts.
  • Strategies for Reducing Financial Stress and Anxiety: Effective strategies to reduce financial stress may include seeking financial advice, creating a realistic budget, correct financial management, and setting financial boundaries. Regularly reviewing and adjusting financial plans as circumstances change can also help reduce anxiety. 
  • Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Healthy coping mechanisms involve managing your response to financial stress. This could involve mindful practices like yoga or meditation to help maintain calm, or expressing concerns through writing in a journal. For example, an individual might take up daily meditation to manage their stress levels better.
  • Importance of Self-care in Times of Financial Strain: Self-care plays a vital role in maintaining mental health during financial strain. This can involve ensuring adequate sleep, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and pursuing hobbies. For instance, a person might decide to go for daily walks to improve their mood and reduce stress.  

Cultivating Healthy Financial Habits in Relationships

  • Setting Financial Goals Together: A couple's mutual involvement in setting financial goals lays a solid foundation for a shared financial future. This process can include saving for a new home, planning for retirement, or funding children's education. By setting and pursuing these goals together, couples can ensure they are working towards the same end and share accountability.
  • Creating a Budget and Managing Finances as a Team: Jointly creating a budget fosters transparency and trust. It enables couples to understand their income, expenses, and align their financial habits. This team approach to managing finances ensures all monetary decisions are made with mutual consent, reducing potential conflicts.
  • Nurturing Open and Honest Communication About Money: Regular discussions about finances, including income, expenses, debts, and financial aspirations, can foster understanding and trust in a relationship. Formulating a joint financial plan with your partner is crucial and hiding any financial information that could influence your present or future financial choices or lifestyle should be avoided.
  • Supporting Each Other's Financial Aspirations and Growth: Each partner may have individual financial goals, such as starting a business or advancing in their career. Supporting each other in these endeavors not only helps achieve these goals but also strengthens the bond between partners, as they appreciate each other's support in their individual pursuits.  

Bringing All Together

Financial stress can significantly impact mental health and relationships, creating a vicious cycle of negative consequences. When individuals struggle with financial burdens, it can lead to various mental health issues as they constantly worry about making ends meet, facing debt, or losing their livelihood. These psychological strains often spill over into relationships, causing tension, conflicts, and reduced intimacy between partners. The inability to effectively communicate about financial concerns further exacerbates the situation.


As financial stress takes its toll, individuals may become emotionally distant, affecting their ability to support their partners and engage in meaningful interactions. Couples may experience increased arguments and a decreased sense of trust and stability. To address these issues, open communication, financial planning, and seeking professional help are essential. Taking proactive steps to manage finances and prioritize mental well-being can break the cycle of financial stress and foster healthier relationships.


Finding therapeutic support for your mental and relational health challenges can be helped by knowing where to look. is dedicated to highlighting therapists dedicated to serving the LGBTIQA+ community. 


Written By Guest Contributor:

Shauna Larson 

Mental Health Advocate, writer and contributor to multiple media outlets.

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