If you're among the many who suffer from the winter blahs, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or other forms of depression, it's important to understand that your state of mind and money habits may be related. Learn more about managing your money during times of stress so you may be better prepared to avoid making unwise financial decisions.

30%
of Americans in 2018 say they’re constantly stressed out about money

Financial Problems as a Major Cause of Stress

Many studies have shown that money problems contribute to stress, which in turn is associated with a variety of physical and mental health issues. The American Psychological Association's 2017 Stress in America survey found that money is the number two cause of stress in the nation:

62%
of respondents said money was a significant source of stress

"Finances absolutely impact stress levels when we do not have mindfulness about our attitudes and mindset toward, and about, money," says Julia Carlson, founder and CEO of Newport, Oregon-based Financial Freedom Wealth Management, and author of Fit Money.

27.7%
of women say they experience at least one financial stressor
male
22.9%
of men say they experience at least one financial stressor

Data source: The University of Iowa

Acknowledge that your mental health and money matters may be related. When you take care of your finances, you may be able to reduce your stress level.

Depression and Financial Missteps

If you find yourself becoming lethargic, irritable, sad or continually tired during the darker winter months, you could be suffering from seasonal depression. People suffering from all forms of depression may struggle when it comes to making financial choices. This may be due to the impaired decision-making that accompanies the condition.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists both "difficulty making decisions" and "difficulty concentrating" as warning signs of depression. Making financial decisions when you're depressed is typically not a good idea, says Channing Marinari, LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor) clinical outreach at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches. "Without knowing where to turn or lacking adequate resources to deal with financial stress, a person's mental health can continue to deteriorate and, in turn, cause a snowball effect of worsening financial decisions."

In addition, whether you're suffering from seasonal depression or a deeper depression — due to the loss of a loved one or a more long-term illness — you may find yourself missing work. And that may result in a reduced income that adds to your financial stress. Carlson says to proceed carefully when it comes to money management while grieving. "Grief can cloud your thinking," she says. Carlson, who often works with widows, suggests delaying large financial decisions.

If your mental health condition includes compulsive behavior, you might find yourself participating in what's known as "retail therapy" — or going on buying sprees for things you don't need and can't afford. "There is a significant link between spending and negative mental health," says Marinari. "Heavy periods of buying, shopping and spending can be seen when a person is experiencing depression, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD, bipolar disorder or strenuous life events."

Marinari explains that it's "emotional and psychological needs" that drive this behavior rather than a practical need to purchase something. "Shopping addiction is often linked to mental health disorders and is more likely present during triggering life events." However, as Marinari points out, there's hope for binge spenders. "Spending is a behavior issue that can be properly addressed with the right guidance and support."

9.8M
adults in the UShave a serious mental illness
2.5M
of these adults livebelow the poverty line

Data source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Financial Behavior When You’re Depressed

"Dealing with finances can become emotional, and therefore rational decisions are less likely to be made when someone is struggling with mental health issues," says Marinari.

Major financial decisions — such as applying for new credit lines and loans, or changing your job — can wait. "It is best to avoid buying anything impulsively during these times and to find other ways to manage mental health issues," Marinari says, "such as meditation, spending time in nature and exercise."

Rather than making any big changes to your investment strategies, make every effort to simply maintain your current savings and bill-paying routines. This requires minimal effort and will likely help keep you on a stable financial path. And, as Carlson suggests, make a plan.

"You should get good, reliable financial counseling to help you work on your mindset and mindfulness toward money and to help you make a plan," Carlson says. "Having a plan and recognizing money mindsets can go a long way toward regaining control and confidence in our lives."

Making impulsive financial decisions when you're depressed can have a long-lasting negative impact on your finances." Working without help or without a plan, especially when battling depression, can be financially dangerous," says Carlson.

Consider getting help with both your finances and your mental health. "Sometimes talking to a financial counselor in addition to a mental health counselor can help direct where spending should go and where money needs to be saved," suggests Marinari. An independent counselor or advisor may provide objective advice,and help reduce the chances of your making potentially detrimental financial decisions when you're in a fragile mental state.

How to Use Your Budget to Your Mental Benefit

While creating and following a budget makes good financial sense for everyone, it's particularly useful for individuals suffering from mental health issues, because having a budget reduces the need to make financial decisions. And when your mental health is suffering, even simple tasks like paying a utility bill can seem overwhelming.

While not everyone looks forward to creating a household budget, having and following a budget may help identify your spending patterns, along with any problem money areas. You can track your past financial behavior (such as overspending online during the dark days of winter) and hopefully avoid making the same mistakes in the future. A budget also can help you identify your positive money management behavior, such as consistent emergency savings contributions. And this may have a positive impact on your mental health.

Your money and mental health relationship is a two-way stressor, and changing the way you think about it may help reduce financial anxiety. "A lot of times, we give money power and we shouldn't," explains Carlson. "Money is simply a tool. We get to decide how to use it."

When you follow the rules you previously set in place for spending in each budget category (including contributing to an emergency fund), you'll minimize the chances of overspending or missing payments. Wherever possible, set up automatic payments for recurring bills to avoid the stress of having to remember payment dates.

Conclusion

Now that you know how money issues can relate to stress and anxiety, be proactive about your money habits:

  • Take time to review your finances. Work with an advisor to create a financial plan.
  • Start (or revisit) a monthly household budget to ease your mind about future money matters.
  • Acknowledge that mental health challenges can lead to poor financial choices.

And, if you suspect you or your spouse are suffering from PTSD, postpartum depression, SAD or another mental health issue, avoid making major financial decisions until you get professional help.

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For more information, support and tools to help with mental illness, visit:

https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/tools-resources/index.htm

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/about-us

https://www.nami.org/

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