If money worries are keeping you awake at night, you’re certainly not alone. Indeed, 47% of U.S. adults report losing sleep about their finances, with concerns over everyday spending accountable for most waking hours, according to a Bankrate poll. Saving for retirement, having enough to pay for health insurance or care bills, and being able to cover the mortgage and rent all contribute to the stress levels, along with worries about paying down debt.
Financial advice and Sleep Awareness Week might not seem like natural bedfellows, but as Johanna Scheutzow, MSc in Organizational Psychiatry and Psychology, King's College London, points out, “money is a common source of stress for many of us. Worries about finances can seem overwhelming and insurmountable, often making it difficult to deal with and causing us to avoid the problem altogether. To prevent financial stress from affecting our mental and physical health, it is helpful to learn how to deal with financial stress in a healthy way and to manage financial situations effectively.”
Scheutzow is well-versed with the impact that financial concerns can have on sleeping patterns through her work as a Business Psychologist with Thrive, a mental wellbeing platform that assists over two million people around the world, using tools designed to help educate people how to prevent anxiety and stress from ruling their lives.
Here, our own thoughts as to how best to take control of your finances are interspersed with more general advice from Scheutzow if you are consistently unable to sleep due to money worries. She also shares suggestions as to what people can do both in the day, as well before bed, to try and calm racing minds.
Identify why you’re worried and act
The first step to allaying money concerns is to establish exactly what it is that you’re worried about - this will then allow you to work out what needs to be done to address it. For many, the overriding concern is simply running out money, in which case you should consider putting more aside in savings if you can.
“To increase your feeling of control, you may also want to create a plan and stick to it,” suggests Scheutzow. “A plan might include to identify your underlying financial problem, to brainstorm for solutions, an action plan with manageable steps to your solutions, and to track your progress. Be kind to yourself when doing this, setbacks can always happen as we are all human but the key is to get back at it."
If you struggle to save anything from your usual income, maybe consider putting some of any potential tax refund aside or stimulus check payments, if you can - also bear in mind that recent research revealed that having just $100 in savings could help most households avert the need to borrow. If you’re worrying about your long-term wealth, investing more and trying to grow your money via stock trading is another option to think about.
Take stock of your finances
Having a full appreciation of your financial situation, and keeping track of the money that comes in and is spent, can help take away the fear of the unknown, and lay the foundations for a better night’s rest. The simplest approach is to take a pen and paper and note down all the income you can rely on from your job, benefits, savings, investments, and the like, and then do the same for your expenditure each month. Hopefully, your total income will outstrip the outgoings, and if it does, you could consider putting some of this leftover money aside in savings.
“It may also help to learn more about how you spend your money and associated thought patterns,” adds Scheutzow. “Identifying and being aware of your thoughts and emotions can help you to feel more in control. For example, you might want to identify a certain emotion like anxiety triggered by a certain situation like calling financial support or seeing all the paperwork when trying to apply for financial aid. To keep track of your triggers you may want to use a journal or diary.”
If you find you’re always or regularly in deficit, writing everything down should also make it easier to identify areas in which you could cut back your spending. If you’re comfortable with spreadsheets, it’s probably better still, but for complete and easy oversight, consider the best personal finance software, which can cover it all, and may even alert you at the checkout if you’re about to overspend.
Automate and organize
If you’re constantly worrying about missing payments, the easiest solution is to set up automatic payments to meet the bills and other obligations that you must meet each month. This is particularly useful to make sure you don’t miss your credit card payments, and rack up unnecessary penalties and interest, while it’s usually possible to arrange for utility bills to be paid automatically too, and cell phone plans. As well as guaranteeing you’ll always pay what you owe without needing to lift a finger, automated payments can almost always be arranged to transfer money to savings accounts, investments and retirement funds too.
To take a tighter rein over your finances, Scheutzow agrees that organization is key, and decluttering your budget can help toot. “Since life is rarely constant, regular budget checkups are essential to improving your financial health. Take control of your finances by setting aside some time to schedule, organize, and declutter all of the money coming in and out of your bank account. The more control you have, the less stress you will feel.”
Create an emergency fund
Sleep may also be hard to come by if you’re constantly worrying about how to pay for those expenses that crop up out of nowhere. Most commonly we’re likely talking auto repair bills (if you don’t have an extended car warranty) and paying for health care, but it could easily extend to buying a new refrigerator if yours breaks, vets bills...the list goes on. Just 4 in 10 Americans believe they could pay a $1,000 bill without borrowing, and if you’re not among them, it’s likely to play on your mind.
“Financial stress triggers our flight or fight system and worrying thoughts to find solutions to the potential threat,” explains Scheutzow. “Often, these worrying thoughts are repetitive and keep us stuck going around and around in circles about future events like what if I am not able to pay my bills this month.”
To counter such concerns, creating an emergency fund can provide some financial breathing space. Putting only a little aside is better than nothing, but if possible, you should aim to eventually have three to six months of living expenses in reserve. This should be more than enough to pay for most of the unexpected, and will also mean that you have a decent buffer, and can continue to pay the bills, should you unfortunately find yourself jobless or unable to work for a period of time.
Tackle your debt
It’s understandable if your debt frequently plays on your mind, but you’ll feel much calmer if you know you’re doing something about it. To get started, work out your income against expenditure, and if there’s money left over, allocate this to paying back what you owe. Equally, this exercise can give you an idea of where you might be able to rein in your spending.
If you owe on credit cards, consider transferring to a 0% balance transfer card, which will allow you to pay down your debt for a certain number of months without accumulating any more interest. If you have other borrowing obligations to meet, it’s important to figure out which debt you should pay off first.
“Understanding debt is the first step to getting yourself out of it,” says Scheutzow. “Once you know how to break out, you can start building toward your future in a more positive way with simple habits that are easy to maintain.”
Importantly, if debt is becoming a real problem, you must seek out advice, whether that be from family and friends, or those who you’d expect to have an even deeper understanding of what your struggles entail, such as debt counselors and debt consolidation companies.
“It's important to share your concerns and not just keep them to yourself,” adds Scheutzow. “Talk about your money concerns with trusted friends and family. You don’t have to go into details if you aren’t comfortable sharing them, but the more you talk about your concerns with your support system, the less isolated and stressed you might feel. Your loved ones may even be able to offer a different perspective on what you could do differently to get your financial issues under control.”
Mindful ways to calm anxious money thoughts
While some of the steps above can be achieved relatively quickly, most are not overnight fixes that will instantly put all of your money fears to bed. Even those who have good control over their finances are likely to retain money worries at one time or another, so knowing how to counter such concerns on a day-to-day, or night-to-night, basis is a useful skill for all.
Take time out to worry...
According to Scheutzow, the key to managing money anxieties which affect wellbeing and the ability to sleep is “to learn to control our attention and our thoughts”. Scheduling in ‘worry time’ is one way to prevent these concerns from impacting sleep, with Scheutzow suggesting setting aside perhaps two 15 minute each day - preferably well before bedtime - during which you’re allowed to focus on your financial concerns.
“It’s best to write down all the worries and do one of three things with them: Do something about them, delay them or delete them,” is the advice. “Some are important, can be solved and are urgent so you can schedule some specific time to solve them like calling financial support. Some are important and solvable but don’t need to be solved right away so you can delay them.
"Some are not important so you can delete them." Advises Scheutzow. "Some are unsolvable or outside of your control, in which case you can reflect on the fact that you cannot do anything about them so why should you spend time worrying? If any of these worries crop up at bedtime you can reflect on the fact that you either have a plan or have decided to delete them. This may not solve all the worries but with practice, it may help to not be overwhelmed by them.”
….but also take time to relax
Learning stress management techniques is another way to help yourself if you’re often preoccupied worrying about money or debt. Regular physical exercise is a great way to release built up stress and tension, whether it be through team sport or you prefer to go it alone on a run or using one of the best exercise bikes.
Practicing mindfulness - a mental skill that helps to maintain a degree of control over what we think about - is another suggestion that Scheutzow offers, so that you can focus entirely on the present and not be “thinking about anything unrelated to the situation you’re in right now.” The best meditation apps could help here, or you might simply schedule some time for relaxation every day to help lower stress levels, and give you a better chance of switching off in the evening.
“For example, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation help to manage anxiety, stress and help to improve sleep and can be well used during the day or just before bedtime,” elaborates Scheutzow. “To practice deep breathing, we have to breathe deeply in our belly for about five seconds, then hold the breath for another 5 seconds and then breathe out slowly for another five seconds, and finally hold our breath again without air in our lungs for another five seconds.”
Take care of yourself
The final strand of advice for those craving a better night's rest is to take care of sleep hygiene. This may include sticking to a sleep schedule that works for you as much as possible, so that your body knows when it’s bedtime and when to wake up - perhaps invest in one of the best sunrise alarm clocks so that you emerge from your slumber in the gentlest way possible too.
Creating a wind-down routine to form a link between the routine and sleep can help as well - so this might mean always having a hot drink before bed or a warm shower. On the other side of the coin, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, as well as alcohol, is also advised, as they are prone to activating anxiety even more.
“If nothing helps, maybe getting up and repeating the pre-sleep routine, can help distract and create a new association between sleep and your wind-down routine,” Scheutzow adds. “If the symptoms continue and your sleep continues to be affected you should consider seeking support from a doctor.” To learn more about slumber, read our feature that answers the question, why is sleep important.