You’re up past your bedtime, and it’s not because you were out with friends or binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix. You switch off the light, toss, turn, switch on the light. You get the idea. But whether it’s health insurance premiums, retirement savings or plain old debt, the chances are pretty good that you’re among the 65 percent of Americans losing sleep because of money, according to a new CreditCards.com report.
The percentage of insomniacs hasn’t been this high since the height of the recession, says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “[That’s] scary.” If this is you — and lavender pillow mist just isn’t cutting it — we’ve got tips for getting a handle on money stress so you can finally get some shut-eye.
Pursue a method of relaxing that works for you.
Anxiety affects our decision-making ability. “When we’re financially stressed, we sit there, up into the night, tearing our hair out, trying to get the numbers to work, and we think that just by forcing our way through this problem we’re going to fix it,” says Sarah Newcomb, behavioral economist at Morningstar and author of Loaded: How To Get Ahead Without Leaving Your Values Behind. “In reality, we’re deteriorating our health and making worse decisions than we would if we were calm.” It’s a vicious cycle — the more stressed someone is, the less likely they’ll be able to come up with a viable solution to a problem. Here’s a fix: Distracting yourself for a little while will lower your anxiety levels and help you approach the problem constructively, says Newcomb, noting this is a “great psychological reason for watching dumb cat videos on YouTube.” Or, give meditation a try. If you have trouble getting started, there are how-to videos online like this one, and Headspace is a learn-to-meditate app with a 10-day free trial (you can cancel before the $12.95 monthly charge comes around). Breathing exercises can also help here. Try pushing your stomach as far out as you can while breathing in through your nose, expanding your diaphragm to fill up your lungs with air, then slowly breathing out through your mouth. Ahhh.
Get your stressors down on paper.
“The antidote to stress is control,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist. One way to put yourself in the driver’s seat is to make your stresses concrete by writing them down on paper or logging them into an Excel spreadsheet. Yarrow says money can often feel intangible. Getting up-close and personal with your numbers— whether they’re related to debt, health care costs, retirement savings goals, or all of the above — can make you feel as if you have a better handle on what they actually are (rather than what you imagine them to be.)
The getting-it-on-paper rule goes double for nagging thoughts at bedtime. “If you’re worried about anything, it becomes 10 times worse when you’re trying to nod off,” says Yarrow. She suspects it’s a survival instinct tied to our caveman days, since people couldn’t sleep when they felt a threat — after all, that threat could have been a predator or other life-or-death scenario. “It probably kept our ancestors alive, but it’s definitely not helping us today,” she says. One fix is to be aware of this tendency — and know that we’re more vulnerable to overestimating threats when we’re tired. Keep a notepad by your bed to jot down any nagging financial worries in order to help clear your mind.
Know you’re not alone.
“I think people need to look around them and count — for every 10 people they see, almost seven of them are losing sleep over money,” says Newcomb. Sometimes it can seem like everyone else — including the Joneses — have it together, but that can be a façade hiding credit card debt and other financial worries similar to yours. And since you’re not alone, you don’t need to tackle the problem alone. Talk to your friends about what you’re facing and ask if they’re up for a scenario where you hold each other accountable. Free or scaled-price credit counseling, financial coaching and counselors is also available for people who are feeling overwhelmed. For example, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) offers credit card, foreclosure, reverse mortgage, bankruptcy, budget and student loan help from its member agencies. They’re all nonprofits, so services are offered at low or no cost, and when it comes to debt management services, fees may be waived in situations of hardship, says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the NFCC.
With Hayden Field