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Few of us like to talk about money. It’s a subject that’s often considered impolite to discuss, even among close friends and family. It turns out that this buttoned-up approach to our finances isn’t doing us any favors.

Americans are stressing about money, and that financial pressure is affecting our health and relationships in ways we never imagined. In its annual Stress in America: Paying with Our Health study, the American Psychological Association found that nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, and nearly one-quarter (22 percent) rate their stress level as extreme.

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This stress could be jeopardizing your long-term well-being. That’s because the body reacts to stress with a “fight-or-flight” response, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. When stress is ongoing, elevated levels of these chemicals can lead to a number of problems, such as headaches and backaches, sleep issues, weight gain, increased blood pressure and heart rate, depression and anxiety, to name just a few.

Of course, each of us deals with stress in our own way. However, if you’re like many people, a common coping mechanism for money worries is simply to avoid dealing with it. Unfortunately, procrastination can lead to even more significant financial concerns down the road.

What can you do to lessen the impact of money stress in your life? Here are seven tips that may help you develop a back-in-control feeling with your finances.

1. Start communicating. Talking about your financial concerns may feel uncomfortable, but sharing your hopes and fears about your situation can be an important step toward reducing stress levels at home because communicating with your spouse or partner opens the door to working together to find a solution. If you are single or you manage your finances on your own, the stress may be just as heavy. If this is the case for you, it’s time to recruit an accountability partner, such as a family member or close friend.

2. Create some breathing room. Take time for a quick expense checkup. Write down where all of your money is going. Then compare your monthly recurring bills with your income and consider what expenses can be trimmed. The goal is to reset your spending so that you give yourself financial breathing room. The more you’re able to live below your means, the greater the financial freedom you likely will feel.

3. Take care of the “what ifs.” One of the most important ways to feel more financially secure is to build an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. Ideally, you want enough savings in your account to cover six months or more of essential living costs.

4. Set goals. Whatever the source of your financial stress, planning can help you gain control of what happens next. It can also help you prioritize spending and balance competing demands on your money, like saving for retirement and paying down student loans. Make a list of all of the things you want your money to do for you. Then set goals for each that are measurable and definitive. For example, “I would like to have $2,000 saved for next year’s vacation by the end of this year.”

5. Make it easy on yourself. Automate as much of your financial life as you can, including having a portion of your paycheck directly deposited into your retirement account. Also set up automatic reminders to alert you when a bill is due, and put your recurring bills on auto-pay. That way you’ll know that your financial priorities are taken care of each month.
6. Unload debt. Make a plan to pay off your credit cards as quickly as possible. If you’re carrying balances on more than one card, consider consolidating your debt onto the lowest-interest card possible. Reducing your debt can free up extra cash each month for saving and investing.

7. Protect what matters most. Protecting your family and your assets against unforeseen events is critical to attaining financial security. The proper use of insurance can reduce stress by helping to ensure you and your loved ones are financially protected no matter what.

Most people have periods of financial stress in their lives. This is where an experienced financial advisor can help. He or she can work with you to identify your financial challenges and opportunities and create a plan that will allow you to feel more in control of your financial future.

The Northwestern MutualVoice Team is a group of professionals who share insights and opinions from experts and industry leaders across the enterprise. Our vision is to inspire others to take action and plan for their financial future through topics ranging from financial planning, retirement planning and distribution strategies, wealth accumulation and preservation, to leadership, philanthropy and innovation.

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