These days, feeling stressed seems like the norm. Maybe you’re tapped out from all-nighters at work, coordinating a big move or navigating complicated family relationships.
Or perhaps, like 62 percent of Americans, the state of your finances is what’s (literally) keeping you up at night. That financial stress can take a serious toll on your physical well-being, beyond just the missed Zzzs.
In an American Psychological Association survey, 20 percent of respondents said they’d considered skipping doctor’s appointments due to money concerns. And prolonged stress was linked to other issues like increased risk of depression, overeating and fatigue.
But here’s some good news: The same advice for making progress on your money applies to reaching your health goals, too. Here’s what you need to know about the financial/physical connection to take control in both areas of your life.
The journey to health—whether that’s physical, mental or financial—looks different for everyone. But rest assured, no one reaches their destination overnight.
Sure, those crash diets, crazy workout regimens and super-strict budgets may move you closer to your goal in the short-term, but they typically don’t lead to sustainable improvements—and can sometimes be harmful to your health. (Plus, they tend to cause burnout.)
Instead, real progress happens when you commit to a healthy lifestyle—just a few habits at a time. That could mean slipping a few vegetables into your daily diet, or setting up automatic monthly deposits into your savings account.
“Small, manageable changes are easy to make and maintain,” says David A. Schneider, a Certified Financial Planner and principal of Schneider Wealth Strategies in New York. “You are more likely to succeed by making incremental changes that you can stick with.”
It’s decidedly less exciting to funnel more of your tax refund into an IRA than to put it toward your upcoming beach trip, in the same way you’d probably prefer to sleep in instead of hitting the gym on Saturday mornings. But the reality is, you’ll be glad you did it. Committing to healthy behaviors now—especially when you’re young—pays off big time down the road.
Take this example, known as the parable of the two twins. One sibling saves $3,000 annually in her Roth IRA from age 22 to 32 and nothing more. Her brother also saves $3,000 a year, but doesn’t start until age 32 and continues for 30 years. Given an 8 percent return, it’s the sister who has the heftier retirement balance when they’re both 62—thanks to the power of compounding—despite only saving $30,000 of her own money over 10 years compared to her brother’s $90,000 investment over 30.
Of course, the inverse is true, too. Stephen Rischall, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor and co-founder of 1080 Financial Group in Los Angeles, Calif., says one of the biggest financial mistakes you can make is trading in big-picture goals for in-the-moment living. Not only can that cause immediate stress when unexpected bills or other emergencies pop up, but it creates lasting problems that are harder to resolve, like revolving debt and damaged credit.
The same goes for poor health choices: Spend your 20s and 30s not exercising and eating poorly, and you could suffer from multiple comorbidities later, like obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Next time you could use a jolt of motivation, phone a friend. According to a study conducted by the Society of Behavioral Medicine, while many people struggle to reach fitness goals solo, they show significant improvement when exercising with a partner—even if that buddy was only there virtually, communicating via text or an app like DietBet.
Sharing money goals can be similarly motivating. “Peer pressure works,” Schneider says. “Committing to a plan and involving friends and relatives can help increase your odds of success.” Even better? If you and your accountability partner are racing toward the same finish line—say, to pay off credit card debt or save $1,000—challenge each other to a friendly competition to see who can get there first.
Technology has completely transformed both the financial and health industries, making it easier than ever to map your progress. Fitness tools can help you effortlessly track your steps, heart beats, calories consumed and even sleep quality—just as financial tools can help you automate important habits, like smart budgeting and (ahem) investing your spare change. Others even aim to make tedious goals, like saving money, fun.
“I’m a huge fan of automation,” says Brandon Moss, a Certified Financial Planner and vice president of wealth advisor management at United Capital in Dallas, Texas. “You can keep track of your finances through mobile apps or online banking, [ensuring] you never miss a payment and are not forgetting to save for the future. Plus, many apps even learn your habits, and set budgets automatically.”
Just as nutritionists recommend adding a buffer into your diet so that eating a few extra cookies doesn’t throw you off course for the entire week, financial pros suggest giving yourself some cushion when creating a budget and savings goals. That way, you won’t feel overwhelmed or like you’re starving yourself—literally or figuratively—when striving toward your milestones.
“Beware of thoughts that are all-or-nothing in nature,” says Marla Deibler, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist at the Center for Emotional Health in Philadelpha, Pa. “When we get stuck in thought processes that limit flexibility, we’re more likely to have difficulty with adjustment and experience worry, anxiety and distress.” And that just might prompt you to give up on your goals altogether.
One final piece of advice both financial and health experts stress again and again, but is often brushed off: Practice good self-care, and splurge (wisely) every once in awhile.
Michelle Berry, a stress management coach in Ithaca, N.Y., says too many people avoid taking breaks, which ultimately causes more problems than it solves. “We stay stressed because we are on deadline a lot, but there’s good stress and bad stress,” she says. “Good stress keeps you focused and motivated, [but the] bad stress can lead to anxiety, depression and health problems.”
You can combat the latter—and maintain your energy to stay the course—by rewarding yourself for a job well done as you meet specific goals, like 10 pounds lost or $500 saved. “Just because you are budgeting doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself,” Moss says. “As long as your finances are on track, it’s okay to indulge a little.”