For too many people, money equals stress.
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Ironically, at the same time so many people are stressing about money, biomedical studies are proving that cash really can't buy happiness.
Research reveals that "money has nothing to do with how much happiness we experience -- zero," says Frank Lawlis, psychologist and author of "The Stress Answer" and co-founder of the Lawlis Peavey PsychoNeuroPlasticity Center, in Lewisville, Texas.
Peace of mind is a gift (and a necessary one at that) that you give yourself. Here are six simple, healthy and cost-free ways to de-stress and dispel those money worries:
1. Get the facts, make a plan"Very often, financial worries are related to a lack of information or wrong information or both," says Edward Hallowell, director of the Hallowell Centers for Cognitive and Emotional Health and author of "CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and about to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life."
That's one more reason to work with an expert on your money problems, he says.
Making a plan is key.
"You're always better off if you have a plan than if you don't have a plan," says Hallowell. "Toxic stress and worry feed off of passive people."
And your plan's success doesn't matter as much as the fact that you actually have one, he says. "You feel less vulnerable, more in control. And stress rises as feelings of vulnerability increase and feelings of control decrease."
Also helpful: Don't be afraid to revisit and revise the plan, he says.
"Working with money is all about revising your plans," says Hallowell.
2. Differentiate between good stress and bad stress"Separate bad or futile stress from good or productive stress," says Martin Rossman, M.D., clinical instructor at the University of California Medical School (San Francisco) and author of "The Worry Solution."
Bad worry is "running on a hamster wheel of things you're afraid of or don't want to happen -- things you can't do anything about," says Rossman. "Good worry is addressing real issues," he says.
It "is actually a useful function, in that it allows us to go over possible futures from different perspectives," says Rossman. "In the financial world, we would call that financial planning -- looking at different scenarios and estimating your risk tolerance at your stage of life and what your goals are."
"That's what I would call good worry," he says. "Make your best prediction for your situation."
3. Share the loadOne top stress-fighting secret: Never worry alone, says Hallowell. "It's just so important to get someone you trust who you can worry with -- whether it's a partner or a spouse or a financial expert," he says. "The real toxic stress is created when you tackle these things in solitude."
4. Hit the 'pause button' on worry"Bad worry gets obsessive," says Rossman. "People can't turn it off. And it's important to learn there is a pause button."
Say to yourself: "Once or twice a day, I'm going to interrupt this ongoing worry and let my body go into a deeply relaxed state: cleanup and repair," he says.
One effective way to do it is balloon breathing, says Rossman. Put one hand on your chest, the other on your stomach and imagine that you're inflating your belly as if it were a balloon. (And you should breathe out a little longer than you breathe in, he says.) Do it six to eight times in a row, then take a break. Then repeat.
"It takes you out of fight-or-flight response" and lets you relax, Rossman says. Once you've started to let go, lie down or get comfortable and -- one by one -- invite the various parts of your body to relax. You can start with the feet and work your way up to your head, he advises.
Then take a 10-minute mental vacation, he says. "Daydream yourself somewhere peaceful and beautiful and safe where you feel very relaxed. What are you seeing? Hearing? Smelling? What is the temperature like? Go through all of the senses. The brain sends a signal to the nervous system that you can relax and take a restorative break."
5. Imagine the financial outcome you wantCan't let go of your money woe? Transform it into a positive by picturing the outcome you want in detail, says Rossman.
Pro athletes know the value of this one. It's similar to the golfer who lines up a shot, all the while thinking, "Don't hit it in the lake," he says. "The problem is there's no mental image for 'don't hit it in the lake.' The mental image is for the lake. And that golfer is more likely to hit it in the lake.'"
"So what you really want to do is pick a spot on the fairway where you want the ball to land and aim for that," he says. "Don't even think about the lake."
If you're worried about losing the house, "take a couple of deep breaths and visualize yourself in the house, living there, having your debts paid off, having a job. It's not all you should do. But what you want to be focusing on is the outcome you desire, not the outcome you don't desire. That way, you're not ignoring it, but you're not scaring yourself silly by picturing what you don't want all the time. And that's a skill."
6. Nurture your physical healthYou always need to take good care of yourself physically. And that goes double when you're stressed.
"Eat well, try not to overdo it in toxic coping habits, like drinking and eating too much," says Rossman.
"Treat yourself like a pet you love," he says. Get a walk or two every day. Drink plenty of water.
Exercise is good, "but you need to do a certain type of exercise," says Lawlis. Most effective, a movement that involves a regular rhythm like dance, jogging, walking or swimming, he says.
"It does two things: First of all, it creates a rhythm of the body," he says. "The body likes rhythms. It helps you relax. And it helps coordinate your brain. It gives the brain a pace, a tempo."
It's not self-indulgent, it's practical. "You will need good health to be able to solve your financial problem," says Rossman.
7. Chew gumSeriously. "One of the best things you can do to relieve anxiety is to chew gum," says Lawlis.There's good research that shows that "chewing helps your memory, pumps blood into your temporal lobes so it relaxes you, and it also helps your memory."
By the way, make it an American Dental Association-approved sugarless gum. If you're in stress because of financial trouble, you need cavities like a hole in the head.
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