|The LAP Zone
Coping with Financial Stress in Turbulent Times
By Carol P.
Jean Doe, Esquire,
is a sole-practitioner. During a recent conversation, I asked her, “What
is it like for you being on your own?”
“It is scary but
safe,” she replied. “Exhilarating but exhausting.” “It is scary,” she
elaborated, “because you are totally reliant on yourself, safe because you
are the boss in control, exhilarating because the victories are yours, and
exhausting because of the constant worry.” In fact, Jean finds herself not
only dealing with the high stress of practicing law but also attempting to
cope with financial stress as a single person in such turbulent times.
Recently, Jean went
through a divorce that left her savings more or less depleted. If that was
not enough, Jean’s biggest client left. Furthermore, the client refused to
pay a huge portion of his legal fee. At the same time, two other steady
clients disappeared figuratively: one died and another moved out of state.
Similarly, Jean feels especially vulnerable because of the turbulence of
today’s financial market. It seems that no matter how hard Jean attempts
to shake off the loss of these clients her financial woes are a constant
reminder. As Jean puts it, “my bills are sticking to me like Velcro; soon
I will be pawning my silver to survive!”
Money worries can
create enormous stress, particularly when they threaten the way you live,
your home, your business and even your family. A lack of money, whether it
is chronic or sudden, can cause great tension and arguments between family
members and co-workers. Financial difficulties can be created by events
beyond our control such as low income, job loss, litigation, health,
overspending and even turbulent world affairs.
emotions they most often associated with money, 71 percent of the 20,000
people responding to a survey conducted by Psychology Today listed
anxiety. Of the 20,000 people, 52 percent listed depression and another 51
percent listed anger. (The survey allowed for more than one response.)
Those most stressed by money – and they were not necessarily jobless –
complained of more fatigue, insomnia, headaches and other stress-related
In her book
Stress and the Healthy Family, Dolores Curran found that when asked to
list their troubles, “the number-one stress reported by respondents has to
do with economics, financing and budgeting.” Why are money and stress so
closely related? We fear what will happen and we grieve what we will lose
without enough of it.
Job loss, low
salary, the stock market – whatever the cause, economic upheaval is having
an impact on many, even within our own legal community. Financial pressure
can place individuals at a greater risk for depression, anxiety, anger,
thoughts of suicide and physical illness. Marital conflicts and family
violence may increase, as well as feelings of helplessness. Alcohol use
and illegal or prescription drug use may start or escalate. Aggressive
behavior or constant sadness may become the new norm for individuals
experiencing such financial woes.
However, there are
actions individuals can take to cope with financial stresses and the
challenges that arise.
- First, structure
your time, set priorities and act immediately. For example, when a
person is laid off, family income drops dramatically. Shock and
disbelief are common first reactions. This is the worst time to withdraw
and become isolated. Instead, take a constructive approach. See what
services are out there to assist you. Also, prioritize and decide what
things constitute essentials and what are extra. This will allow you to
budget for the important things such as health costs, rent, utilities
and food; while delaying or eliminating non-essential items. And don’t
be afraid to downsize.
- Second, take
care of yourself. When in the middle of a financial, personal or
business crisis, maintaining control is imperative. Staying healthy
ensures your stamina so that you may deal effectively in finding
solutions to your problems. Generally when individuals are stressed,
there is a tendency to neglect health habits (i.e., annual medical tests
and trips to the dentist). Of course, this can lead to more stress.
Subsequently, make it a point to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise to
relieve that stress and limit the use of alcohol (and some should not
drink at all).
- Third, maintain
routines. Continuing activities can help you maintain a support network
with others. Talk with people you trust: your family, friends and
co-workers. Don’t be afraid to reach out. However, don’t be afraid to
set limits with others when you don’t feel like talking.
- Fourth, ask for
help if you need it. If you are having trouble coping on your own, help
is available from many sources. Professional assistance from a counselor
or an employee’s assistance professional may sometimes be necessary.
This does not imply weakness. It simply indicates that the particular
situation is just too overwhelming to handle on your own and you need
coaching to get through it!
Other things to
remember when trying to understand your own personal disasters as well as
those in the turbulent world around you:
- It is normal to
feel anxious about you, your family and co-workers;
sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event;
our feelings helps us recover; and
- Focusing on our
strengths and abilities will help us heal.
accepting help from community programs and resources is healthy. We each
have different needs and different ways of coping with stress. Some signs
that you may need stress management assistance are:
maintaining balance in your life
- Easy frustration
- Increased use of
- Poor work
- Feelings of
- Mood swings
- Crying easily
Our attorney Jean
decided to get a handle on the situation. She believed that if she was
experiencing these problems, other people have been in similar situations
of economic upheaval and, hard as it is, they have learned to overcome
their difficulties. She elected not to keep anxiety and anger bottled up.
Rather, Jean decided to talk with someone trusted and close about feelings
of anger, confusion and fear.
Jean learned also
to take one day at a time and one thing at a time. There may be many
changes that she has to face, but it is not beneficial to try to resolve
all problems at once. Solving one problem at a time gives a sense of
control over the situation.
importance, Jean kept occupied, active and involved. The loss of her
clients resulted in extra time to think about troubles. Naturally, time is
needed to plan new marketing, but spending some of the extra time helping
with a community, bar association or church project kept her positive. By
doing so, Jean not only helped others but found these activities helped
her build personal feelings of self-worth.
Coping with the
stress and pressure of reduced income is not an easy task for anyone.
There are no easy answers or quick cures. However, by reducing and
minimizing anxiety, individuals can help strengthen and prepare for the
information on this subject, call the MSBA’S Lawyer Assistance Program at
(410) 685-7878, or e-mail