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Neuroscientist reveals that money worries are now as stressful as going through a divorce in a new study

Berlin - A new study has ranked the most stressful situations for the human brain, revealing that financial strain is now comparable to a major life event like a difficult breakup.

Experts have revealed that the stress of going through a divorce or break up (highly stressful for 91% of people) was found to be similar to the prospect of losing a job (90%) or an unexpected cost such as a broken boiler (90%). These difficulties were closely followed by other money worries, including a credit card being declined (88%) and a missed mortgage payment (86%).

The study, which was commissioned by European digital bank N26 to understand the role money and finances play in causing stress, will enable the bank to help customers by taking responsibility for reducing finance stress. Led by neuroscientist Dr Jack Lewis, it put 1,000 participants in Europe and the US through an Implicit Reaction Test (IRT*). The assessment determined whether stress was high or low across a series of common circumstances. The beauty of the implicit test is that it measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to admit.

In Germany, the most stressful scenarios were having big arguments (92%), losing keys (91%), being caught out lying (90%) and being stuck in a traffic jam (90%). The data also showed that Germans hate to be late, with getting stuck in traffic (90%) ranked as the third most stressful scenario overall, and causing more stress than having a maxed out overdraft (82%).

Further analysis of the global data highlighted major variations in how different genders and nationalities experience stress. When it comes to gender, while women are more likely to feel stressed overall, they find financial stress less worrisome than men. In fact, 58% of the most stressful scenarios were financial for men, compared to 47% for women.

Closer to home, German men and women agreed that the top most stressful scenario was having big arguments. Interestingly, the thought of getting a pay rise - although overall a stress reducing scenario - is almost twice as likely to incite a stressful response from German women (21%) compared to men (12%).

Americans are the least stressed in general overall with the Italians feeling the most stressed, followed by Spaniards. Germans are the most chilled about their bank balance although still almost half (44%) say checking it is stressful.

The study also asked participants about their sexual relationships. In Germany, younger people - those aged 44 and under - are almost twice as likely to feel stressed by sex (23%) compared to over 45s (13%). In comparison, nearly 1 in 4 Americans found sex stressful (22%). The most chilled out nation when it comes to sex? Italy, where just one in 10 (10%) found the idea anxiety-inducing.

Mind over Money image press

Dr Jack Lewis, neuroscientist and author of best-selling book Sort Your Brain Out, said: “The stress hormone that has been studied most intensively is cortisol, released from our adrenal glands in responses to commands sent down from the brain, to sharpen reaction times and focus the mind to help deal with the problem at hand. Too little cortisol released into the bloodstream and people struggle to get motivated. Too much cortisol and they feel perpetually wound up and ready to act, but unable to think straight and make good decisions.”

“To keep cortisol levels in the so-called ‘Goldilocks Zone’ the trick is to know which stress management techniques work best for you personally, to continuously hunt for new ones and most importantly, to use them on a daily basis. This last part is the hardest of all to master, particularly given the external stress of the last year, which has seen more arguments, more breakups and an increased fear of losing our jobs and income. But get the balance right and you’ll successfully be able to get back in control.”

Georg Hauer, General Manager for DACH and Northern Europe at N26, said: “2020 was a stressful year for everyone and it left a lot of us feeling strung out. We wanted to understand how much financial worries were affecting everyday life, and the results showed that people are really feeling the heat.”

“When it comes to handling stress, everyone needs effective ways to cope. Just as therapists or relaxing on holiday might help people cope with a break-up, people need more support when it comes to their finances. Unfortunately, people are often reluctant to open up about their troubles with money. That’s why banking needs to be simpler, more transparent and more flexible. At N26, we feel it’s our responsibility to help our customers reduce their financial stress. Research like this is important to point us in the direction of how and where we can focus our efforts in that ambition.”

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Notes to editors

Top five stress inducing scenarios for Germans

  • Big arguments, 92%
  • Losing keys, 91%
  • Caught lying, 90%
  • Traffic jam, 90%
  • Losing a job, 89%

Top ten stress reducing scenarios for Germans

  • Listening to music, 89%
  • Going on holiday, 89%
  • Getting a compliment, 89%
  • Eating a nice meal, 88%
  • Getting a discount, 88%

About N26

N26 is building the first mobile bank the world loves to use. Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal founded N26 in 2013 and launched the initial product in early 2015. Today N26 has welcomed more than 7 million customers in 24 markets. N26 has a 1,500-strong team of 80 nationalities based across the globe. It has teams based in 10 locations: Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Belgrade, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Vienna, New York and São Paulo. With a full German banking license, state-of-the-art technology and no branch network, N26 has redesigned banking for the 21st century and is available on Android, iOS, and desktop. Valued at more than US$9 billion, N26 has raised close to US$ 1.8 billion from the world’s most established investors, including Third Point Ventures, Coatue Management LLC, Dragoneer Investment Group, Insight Venture Partners, GIC, Tencent, Allianz X, Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, Earlybird Venture Capital, Greyhound Capital, Battery Ventures, in addition to members of the Zalando management board, and Redalpine Ventures. N26 currently operates in: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Website: n26.com | Twitter: @n26 | Facebook: facebook.com/n26 | YouTube: youtube.com/n26bank

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