Mind over money: let’s talk about stress, baby

We delve into the science of stress and offer practical steps to make your life more relaxed.

5 min read

When we feel stressed by our finances, things can very quickly feel like they’re spiralling out of control. It could start by worrying about how much you spent last month, being surprised by a big bill, or finding that you have to make an unexpected large purchase. Whatever the scenarios, financial stresses can really weigh on our minds.

One of the first key steps to dealing with stress is talking about it. A lot of us tend to hold on to our worries, letting them build up until they suddenly spill over and make us feel like we’ve lost control. But understanding your own triggers is vital to helping you manage the way they make you feel. For some, it can be as simple as just thinking about your bank balance. Our research showed that this can actually cause 45% of people to stress out. 

Studying stress factors with neuroscience

We understand how financial stresses can really impact our mental health. That’s why we’re working with neuroscientist Dr. Jack Lewis to find out what our stress triggers are, however small they might seem, and to work out how to tame them so we can get back in control of our mindset.

As part of our Mind Over Money blog series, we created an implicit testing experiment to determine the hierarchy of stress and anxiety for a series of financial and everyday scenarios. We found that people are suffering from all sorts of financial stresses and triggers, and this differs for those of us who feel financially independent and for those who don’t. So let’s get into the data.

What causes stress to spike?

Our experiment found the stress of going through a divorce or break up (highly stressful for 91% of people) was 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%).

Looking at the data regionally, in France, women are most likely to get stressed or anxious about having big arguments (93%), closely followed by losing a job (89%) and discovering a broken boiler (89%). French women, however, stress less about paying off debt than men but, when it comes to the thought of having a credit card declined it’s French men who were shown to be the most stressed. And in France, the most stress reducing scenario overall was eating a nice meal, according to 92% of French people in the research.

Does being financially independent really help?

For those of us who don’t feel financially independent, checking our bank balance is 10% more stressful. And for those who do, we found that being so reduces the stress of paying rent by 13%. 

Neuroscientist Dr. Jack Lewis has delved into what’s happening in the brain during situations that stress us out. Why? So we can understand how to regain control and ensure we stay calm in the face of whatever life throws at us.

Stress is a double-edged sword 

Plenty of scientific research over the past few decades has pointed to the conclusion that a moderate amount of stress helps people to get things done, but too little or too much causes havoc in people’s lives. 

The stress hormone that has been studied most intensively is cortisol, released from our adrenal glands in response 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 we feel perpetually wound up and ready to act, but unable to think straight and make good decisions.

The Goldilocks Zone

To keep cortisol levels in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone”—not too much, not too little, but just right—you’ll need to have a good idea of which stress management techniques work best for you personally, to always be on the lookout for new ones, and most importantly, to make sure you use them on a daily basis. This last part is the hardest of all to master, particularly when factors beyond our control can influence us. The last year has been particularly tough, with external pressures leading to more arguments, more breakups and an increased fear of losing our jobs and income. 

When we feel stressed out by a hundred worrying things on our minds, the last thing we want to do is slack off. Even if we tried to relax—we tell ourselves—we’ll just end up feeling frustrated that we still feel stressed no matter what music we listen to, no matter how long we spend doing breathing exercises, no matter how many laps we take around the park.

This is a perfectly natural part of the chronic stress story and can only be mastered by prioritizing a proactive approach to stress management in your life to become a daily practice. 

If you get in the habit of practicing various stress-reducing activities several times per day, over time they become more and more effective. Through daily practice over many weeks, the brain pathways involved in redirecting stress become stronger and more effective at delivering stress-relieving benefits.

How can we help?

We’re here to help you take control of your financial life, so that you have one less thing to stress about. With N26, you can get instant notifications on your spending sent to your phone, so you never have to wonder about your balance. Set money aside for an emergency with Spaces sub-accounts, and plan for the unexpected with our variety of insurance options that come with our premium accounts. Find the plan that’s right for you today.

By N26

The Mobile Bank

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