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How to manage financial overwhelm when money is tight

The stress of rising costs and financial uncertainty sends many of us into a tailspin.

Compilation image of a pile of money and a stressed woman with her head back on the sofa to represent financial overwhelm
Financial overwhelm can significantly add to your mental load. (Source: Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

Money can feel overwhelming at the best of times, let alone in a challenging economy.

The stress of rising costs and economic uncertainty add weight to our mental load, so it’s important that we can recognise when we’re feeling financial overwhelm, and take steps to reduce the pressure.

Here are six tips to help you feel less stressed by your finances right now.

1. Give yourself a break

Firstly, we need to give ourselves grace during difficult times and accept that not everything is immediately fixable. Financial overwhelm can send us into a tailspin of trying to solve every problem in order to feel relief, but this only solidifies the overwhelm further.

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2. Break tasks down and prioritise

If you have financial admin to complete - like calling the bank, changing lenders, listing items for sale online, or arranging payment plans - break these down into smaller, actionable tasks. When your brain is busy with things that need to be done and potential solutions to a problem, using an adapted version of the Eisenhower matrix can help you arrange your thoughts and move forward.

Here’s what it looks like:

financial overwhelm chart
(Source: Supplied)

The Eisenhower matrix is helpful for dealing with financial overwhelm because it prompts you to plot tasks as easy versus complex, and high impact versus low impact, which helps you to identify where to begin. By focusing first on the easier, higher-impact tasks, you can begin to reduce your overwhelm and build up momentum and motivation to achieve the more complex tasks.

Then, assign each task a time slot to be completed over the coming few weeks. Knowing you’ve allocated time to get them done can help you find some mental breathing room.

3. Separate what’s real and what’s not

Money is an emotional thing to deal with, and the way we feel about it is deeply tied to who we are and the experiences we’ve had in life. When we experience financial stress, negative beliefs, anxieties and money wounds, it can overwhelm our emotions. What might begin as a rent increase could spiral into a fear about losing everything.

Slowing down and separating the real problem from the scary thoughts and feelings you might be experiencing can help you quieten your mind and squash overwhelm.

4. Be wary of comparison

When dealing with overwhelm, comparing your life to those around you can just add fuel to the fire. What begins as a harmless nosey at your friends, colleagues or someone you follow online can wind up turbocharging your anxiety and making everything feel so much worse than it is.

Take notice of when you feel most overwhelmed. It could be because your brain is comparing your circumstances to other people’s without you even realising.

5. Watch out for sabotage

When things are difficult - especially financially - it’s common to seek relief from the problem by either burying our heads in the sand to avoid the issue or by sabotaging in an attempt to take control. For example, spending more money than you otherwise would on things you don’t necessarily need or want.

Remember, these behaviours might make you feel better in the short term by giving that sense of relief and control. But we’re only making the problem bigger in the long term.

6. Reach out for help

If you’re struggling with financial hardship, a financial counsellor may be able to help you manage your overwhelm and take control of the situation. They are free to use in Australia and can help you with budgeting, debt repayments and communicating with creditors.

Here are some helpful contacts:

  • National Debt Helpline - 1800 007 007

  • Small Business Debt Helpline - 1800 413 828

  • Mob Strong Debt Helpline - 1800 808 488

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