Mon, 25 Mar, 2019
Why is it so hard to talk about money problems?
It’s incredibly difficult to talk about financial difficulties, especially when you feel personally responsible despite it not being your fault.
Sarah Brown-Shaw is a senior financial counsellor at the National Debt Helpline and says that people who deal with financial stress often feel ashamed, judged and embarrassed.
"People often feel that they have to deal with it all themselves. They put pressure on themselves to be better at managing money, and blame themselves for the situation they're in," she says.
"But we overwhelmingly find that people are in this situation through no fault of their own."
Loved ones hide the issues from their spouses and families until it becomes too late for anyone to help.
"People are paralysed by their fear and anxiety. Often these people are in relationships, and they don't ever feel like they can have these conversations with their partners," Shaw explains.
Debbie Joffe Ellis, who’s a psychologist and professor at New York’s Columbia University, says that it doesn’t help that we equate success with material possessions and career.
"The media and literature and society tell us overtly and covertly that you're more special when you've got more and spend more," Dr Joffe Ellis says.
Being stressed out about money doesn’t help your brain chemistry either. Nicolas Cherbuin, who runs a brain imaging lab at the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing at the Australian National University, says that the chronic stress and emotional upheaval that comes with financial hardship is enough to change the brain.
"We focused on two specific regions, the hippocampus, which is implicated in dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and the amygdala, which we know is involved in mood disorders and emotional regulation," Dr Cherbuin, who leads the ANU centre, says.
"We found that, in these people, greater financial hardship was associated with lower volumes of these regions."
The stress hormone, known as cortisol, is produced more as we stress out.
"Hormones like cortisol are good in small quantities, but if our body and our brain are repeatedly exposed to them, we know that it makes the brain changes and certain areas shrink," Dr Cherbuin says.
"People in their middle age [with smaller volumes in these brain regions] … might be less able to modulate their emotions well and feel as good as they might otherwise."
However, there are a few ways that can help you deal with your financial hardships.
Sarah Brown-Shaw says that sharing with people can help you feel better.
"A problem shared is a problem halved. It can be a huge relief to talk to a financial counsellor. And then, feeling more empowered, to take the next step."
Dr Joffe Ellis suggests thinking about how you’d react if the person you love the most had lost the money.
"Would you love them less? No, you probably wouldn't, because you love them unconditionally," she says.
"So why do it to yourself?"