Feeling blue because you're broke?
When you're overwhelmed by money problems, it can be frightening and even ulcer-inducing, but it may make you feel better to know that you aren't alone. Wade through enough surveys about depression and stress, and you start to see a main culprit: Money, or lack of it, is one of the top reasons many people feel they're at the bottom. If you're depressed about money, especially at a time when the economy is rebounding and your friends and family appear to be faring better than you financially, here are some ideas to help brighten your outlook.
Do what happy, healthy people do. It's the fake-it-until-you-make-it approach. Stay away from alcohol. If you're sleeping far more than the seven to eight hours a night doctors recommend, get out of bed. If you're eating every time you feel low, put away the knife and fork. This is all easier said than done when you're depressed, but once you start eating better, exercising and taking better care of yourself, "[you begin] to feel a level of control, and that can bring forth solutions that may have not been apparent with the depression," says Lisa Bahar, a licensed professional clinical counselor based in Dana Point, California.
Bahar also points out that taking concrete steps to feel better "is doing the opposite of what the depression is asking you to do."
[Read: How to Manage Your Money Emotions .]
Don't ignore your money problems. You'll actually feel worse if you tune out your problems, Bahar says. "Look at the bill, open the bill, start calming the mind by not avoiding the bills and the control money is perceivably having," she says. Facing a lot of bills you can't pay won't feel great, she adds, "but it decreases the ambiguity."
Volunteer. "Go out and help someone else," suggests Barbara Neitlich, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in Los Angeles. "The act of volunteering or helping someone out actually has a chemical effect in the brain and will often raise your spirits."
Studies back up her statement. For instance, in 2008, when researchers at the London School of Economics studied the correlation between volunteering and happiness, they found that the odds of people being "very happy" climbed 7 percent among people who volunteered each month compared with people who didn't. People who volunteered weekly, the study showed, were 16 percent more likely to be "very happy."
Another benefit of volunteering is the opportunity to get out and interact with other people instead of moping around the house. "When I'm really feeling insecure, unsuccessful, I go sit at the info desk at my local farmers market to talk about local foods, produce, weather, recipes," says Lisa Kindel, a multimedia freelance consultant in Frankfort, Kentucky, who admits to being broke and depressed about it at times. "Talking to other people about food and recipes can really pick me up because I'm not dwelling on what's wrong with me that day."
Take a walk. Kindel lives near a state park where she has often hiked to combat depression. "The smells of the woods would give me a jolt to my brain that would help clear my thinking," she says.
Numerous studies have shown that getting outside improves mental health. There's even a phrase that describes what long periods inside do to one's mindset: nature deficit disorder, coined by author Richard Louv in his book, "Last Child in the Woods." The book focuses on behavioral problems in children that may stem from spending too much time indoors. It doesn't take much of a leap of logic to assume that grownups might feel better if they pulled open the shades, and then the door, and took a stroll.
Do something creative. You could paint, journal or learn a foreign language. For Kindel, cooking helps clear her mind.
"I'm a foodie, so I have a decently stocked fridge. I'll rummage around the freezer, find some random ingredient -- last week, it was fava beans -- and make something new," she says.
Seek help. "One reason people can find themselves down about money problems is that they don't know how to solve them," says Colin Drake, who owns a wealth management firm in Sausalito, California. He recommends seeking a financial planner, if you can afford one, on GarrettPlanningNetwork.com, which caters to middle-class families and individuals.
You may also need a therapist -- and, of course, if you're worried about money, that's probably the last thing you can afford if your health insurance won't pay for it. But maybe it will; check to make sure. Some universities also have low-cost programs in which psychology graduate students counsel members of the public.
Or confide in a friend or a family member. If you're truly on the down and out, you need to talk it out with people.
Remember that it's all about attitude. "Be thankful and grateful for everything you do have. Research in the field of positive psychology has shown that gratitude assists in helping a variety of emotional and sometimes physical factors such as improving health, building stronger relationships and dealing with adversity," Neitlich says.
"When we have a depressing or negative thought, it takes five positive thoughts to cancel it out," says Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Troy, Michigan. "I tell my clients positive thoughts are light, like feathers, and negative thoughts are heavy, like cement, which is why they can be so damaging."
Sure, changing your attitude can only go so far. Some people work two jobs and still can't quite make ends meet -- and then have other curve balls thrown at them. Perhaps a family member comes down with a disease or a teenage son wrecks the family car, and suddenly the household finances are stuck deeper in the morass. Some people's financial problems are not just in their heads.
And yet no matter how broke you are, your attitude can still make all the difference in how you feel about your situation. It sounds cornball, but it makes sense. It's terribly difficult to improve your finances when you feel miserable. If you can make yourself feel better about the money you don't have, you can at least buy yourself one thing you sorely need: time that you can spend improving your financial picture.
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