Work is generally acknowledged to be one of the major sources of stress and, in our competitive society of high achievers, has perhaps assumed disproportionate significance. Most people spend more time at work during their working lives than they do at home.
Life is a paradox. Work can give stress, even absence of work can give stress. Losing a job is one of the most powerful stressors and probably second to that of coming to terms with the death of a very close family member or friend. The cycle of emotions is virtually the same, starting with numbed shock, a sense of injustice and “why me?” self-pity, disbelief, anger and then lethargy and inertia. This gradually gives way to an emotion of passive acceptance and loss of identity since the individual is torn away from the structured work regime and network of contacts outside the home. Few people will seek him or her out and the realization that the world and system is carrying on unaffected while the jobless individual is wallowing in loneliness enhances feelings of personal inadequacy and redundancy. If this stage is prolonged, it could degenerate into depression, suicidal tendencies or end up in a heart attack induced by melancholia.
In such a situation it is imperative to ensure that the individual does not sink into a stage of inertia and despondency. Given the materialistic tendency of the world, it is quite probable that family members may not be able to empathize adequately with the individual or given their proximity to the individual and the fact that their futures are intertwined be undergoing their own collateral stress. The individual thus has to predominantly help himself or herself to cope and ensure he or she remains grounded. This involves forcing oneself to a discipline of:
Mishandled finances are a major stressor. In today’s busy world, money has become a major stressor. The practice of having multiple credit cards and overspending is a sure formula for going into debt. In a bid to keep up with their neighbors and pressure groups some people are always wanting the newest car, latest electronics and easy credit allows them access to these. However the problem comes later as bills for indiscriminate purchases pile up. The threat of bankruptcy is one of the biggest money related stressors. Money problems lead to stress of domestic disagreements which if left unchecked could lead to complete breakdown of relationships.
Let us step back and take a look at the root cause here. Once again we realize the cause for money related stress is not the external object but our own attitude, our worldview. It is due to our propensity to buy things we cannot afford, to spend without planning that leads us into stressful situations.
This is a stressor that we can easily overcome through rational and conscious change in habits.
People who are consistently living outside of their means need to take immediate steps to change. They need to lower expenses. The first step is to stop buying things they cannot afford. Start using cash or debit instead of credit. As a starting point they should not charge anything new on existing credit cards and work on getting current credit card debt paid off by repaying more than the minimum amount. In fact they should not get taken in by the carrot of paying minimum amount instead of the entire outstanding amount. The vicious debt cycle on account of principal amount plus accumulated interest will ensure that you never escape the trap once you are caught in its jaws. Having got out of debt, make it a matter of principle that you will not buy anything on credit that you cannot pay for in full at the end of the month.
Having recovered from the debt trap, making a monthly budget to track you daily expenses is a great way to see exactly where the money goes each month. While planning expenses as far as possible cut the luxuries at first. This could be done by dividing your expenses into two categories – that of necessities and that of luxuries. Necessities need to be catered to foremost while luxuries could either be eliminated or left for a later date. Take for example, subscribing to every channel on cable TV whether or not you watch it regularly and even if you do, pause and think what value it is adding to your life, to your knowledge base, to your competencies, seeing a film at a mall over the weekend where the parking fees are double that of a normal weekday and the tickets three times more costly. Look at what you can truly do without, what does not add any tangible value to your life and then make the appropriate adjustments in your budget. In order to live within your income, before you make any major purchase ask yourself if this is a need or a want. We often fall into the trap of buying things like the latest model of the swankiest car only because a face lifted version with cosmetic changes has been introduced, and similar objects which we have no real use for and cannot really afford but bought because they are provided on credit in bite sized installments forgetting that all this is someday going to snowball into a large unaffordable figure.
In order to make this budgeting exercise more palatable why don’t we rechristen the budget as the “happiness balance sheet”? The governing principal of this balance sheet is “Income one dollar, expense fifty cents, life is happiness, income one dollar, expense two dollars, life is stress and strife.”
Why don’t we do a small experiment to create the happiness balance sheet. This will indicate that after meeting all expenses related to necessities how much you have left for so called indulgences or luxuries.
Pull out or revisit the following documents:
Put down your gross monthly income. This is income before taxes and deductions for savings etc.). This could be in the form of salary for the employed, income after deducting business expenses for the self-employed and pension for those who are superannuated. Add to this any other interest and dividend income from investments.
Now refer to the cheque book stubs and credit card statements and list item by item the amount spent monthly on essentials. This could comprise things like mortgage or house rent, property tax, utilities ( gas, electricity, water, telephone, cell phone, internet, cable TV), groceries, essential clothing , essential personal care items, insurances, loan installments, auto gas maintenance and repairs, other transportation costs and child care expenses
Subtract the total of all the expenses in Point 5 from the figure obtained in point 4. The resultant figure is what you would have left for indulgences.
It is not enough to simply create a happiness budget, it is imperative to track actual expenses against such a balance sheet to ensure that you are not going overboard.
At the end of this exercise you may well discover that you cannot afford everything you want and may feel dejected. But there is no need to feel cheated or frustrated. This is where you need to exercise your creativity and explore options of how you can get your indulgences or luxuries less expensively or for free. For example, there is no gold medal being awarded to you for seeing an Oscar winning movie on the first day that it is released at a multiplex. You could wait for its DVD to be released and rent that at a much cheaper rate than what you would pay for parking and a movie ticket. Alternatively you could wait for the movie to be shown on some TV channel to which you anyway subscribe.
Given the fact that the job market is very volatile and there is really no such thing as assured stability it is always wise to keep at-least three to six months’ worth of living expense in a fixed deposit account. If you are lucky enough not to have to draw on it, it will go on earning interest and increasing in size quietly. If in the unfortunate situation of your either losing a job, either due to conditions beyond your control or because you no longer can tolerate the work environment, you will be able to live while you look for a new job without the stress of wondering how you will meet the essential expenses during the period. This in a way gives independence and self-confidence which in itself is a great de-stressor.
It always helps in life to have more than one steady source of income. In case you have a talent like singing, acting, carpentry or painting, try and acquire that level of proficiency in it so that you could convert your hobby or passion into a part time business which supplements your income, helps you take your mind away from other work related stressors and provide a potential alternative profession. The awareness of the possibility of your being able to hold out for three to six months if you are out of job coupled with the realization that even if nobody were to offer you regular work in the field you just left, you have a competency that enables you to earn your livelihood doing something that gives you joy, stability and ensures prosperity. That in itself is a great de-stressor.
In a nutshell, by simplifying life, rationally planning expenditure and only permitting oneself those indulgences that one can legitimately afford one can solve all money stress problems and live an anxiety free life.
If the readers of this article wants to obtain deeper insights into managing work related stress they should read my e-book entitled "Finding a Panacea for Stress-Move from Distress to De-Stress". This has been published by Bookboon Publishing Denmark which is the first book publishing company in the world to focus 100 percent on free eBooks and publishes education related books for business professionals and students.
This book defines stress as the outcome of interactions between a person and a set of external stimuli which are neither good nor bad, neither inducing joy nor creating stress. Joy and stress are caused through the attitude of each person and the manner in which he or she relates to the specific stimulus. The panacea for stress-moving from distress to de-stress, lies in working on the cause for stress. It illustrates how people irrespective of colour, creed, nationality and gender can control emotions, attitudes, thoughts and lifestyle to overcome stress, by understanding its causes, and changes needed in order to acquire the appropriate personality traits. All of these are practical, free and can be carried out as part of life-as-usual.
This can be downloaded completely free via the following link:
Image Credit: Helga Weber
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