Women and Money: Why We Stress, and How to Beat It


Women and StressWhen it comes to stress, apparently there is one gremlin that lurks at the top of everyone’s list: money.

The American Psychological Association just released their 2011 Stress in America survey, and the results are similar to last year’s (which we covered here): First, women are more stressed than men. Second, the number one source of stress is money. Followed by work, and then the economy (so it’s a good thing LearnVest is here to talk about all three).

75% of respondents in the survey said that money is a stressor in their lives. While sobering, we can’t say we were surprised by this.

Well, to these stats, we say, “Pshaw.” We have plenty to stress about, yes. We are working; caring for partners, family and friends; and trying to look cute and balance our budgets while doing it. But it doesn’t mean we have to live these statistics as our truth. It doesn’t mean that starting today, we can’t make concrete changes—or even tweaks—that will ease the stress in our lives.

We sat down with three different psychologists (including one who ran the study) and got their fresh, for-LearnVest-readers-only advice on what’s causing all the stress—financial and otherwise—and how to deal with it.

Why Are Women More Stressed?

According to the APA study, historically women report higher levels of stress than men, and this year is no exception. On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is little/no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress, men reported a stress level of 4.8 whereas women reported a stress level of 5.4. But more disturbingly, many more women than men reported a dangerously high level of stress (from 8-10), 27% compared to 16%.

“It’s a national trend that women are more stressed than men,” says Dr. Norman B. Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “One hypothesis is that women are exposed to more stressful situations than men; they not only have their own working lives, but also tend to take on more responsibilities in the home. The other theory is that women are more comfortable with reporting higher levels of stress.”

Dr. Helen Coons, president and clinical director of Women’s Mental Health Associates, doesn’t think it’s just the self-reporting phenomenon. “It’s the socioeconomic and relational context of women’s lives here in America. A high percentage of women have dependent children, work outside the home, and then come home to a second shift, often with inadequate support. We still see gender inequity. Women earn less, and if they’re employed part-time, they’re less likely to have health benefits and financial resources.”

In other words, we’re more stressed because we actually do have it tougher.

Do Women Have It Tougher When It Comes to Money?

“Women have been disenfranchised,” adds Dr. Kate Levinson, psychotherapist and author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money.” “Society doesn’t empower us. We’ve been acculturated to stay dumb about money–legally, and culturally for generations. It is so new for women to have so much access to and control over money.”

But we can’t “stay dumb” about money, insists Dr. Levinson. “It limits our options in the world, not to mention feelings of self-worth and competency.”

Which, we would venture to say, has something to do with that stress we all say we’re feeling.

By the way, if you’re not convinced you should care about stress, research has long confirmed that there is a strong link between stress and poor health.

What Can Women Do About Their Stress?

The experts we spoke with offer up advice on how to deal with stress (while most are directed at handling financial stress, they’re applicable to managing stress in general):

1. Know Your Signs

Before you can manage your stress, you need to know what your cues for stress are, says Dr. Coons. Do you get irritable or anxious? Nervous or agitated? Overly tired? Stomachaches and headaches? Not enough sleep? Do you withdraw, cancel on plans and fail to reach out to friends?

Maybe you’ve been living under stress for so long that you’ve even come to tolerate these symptoms as part of your life. In this case, “Ask what is important to you, and whether you’re living in a way that’s working for you,” says Dr. Coons. Find out whether you’re too busy; check out these 13 signs that you need to slow down.

2. Put on Your Oxygen Mask First!

If you are noticing signs of stress, you must first and foremost take care of yourself as the top priority. “As they say on an airplane,” says Dr. Coons, “put on your oxygen mask first before you help others. Women think it’s selfish, but it’s not selfish. It’s self-respectable. It will make you more effective at dealing with responsibilities at work and home.”

Take mini breaks, go for a walk. Stop and sit in the sun for a while. Make sure you keep that lunch date. Instead of running two more errands, stop and browse your favorite antique shop or head home early for a bath. Force yourself to take care of yourself. As women, this is sometimes the hardest lesson for us to learn.

3. Face the Situation

Once you’ve replenished your reserves, it’s time to take stock of your situation. When it comes to your finances (or relationship issue, or other crisis), it’s important to take an account of what your current picture looks like, and educate yourself on what the options are. “Being ignorant or sticking our heads in the sand only makes matters worse,” says Dr. Levinson. “We can’t afford to be ignorant about our finances. Engage with the real situation.”

Maybe you feel bad about your debt, and that leads to inaction. Instead, put denial aside and shed honest light on the issue. If it’s too hard to do this alone, reach out for help. Consult a friend or family member who’s an expert, or check out LearnVest’s new Financial Plans, with Certified Financial Planners® on the other end who will gently guide you through what’s holding you back.

4. Start Talking and Building a Village

One of Dr. Coons’ favorite adages is, “It takes a village to raise a child.” (You could certainly apply the phrase to other goals as well). A sure way to lower stress is to get others in on your problem. “Women can have a tough time asking for help,” says Coons.

When it comes to finances, Dr. Levinson agrees: “It’s important to talk with others, to not let the shame of the situation or the self-criticism stop you from getting support. Talking with others not only helps us to problem-solve, but also to feel not so alone and isolated in handling the situation. That’s huge. To go through this problem with other people absolutely brings a better outcome.”

Get your partner involved, a friend or a money buddy. And never forget: We at LearnVest are here for you. Head to our LearnVest Facebook page daily to share thoughts with other community members, or post anonymously and trade advice on our forum, LV Discussions. Basically, just don’t go it alone. 

5. Tap Into Your Feelings

If money is about numbers, and we know what we need to be doing, why is it so stressful? Why does it make us cry, do crazy things and keep us up at night? (And it’s not just about how much you have; the wealthy also feel stressed.)

Ease Up

Have you found a way to lessen your financial stress? Pass on the wisdom in LV Discussions.


“Money is not just numbers on a page,” says Dr. Levinson. “We’re taught that we’re just supposed to be rational about money when in fact our feelings and experiences greatly influence how we relate to money. Women have lots of feelings about money that they’ve been taught to push aside. We’re further impaired when we push our feelings aside.”

“Our relationship to money is more complex than just about any other psychological aspect of our lives,” says Dr. Levinson. “You need to understand where your feelings about it come from. Include your feelings in any of the financial equations or solutions that you come up with.”

Try taking our Money Belief Quiz and see if that sheds some light.

6. Get Physical

The study reports: “Though exercise does rank among one of the top choices for managing stress, a great many Americans continue to choose more sedentary activities to wind down,” such as listening to music, reading or napping (and let’s be real, watching TV must be on the top of everyone’s list, but no one was admitting it).

“Exercise is one of the top methods for managing stress because it affects the mind and the body,” says Dr. Anderson. Take a walk or get some exercise—and if you combine doing this with a buddy, you can get physical, mental and emotional rejuvenation. That sounds like a triple threat of stress reduction.

7. Assess How Your Time Is Spent

Finally, we are stressed because we lack time. Because of our responsibilities at work and home, and our tendency to take on the burdens of those around us, women need to be more aggressive and proactive about how we manage our schedules so that stress reduction time is built in, and is as fiercely protected as a kid’s soccer game or a work meeting.

Lack of time was a top reason cited in the study for why people couldn’t make healthy lifestyle changes. “When we ask them what are the barriers to change, they say lack of time,” says Dr. Anderson.  “This suggests improvements in managing their time can lead to improvements in their stated goals of improving their health.”

Check out these tips on how to better manage your time, and learn how to prioritize so this precious asset is invested in the things that are really important to you.

More From LearnVest

Stop comparing yourself to others. Learn how to beat money comparisonitis.
Don’t fall prey to post-holiday sales. Find out how to master your willpower.
Happiness doesn’t have to come with a price tag. Learn to appreciate the good things in life that are free.

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  • http://smartasset.com/ SmartAssetTeam

    The whole issue of balancing the rational aspect of personal finance with the emotional is very interesting to me, and I like the way it was dealt with in this post.  Managing your money can’t be purely rational, as much as you might wish it could be. Pushing your feelings aside also won’t get you very far; it won’t be long before they come back at you with a vengeance. So coming to understand why you feel the way you do becomes the proactive option, and the biggest step you can takes towards a life with less financial stress.  

  • fl

    As a woman, I feel a lot of stress over money.  I chose to go into a field that doesn’t make much money when I was in college, and now I work for the government for a modest paycheck.  I would love to own a home and have financial security, but I feel that the only way I can be secure is to get married.  I feel a lot of stress to succeed because I don’t know if I ever will get married.

  • CRbirdie

    Yeah, not very helpful.  When you’ve got bills stacking up, milk is nearly $5 for 1/2 gallon, it costs nearly $70 a week just to commute to work, you quickly wipe out any measly savings you manage to accrue, your husband isn’t working much because the company slowed down a bit, and you get word there’s going to be some job loss at your company (and never mind it’s been 4 years since you’ve had a raise)…… yeah, explain to me how you’re NOT supposed to feel stressed.  I d*mn near hyperventilated the last time I went to the grocery store when I saw how radically prices had spiked just over a month. 
    So #1) Know the signs: I break out in hives and feel anxiety wash over me whenever I sit down to pay the bills.  Check!  Definitely have money anxiety. #2)Take a time out: Sorry, I still have to reconcile the pile of bills and low balance in the checking account when I get home.  And no, window shopping doesn’t help….. it just leaves you more depressed about your dire circumstances.  #3) Face the situation: Yup, I look at the bills and here come the hives!  It’s not like I can exactly NOT pay the car note!  #4) Start talking: Doesn’t change the fact that I’m still broke.  Now I’ve just spent a hour beating my head over factors completely outside of my control which leaves me with less time to do more important things #5) Tap into feelings: Yup, I itch (hives again) and I’m sick and tired of living like this.  This wasn’t the American Dream I signed up for when I graduated from college.  #6) Get Physical: Only temporary relief.  You still freak out (and start itching) when you get home and see the new bills that have arrived  #7) Reassess time spent:  I stress because I lack time?  No dear.  I stress because I lack income.  I stress because my husband and I are unable to make more money.  He works 3 jobs (only so many hours in a day and days in a week!) and I’m on salary and can’t make overtime.  And stupid stupid me….  I have a science background and have worked in biomedical research for the past 10 years and I live in a red state [science... we don't believe in no d*mn science!] where the only industry that’s valued is oil & gas.  Sort of limits the job prospects….
    So, when you can tell me how to deal with these problems in a meaningful way and not offer a bubble bath as a solution, then we can sit down and talk.  Otherwise, with this country’s current economic climate, articles such as this are completely useless.

  • Krahulec

    I disagree with the comment that women are finanically remaining or were ever “dumb”.  There is a huge difference between being in denial/refusing to work on the issue and being actively involved in your financial well being.  There are tons of workshops, online investment tools, books for women on finances and even whole talk shows about it.  I completely understand what these women are saying but to say that women didn’t have the tools is just wrong.  I was raised by a mother who not only encouraged me to learn about how money works but joined several clubs/classes on business in finance.  Young women have DECA, Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement and other programs that were not available in the 50′s and 60s when women were trailblazing the right to work and not be harassed in the workplace.  It can be stressful just living day to day.  Adding finances on top of that can add even more pressure.  But to sit there and say “take a bath” and that will make it better is a bit concending on their part.  How about joining a networking group?  Or financial planning club?  Checking out the local small business chambers and community colleges to see what free or lowest cost seminars are available.