Photo by Prakhar Amba; accessed through Wikimedia Commons

Last week, we looked at the emotions that create the perfect storm to render us defenseless against bad financial habits.

This week, we look at a range of strategies that we might use when we are stressed, distracted, and tempted to stray from our healthy money goals.

There are many activities that we tend to think of as “coping strategies.”  However, it turns out that not all of them help us feel better, shut down the brain’s stress response, and build up our supply of impulse control.

First, let’s look at three strategies that do NOT really work:

  1. Shopping.  This one is obvious.  If we turn to shopping as relief from our financial stress, it will actually get us into more financial trouble!
  2. Overeating, drinking, smoking, or gambling.  When we are under stress, these activities often become very appealing to us, and the brain is tricked into believing that they will make us happy and fulfilled.  Unfortunately, these activities do NOT help calm the nervous system, reduce stress hormones in the bloodstream, or promote the healing relaxation response.  Most of the time, they just make us crave these bad habits even more.
  3. Watching television.  Many of us believe we are “relaxing” when we kick back and watch TV.  However, television-viewing is actually known to be physiologically activating, and it does not bring our nervous system into a state of greater calm.

Now, let’s look at three strategies that are more effective:

  1. Engaging in slow, deep, even breathing for five to ten minutes.  Deep breathing allows you to reduce your overall level of tension.  Then, when your body is calmer, your mind has more “space” to be able to think through challenging situations and design a healthy response.
  2. Exercising.  Physical activity reduces stress and anxiety, improves your self-confidence, and strengthens your concentration.  It also boosts mood-enhancing brain chemicals.  Who could ask for a better strategy to help resist temptation?
  3. Spending time with friends or family.  The people around us can often help distract us in a positive way, help us recover from stress, and prompt us to keep the “big picture” in mind.  They might even provide some much-needed encouragement when we need it most!

How can you use healthy strategies when you are tempted to stray from a money goal?