Money and your mental well-being

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29 May Money and your mental well-being

Whether we like it or not, money plays a crucial role in our psychological well-being. Research has established strong links between money and mental well-being. The reality is, most of us experience money worries. Regardless of whether we have a lot of money or a little, we worry about the future. We often worry about the present. And sometimes, we worry about the past. But what happens when money worries escalate so much that they start impacting your health?

In a study, researchers scanned the brains of people as they played games for money. They found that the images were identical to the brain scan of someone who is high on cocaine. Just as food provides motivation for dogs, money provides it for people. But money is much more powerful than a motivator. Research in the journal Psychological Science found a direct link between money and physical pain. In other words, it hurts physically to be financially insecure. According to Dr Nathan Wei, an expert in pain management, chronic money stress often leads to lower back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain.

While mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are clinical conditions caused by a chemical imbalance in the body, external factors play a crucial part. Financial challenges, such as money worries, unemployment and abundant debt can attack a person’s self-worth and lead to depression. And as we know, stress and other physical pain can be compounded when high levels of stress continue for prolonged periods of time.

Financial worries also impair our mental cognition. A study by researchers Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir and others measured farmers’ mental function a month before their harvests (when they were short of money) and then again, a month after (when they felt flush). As Mullainathan details in The New York Times, the same farmers performed worse before the harvest, when they had less money, than afterwards, when they had more. And not just a little worse; their I.Q. before the harvest was 9-10 points lower. An entire night without sleep has the same detrimental effect.

All this goes to show the link between money and mental well-being. And why we should never allow money worries to compound. It’s often best to speak to someone about it. According to award-winning BBC Radio 4 presenter and Psychology lecturer Claudia Hammond, a better understanding of our relationship with money can help us grasp how it affects our thinking and behaviour.