Nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”
- Thomas Jefferson
ecord high personal debt coupled with choppy markets can significantly increase stress. Managing your money doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking. We asked the experts to reflect on how remaining calm, cool and collected can have a positive impact on your investments. Cindy Crean, Managing Director of Private Client at Sun Life Global Investments, sits down with Dr. Marie-Hélène Pelletier is Assistant Vice-President, Workplace Mental Health, at Sun Life Financial.
Cindy Crean: I’ve helped many clients over the years untangle their emotions from their investments. I remember one client who was particularly anxious. She was so afraid to invest that she left most of her money sitting in a savings account. Once I showed her the impact this was having on her retirement plan and some appropriate investment solutions 1, she was ready to take action. I was able to show the client how fear impacted her long-term financial goals. This situation is far from unique! There is a very real connection between financial stress and mental and physical health.
Dr. Marie-Hélène Pelletier: It’s true that how we feel about our finances can have an impact on our wellness. According to our most recent Canadian Health Index, Canadians said that their top three drivers of stress are related to finances and 42% of Canadians rank “money” as their number one stressor. More importantly, we know that financial health is interconnected with mental and physical health, with poor financial health at times correlating with mental health challenges and physical pain †. With this integrated understanding, we have the opportunity to positively impact all aspects of our health when improving our financial health.
CC: What are the key causes of financial stress?
MP: Financial stress can come from a variety of sources: insufficient income or precarious work and the challenges of day-to-day budgeting, debt – Canadians are among some of the most indebted in the world ‡ – or a major life event such as an illness or divorce that can throw off any financial plan. It may also simply come from the perception one has of his or her own financial situation.
CC: How does financial stress affect overall health?
MP: Research points to a material link between financial stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety – we saw in the 2008 financial crisis that as housing prices crashed, the use of antidepressants spiked *. Financial stress has also been linked to physical health conditions, such as higher blood pressure and back pain **.
CC: What do you believe is a key solution available to help reduce the impact of financial stress?
We need to understand that it’s normal human behaviour to avoid things that make us stressed. Once we acknowledge this, we can look for ways to fight this tendency. When it comes to finances, many Canadians feel they don’t have the knowledge to take charge. People need to empower themselves with information and take advantage of all the financial literacy tools and resources that are available.
MP: Financial literacy is a key building block – a national survey by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada found that 60% of Canadians rate their financial knowledge as either “fair” or “poor.” Respondents scored an average of 62% on a battery of questions designed to test basic financial knowledge and skills. There is clear opportunity for change. Research indicates that training must move beyond just facts to application – so that people are equipped to take action – otherwise financial literacy training can fall flat.
CC: People don’t have to go through financial stress situations alone. Having someone as a guide to help review your finances, make decisions and create a long-term plan has many benefits. A good way to start is to take a look at the resources available to you. Do you or your spouse have access to workplace savings or retirement programs? Do you have access to an Employer Assistance Program or financial counselling services at work? Have you ever met with a financial advisor? An advisor can help you create a financial plan tailored to your family’s specific circumstances.
MP: Just like physical health, there’s a human element at play. Knowledge, opportunity and advice do not ensure good financial decisions or behaviours – but they can help lead to better choices aligned with an individual’s values. And, like starting a new nutrition plan or staying on an exercise program, lasting behaviour is the great challenge with financial health. That said, it is within your control and comes with broad health benefits. It’s worth investing in creating the healthy financial habits that will work for you.
CC: Thanks very much for your time, today Marie-Hélène. It’s good to know that investors can be in driver’s seat when it comes to financial, physical and mental wellbeing.
1 Cindy Crean is not registered to provide investment advice.
† The high price of debt: Household financial debt and its impact on mental and physical health Elizabeth Sweet, Arijit Nandi b, Emma K. Adam c,d, Thomas W. McDade d,e Social Science & Medicine 91 (2013).
‡ Office of the parliamentary budget officer, National Post, January 2016.
* Financial distress and use of mental health care: Evidence from antidepressant prescription claims Haizhen Lina, Jonathan D. Ketchamb, James N. Rosenquist, Kosali I. Simond, Economics Letters 121 (2013) 449–453.
** Over-indebtedness and its association with the prevalence of back pain, Elke B Ochsmann, Heiko Rueger, Stephan Letzel, Hans Drexler and Eva Muenster, BMC Public Health 2009, 9:451.