by Ikenna Okoro
As we celebrate the month of May and Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s talk about how health and wealth are connected and why it’s important to take care of both.
Over 10 years ago, after the financial crisis of 2008, the American Psychological Association found that almost half of all Americans were suffering from moderate to high levels of stress. Unshockingly, the number one reason cited for this stress was money. Now, fast forward to the present day. Worries about money, job stability, and the economy are still at the top of everyone’s minds as we try our best to recover from the aftermath of the pandemic. Folks are stressed more than ever, and that can have adverse effects on their mental and physical health.
Have you ever heard the phrase, stress can kill? If so, have you ever wondered how? Chronic stress can affect you in many ways, but to explain what it can look like, let’s start with the story of John Henry.
During the late 1800s, a Black man named John Henry became famous for his impressive strength and endurance while working on railroads and tunnels in the Ohio River Valley. Due to his abilities, he was known as a “steel-driving man,” one of the most physically demanding roles on the railroad.
In the early 1870s, when the mechanical drill became more popular for companies to use, steel-driving men became obsolete. In an effort to protect his livelihood, however, Henry participated in an intense competition against a mechanical steam drill. Although the contest was close, Henry, who swung a nine-pound hammer, managed to win the race in the final moments.
However, seconds after the competition ended, he dropped dead from complete physical and mental exhaustion, having worked himself to death.
Although his case was extreme, John Henry’s story represents a tale that is all too familiar, especially within the Black community. The pressure that is often put on individuals to provide for themselves or others can become immense, causing neglect of health and well-being in order to fulfill financial needs.
How does stress kill?
When stress becomes too much for our body to handle, hormones are released that increase blood pressure, elevate heart rate, increase blood sugar levels, and depress our immune system—making it easier to get sick. These effects ultimately lead to a higher risk for physical illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, but also mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
So, if stress can kill, and financial worries are the biggest stressors that people have, it is equally important for individuals to take care of their health as it is to take care of their wealth.
Here are a couple of ways to take care of both:
Talk to a financial expert. Whether it is a financial advisor, a banker, or a local organization, it is important to seek guidance in your financial journey. Organizations such as the Phe’be Foundation offer free personal finance resources and education. Check out our website for more information (https://www.phebefoundation.org/).
Prioritize personal time and make it a habit. Whether it’s taking a stroll, exercising, taking a break from work, or indulging in self-care practices like getting a massage, carve out time for yourself to decompress from undue stress.
Keep your mind on your money, but your money off your mind. Write things down. Bills, needs, and other expenses can take up a lot of mental space, creating unwanted anxiety and stress. To alleviate these feelings and help you remember important dates like credit card payments, write down these items in a journal (physical or virtual), utilize a calendar for reminders, or use budgeting apps like Mint to keep track of expenses.
Build a supportive social network (professional or nonprofessional). The people you surround yourself with can significantly impact your approach to situations and how you interpret them. It’s important to have people who can tell you when you’re overworking yourself.
Schedule regular physical health check-ups, at least once a year. Being proactive and aware of your body’s condition is far better than being reactive when it’s too late.
So the next time you hear someone say you should take some time for yourself, or the next time you think about skipping that doctor’s appointment, re-evaluate your behaviors and ask yourself: What are you doing to best take care of your health, and what can you do to improve it? Finding a balance between your mental, physical, and financial health is key.
PS – Did you know Cleveland will have its own Wealth Wellness Weekend this summer? Mark your calendars for July 21-23! Visit www.phebefoundation.org or follow @thephebefoundation on Instagram to stay up to date!
Ikenna Okoro is a Cleveland native and advisory board member of the Phe’be Foundation. He also serves as the Chair of the Phe’be Foundation’s “Boys to Men with Money” committee, a body dedicated to fighting financial illiteracy for men of all ages.