How Can I Manage the Stress of Living Paycheck to Paycheck?

Reader’s Question

How do I know if my stress is becoming a serious problem? I grew up in a very stressful home environment where all I remember is yelling and arguments between my mom and my step-dad. I am now 27 years old, and for the past 10+ years I have been on and off of pretty much every “depression/anxiety” medication made.

I experience stress on a daily basis, but most of my stress has to do with money. From the time I wake up until I go to bed, I think about money and past-due bills. I’m always thinking about how behind I am on my payments. I live paycheck to paycheck. Yet, when I get paid I seem to think I’ve got endless amounts of money and I get almost a high from just spending on whatever. If there’s any money in my account I spend it to the last penny! And then the cycle continues of being broke, wondering how I’m going to put gas in my car, or how I’m going to have food, or how I’m going to pay rent. That’s when my anxiety starts. The day I get paid it goes away. The day I start spending, it comes back and I obsess about things.

It’s getting to the point where I have a hard time concentrating at work, can’t sleep at night, and the stress affects my relationships. I feel like it’s such a simple answer — manage my money better — but I just don’t know how. I have a very hard time concentrating at any time of the day and always seem to have a lot of things floating around in my head. It’s like a television that just won’t shut off in my head. I find myself depending more and more on sleeping pills and alcohol at night, and caffeine during the day. I know you have a lot of people writing in, but please help me or refer me to someone who can. I want to start feeling more in control of my life and my destiny and just don’t know how.

Psychologist’s Reply

As you have already discovered, mere dependence upon chemicals is not only not the long-term answer to your problems but also a way of “enabling” them to continue unabated. It appears you could benefit from two types of counseling. First, you can solicit the advice of a reputable financial consultant who can help you consolidate your debt if necessary and learn how to construct a budget and better manage your finances. Second, you can seek the counsel of a mental health professional not only to learn more effective long-term ways to manage your anxiety and stress but also to increase your awareness of any emotional or mood-related underlying issues that contribute to your problems.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched
(Please read our important explanation below.)

Right now, you seem to be caught in an all-too-familiar vicious cycle with respect to anxiety. Your level of anxiety builds to a point where you feel you must release it. When you get paid, you throw caution to the wind, releasing all anxiety momentarily, only to face even more anxiety once the reality of your situation sets in. In the process, you’ve failed to learn how to manage your anxiety constructively. And anxiety management can be a great first step in learning other important self-management skills as well. So, it’s probably a good idea to seek a counselor who specializes in self-management and life-skills development training.

One important first step you can take even before engaging in financial or mental health counseling is to re-define the “locus of control” fostering your dilemma. Ultimately, we tend to place the source of control of things in our lives either externally or internally. When we view the locus of control as external, we make ourselves very vulnerable to our circumstances and often feel powerless and out of control. Right now, your unpaid bills and even your paycheck are external stimuli to which you have afforded far too much power and influence. By increasing your awareness of the power of choice you have you make the source of control more internal. Persons with a high sense of internal locus of control are less vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and depression when difficult circumstances present themselves.

So, stop thinking so much about your bills and even about your paycheck. Everyone can live on a budget. Turn your attention to your power to choose and set your sights on better self-management. Use the support resources at your disposal and commit yourself to developing the skills of self-management that will not only help you manage your finances better but also will enable you to reduce your levels of stress and anxiety and increase your sense of self-efficacy.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2021.