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Here's how millennials can get a handle on their financial anxiety

Janet Alvarez, special to CNBC
Key Points
  • 78% of millennials feel pressure between planning for present and future financial responsibilities
  • Many employers don't provide such benefits for employees who don't work full-time or have sufficient tenure on the job
  • Practicing some essential self-care and learning more about your finances can help you get there
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Getting a handle on your finanical aniexty

What's millennial financial anxiety?

For the millennial generation, financial anxiety might be more than a state of mind: Research from Northwestern Mutual shows that 78% of millennials feel pressure between planning for present and future financial responsibilities. And more than a quarter, an estimated 28%, are feeling so much financial anxiety that it impacts their work.

If money concerns keep you up at night, make your heart race or lead you to poor money decisions— such as spending sprees, or the opposite, counting every penny — financial anxiety is the likely culprit. And it's no wonder: From burgeoning student loan balances to the rise of the gig economy and weaker benefits, millennials are experiencing some financial challenges at a higher rate than other generations.

Lingering effects of the Great Recession

Insights from the Pew Research Center show that millennials head the greatest percentage of households in poverty of any generational group. That's due to several important factors, the most important being that many millennials came of age during the Great Recession. Jobs were scarce, many took out hefty student loans for college and the overall financial picture for most Americans was bleak. Even worse, many millennials have yet to catch up: They have lower home ownership rates than previous generations did at their age and, in some cases, their savings and retirement balances are also lower.

In fact, a study for the National Institute on Retirement Security shows that 66% of millennials aren't saving enough for retirement, in some cases because many employers don't provide such benefits for employees who don't work full-time or have sufficient tenure on the job.

Stressed and frustrated businesswoman working on laptop till late at work
d3sign | Moment | Getty Images

Many millennials are facing the stark reality that jobs are different today than they were even 10 years ago. Fewer benefits, the rise of the gig economy, the devaluation of college degrees and an altogether weaker social safety net mean that millennials continue to face more financial pressure than previous generations did.

And student loan debt — now topping a whopping $1.4 trillion — is a challenge that the millennial generation faces most acutely. Not only are student loan balances growing, but so are default rates, creating more sources of stress for young people.

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How to deal

So, what do experts recommend to help millennials deal?

First, pay attention when you experience financial anxiety — and to what your body is telling you. Next, use those cues to help you hone in on practical solutions for your stress.

Do you lose sleep when your student loans or credit card bills are due? Maybe it's time to set these on autopay, or to create a budget calendar that ensures you'll have enough in your bank account at this critical time of the month.

Do your hands get clammy when you make a purchase, or do you feel so overwhelmed when you think about your debt that you choose to ignore it, instead? That's when it's time to start being honest with yourself about your financial reality — starting with an assessment of what you can afford, and what steps you'll need to take in order to get on track.

The essentials of good money management — creating a budget, automating payments, shifting your money mindset toward smarter financial choices — can help alleviate most cases of financial anxiety.

But if financial anxiety is really making your life miserable, then it's time to get help. Some anxiety (and financial difficulty) is so significant as to warrant help from others. Let your trusted friends and family know that you need support.

Focus your social media use on those in your network who also practice good money habits — and not the lavish spenders, who may be up to their eyeballs in debt. Most importantly, consult a financial professional to help you create a plan, and get a hold on your money stress.

Your college's financial aid office, student loan servicers. a friend or parent's financial advisor, or free credit counseling services can all offer free or low-cost financial counseling to get you on track.

You can survive your financial difficulties and build a prosperous future free of money worries. Practicing some essential self-care and learning more about your finances can help you get there.

CHECK OUT: 3 mental shifts that cn help you save money for a home via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.