Combating Stress

How Much Would You Pay to Combat Your Stress?

Melissa Leong | March 11, 2014 4:39 PM ET
More from Melissa Leong | @lisleong

According to a 2006 study for the Fraser Institute, people spent an average of $365 on massage therapy, up from $211 in 1997 — and almost 60% of the cost was covered by insurance.

Knowing that stress comes with nasty health consequences such as heart disease and stroke, it makes sense for us to spend money to fight it.

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But as our stress levels soar, many of us are reluctant to “treat” ourselves. Even when our company health insurance helps cover the costs, the vast majority don’t fully utilize those benefits.

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Great-West Life Assurance Company reports that even the most basic of stress reduction techniques, massage therapy, is only claimed by 27% of its plan members. In 2001, only 10% took advantage of the benefit.

The use of other paramedical benefits such as physiotherapy and psychology services are used by a still smaller percentage of those eligible. Only 4% of members made claims for psychological services in 2011, compared to 2% in 2001.

Thirty-five percent of respondents to a 2011 Sanofi Aventis Canada Healthcare survey said that workplace stress had been so overwhelming that they’d been physically ill in the last 12 months.

“Stress is a reality for most of us and to think that you don’t need to do things to manage it would be a little irresponsible,” Jasmine Baker, president of For The Love of Food, an event planning business based in Toronto. She works out more than four times a week and once a month sees a massage therapist ($100) and visits a spa ($250). “These are things that allow me to physically keep doing what I love. For me, it’s the cost of doing business.”

Nearly one-quarter of all Canadians (23.5%) aged 15 and older reported most days were “extremely or quite a bit stressful,” according to a 2010 Statistics Canada report. Stress rates were highest for 35- to 54-year-olds.

Yet, a number of Canadians don’t even use their allotted vacation time to unwind. Twenty-seven percent of Canadians in 2013 were carrying over unused vacation from the previous year, an Expedia.ca survey said.

So take time off. Save money throughout the year to fund a relaxing getaway. “Getting away from it all helps to put things in perspective,” says Kelsey Matheson, a Toronto resident and one of the owners of the Anamaya Resort in Costa Rica, which ranges from $795 to $1,895 for a week-long retreat.

Or visit a wellness centre specifically for stress. The Gaia Clinic in Canmore, for example, features a restorative health week which ranges from $3,500 to $5,000. The program includes services such as psychological work, stress testing, brain testing, nature walks, meditation, yoga and massage therapy.

“If I hadn’t it done the investment, what would have been the other option?” says Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford who attended the clinic last year to curb stress. “It would’ve been to carry on struggling, carry on diminishing my health and had even more serious consequences in health and lost career time down the road.”

These are things that allow me to physically keep doing what I love. For me, it’s the cost of doing business

At the least, use your work benefits, including any spending accounts that your company might have for health-related expenses, that’s what they are there for. More than 23 million Canadians have supplementary health coverage for things such as massage and psychological services, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says. (The association says stress and mental-health related problems represent 40% to 50% of short-term disability claims in some of Canada’s largest corporations.)

According to a 2006 study for the Fraser Institute, people spent an average of $365 on massage therapy, up from $211 in 1997 — and almost 60% of the cost was covered by insurance.

Some benefit plans require that you have a doctor’s note for services to be covered. Be mindful that if you ask your doctor for a recommendation to see a psychologist for stress, for example, this could affect your future applications for long-term disability coverage. In their underwriting process, an insurance company could choose to exclude coverage for stress leave.

“If somebody has a boyfriend with a break-up or a parent died or they went through a job change, these are very stressful situations and people often can cope with it themselves or they need some help. If it was a time-bound situation, there should be no problem getting disability insurance without an exclusion,” says Mark Halpern, a certified financial planner with illnessprotection.com who sells insurance.

Meanwhile, some people find spending money stressful and indeed, financial issues are one of the top stressors in people’s lives. In this case, opt for free relief: go for regular walks at lunch, take up meditating and interact more with your social circle.

Another option would be to rejig your budget to cut back on some expenses to make room for more stress-relieving expenses, especially if the stress is having an adverse affect on your health.

Jennifer Podemski says that any extra money she has is going to her well-being.

The 41-year-old Toronto resident was producing a television show and a movie while racing to finish by 4 p.m. to pick up her two and three-year-old from daycare when her stress caught up to her and manifested into a health condition.

One morning in November, she woke up and her legs felt as if they were filled with cement and being pricked by needles. To help de-stress, in December, she purchased a $2,000 infrared sauna for her home.

“These are the kinds of investments that I’m making for my health and my sanity so I’m a better mom, a better entrepreneur, a better person, a better wife.”

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