As consumer debt continues to rise, so too can the negative impacts of debt on your physical and mental health including high blood pressure1, anxiety and depression2, and higher incidences of divorce3.

Physical, mental, and financial health are a closely connected network with each pillar having a direct impact on the other. Poor health can affect our ability to work and earn a living, and can strain our finances. Similarly, dealing with serious financial problems stresses our physical health and emotional well-being.

Over the past few decades, an increasing number of Canadian employers and insurers have been providing mental and physical health support to employees through group benefits packages and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Today, many of these packages include financial planning services and financial literacy tools.

“Employers and insurers are recognizing that these three aspects need to work together in order to have employees who are productive and engaged at work,” says Joan Weir, Director of Health and Disability Policy at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA). “Financial issues can be brought into the workplace through stress, lost productivity, and absenteeism. Employers are more aware today that they have a responsibility towards their employees’ financial wellness, as well as their physical and mental wellness.”

“As a leading provider of life and health insurance, we understand the impact mental health issues in the workplace can have on overall well-being,” says Jeff Macoun, President and Chief Operating Officer, Canada at Great-West Life. “The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace was created to provide Canadians with free health and wellness resources, including strategies and tools for improving psychological health and safety in the workplace.”

The key to keeping all three health and wellness pillars strong is planning — whether you’re just starting in the workforce, a salaried employee receiving workplace benefits, a new entrepreneur, or close to retirement. Here are three important steps you can take towards planning for your physical, mental, and financial health needs.

1. Set targeted goals

Getting physically fit, managing stress, or growing your money all starts with setting targeted goals — achievements that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. “Targeted goals will set you up for more success and give you more focus in achieving your goals,” says Mandy King, a holistic nutritionist, fitness advocate, and corporate wellness consultant. “If a goal isn’t specific or measurable, you won’t be able to know if you’ve achieved it, and if it’s not actually achievable or realistic, it can be demotivating,” she says.

Former Canadian Football League linebacker and Canadian Men’s Health Foundation champion, Shea Emry, agrees, adding that it’s important to start with small steps: “A lot of people try to jump in by saying they’re going to go on a strict diet, drink only juice, and do yoga seven days a week, but that’s not realistic,” he says. “It’s better to make the decision to do something small today and just commit to that one activity seven days a week.”

Targeted goals are equally important in financial planning. “A big part of the planning process is focusing on the achievable,” says Greg Glista, an Oakville-based financial advisor. “When I sit down with a client whose goal is retirement, we look at projections so they can choose a path to their goal that is realistic and achievable. We also visit the plan regularly, and course correct as necessary so they know what it takes to become comfortably retired and, more importantly, to stay comfortably retired.”

2. Develop good habits

You’re more likely to achieve your goals by developing good health habits and sticking to them, regardless of how a situation might change. Meditation, relaxation, and getting enough sleep are good mental health habits that have a lasting effect in the long run, as are proper eating and exercise. “When you’re not mentally healthy because you haven’t exercised or eaten properly you’re in this constant cycle of hesitation, indecision, and procrastination,” says Emry. “When you cultivate healthy lifestyle habits, you eliminate that question mark, make decisions faster, and handle those daily stresses much better.”

In our financial lives, good habits — like tracking our income and expenses, spending less than we earn, and saving regularly — are not only essential for reaching our financial goals, they also help reduce mental stress. “There are simple things people can do through good habits and self-discipline, like setting up an RESP for $50 a month for their kids,” says Glista. “Once people get into that habit, it’s amazing how much of the pressure comes off their shoulders.”

3. Prepare for the unexpected

Life doesn’t always go as planned. The loss of a job, a large, unforeseen expense, the death of a family member, or a serious illness can take a toll on all aspects of our health and well-being. Having a contingency plan helps to ease the potential burden on our finances should disaster strike. One element of that plan is a robust emergency fund to cover your basic expenses should you lose your job or need to pay for an unexpected expense like a costly home repair or the purchase of a new car. Another key element is health insurance.

There are two main types of health insurance — short-term critical illness insurance and long-term disability insurance. Critical illness insurance pays a tax-free lump-sum payment if the policyholder is diagnosed with an illness covered by that policy. “It gives people the confidence of knowing that their financial plan isn’t demolished if they have a health hiccup and end up on the sofa recuperating for four months,” says Glista. Long-term disability insurance provides a tax-free monthly income should a person be unable to work as a result of a serious illness or injury. “Everybody should make sure they’ve applied for the maximum long-term disability benefit that their plan will allow.”

In addition, “A relatively inexpensive term life insurance policy is paramount to reduce stress for you and your family,” says Glista. Many employers offer automatic coverage with additional optional coverage through their group benefits plan. If this is not available to you, you may want to consider additional personal coverage.

It begins with a single step

Setting targeted goals, developing good habits, and planning for the unexpected to take care of our physical, mental, and financial health are all wise investments of our time. Sometimes the greatest challenge is getting started, especially for people with financial problems, but as Glista notes: “We see that as soon as people take a step towards creating a plan, the energy and empowerment of that makes them feel like they’re taking control, and I think that resonates back to their mental and physical health.”