Let's face it -- life can stress you out. Whether it's politics, work, school or family, there's going to be something going on that raises your blood pressure and cortisol levels. But if you asked any random American for an honest answer about what their primary sources of worry and tension are, more than any other answer, they'd likely say they're stressed about their finances.

Indeed, according to a new survey from Capital One, 73% of Americans say finances are a source of stress in their lives, easily outpacing politics (59%), work (49%), and family (46%). But despite that, 42% of respondents were optimistic that they would be better off financially a year from now, while only 10% said they expect their financial situation will get worse.

A person works with a calculator.

Knowing where you stand financially is the first step in relieving money-related stress. Image source: Getty Images.

Knowing is half the battle

Many Americans have a tendency to handle their finances at something of a distance. Money is a potentially unpleasant subject -- or at least, one that may force you to acknowledge harsh realities if examined too closely, so it's understandable that they may choose to avoid looking too deeply at their own situation.

Understandable, but seriously unwise. It's important to get a firm grip on your finances, look closely at them, and know exactly what's going on with your money. One place to start that process is by finding out your current credit score. That's something that 51% of those surveyed said they check regularly, while another 25% said they check it "when a bank or credit monitoring service suggests they do."

Your credit score doesn't provide a complete financial picture, but it's a solid barometer of your overall financial health. If you have a strong credit score, it's easier to get a loan and you generally get better terms when you borrow. It may also be a factor in whether you can rent an apartment and, in some cases, potential employers may check your credit report when you apply for a job. Before anyone else -- lender, landlord, business -- takes a look at your credit report, you should give it some close scrutiny. Credit report mistakes are far more common than you may realize, and it's better to get them fixed before they impact your life.

After that, examine your finances at a deep level. That means totaling up your debt, your income, and your regular expenses. (Yes, that means figuring out your real household budget.) Once you have those numbers, of course, it's likely going to be a smart idea to take action to improve them, whether that means trimming your spending or finding ways to bring in more money.

Take action

Many Americans are confident about what their financial situations are today, but worry that a recession is coming tomorrow. One way to allay those fears is to plan in advance for the inevitable rainy days.

If you're in good shape now, use this time to secure your future by putting more money aside. Every dollar you save buys you a little more peace of mind.

If you find yourself in less than ideal financial circumstances currently, start taking back control as soon as possible. That may not be pleasant. You might discover you'll have to make serious budget cuts, take on extra work, or figure out other ways to rightsize your finances.

Taking action, however, can relieve stress. In many ways, it's like deciding to get back into shape. One gym visit won't get you there, but the act of doing something can help you feel better, and every small step in the right direction does far more than ignoring the problem and hoping for the best. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.