A lot of people talk about curing financial anxiety through logical methods.
Make a plan, buff up your savings account, increase your income. All of these things should take some of the heat off the emotional response of financial anxiety.
But do they really?
As someone who loves to seek logical solutions to my emotional fears, I’ve tried all of these strategies. Although these steps can impact my financial stability, they don’t solve my problem of overall anxiety.
Then one day, in a near meltdown over my money anxiety, my husband gave me advice that changed everything.
What is financial anxiety?
While I’m happy that I have an emergency fund, I still worry about the following:
What if I lose my job…and can’t find another one before my emergency fund runs out?
And, most of all, I think:
What if some large financial outcome happens that no emergency fund can save. What then?
Most people worry about money to a point. That’s because money controls many aspects of our lives: our ability to eat, to have homes, to eventually retire, etc.
In fact, a study done last year by the American Psychological Association uncovered some interesting details about money stress:
- Almost 3/4 of the respondents reported stress about money.
- Almost 1/4 of the respondents felt “extreme stress” in relation to money.
- Almost 1/4 said that, in the past month, their stress was up to “8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale.”
As you can see, if you’re worried about money, you’re not alone. But what about when that worry turns to serious anxiety? If left unchecked, money anxiety can lead to financially detrimental behaviors.
Dr. Brad Klontz, Psy.D., a certified financial planner and financial psychologist, describes some of these behaviors for Psychology Today. Some of them include excessive risk aversion, overspending, financial dependence, and more.
If you feel you may suffer from one of these disorders, jump to the bottom of the page. But, if you think you have financial anxiety that’s painful but not yet at that level, read on below.
How to not stress about money
Back to my husband’s game-changing advice.
When I was deep in a spiral of worry about money with no signs of letting up, I asked him why he doesn’t worry. I was hoping he could give me some magical cure-all advice on how to not stress about money.
Instead he says,“I try not to worry about what could happen. I’m confident about my resilience.”
What? That was a way of thinking I never considered before. Intrigued, I asked him to explain.
“You can worry about all the things that might go wrong,” he says. “Or you can understand that there’s always something you can do.”
In his words, it all comes down to understanding that there are options. Even if they’re not always ideal ones.
“If I really had to, I know I could make changes in my life to cope,” he explains. “Trusting in my resilience allows me to think clearly about a situation and find solutions rather than worry.”
At first, I was skeptical about this advice. Yet, I was still thinking about it a few days later. And that’s when I understood why it works.
Conquering my financial anxiety spirals
How could I tell it worked for me? Because the next time my financial anxiety spiral began, I was able to answer it in in the following ways:
“What if you lose your job and can’t find another one?”
I’ll work at a restaurant or a coffee shop or whatever I can get if I have to. Sure, I love my career and want to keep it going – but that’s not the only option that exists in the world.
“What if you have a medical emergency and your emergency fund doesn’t cover it?”
I’ll negotiate my medical bills. I’ll find ways to pay them off faster after I recover.
In the end, life is more meaningful than money. And if I can’t earn enough to pay them off, I can revisit the point above – only this time as a side gig alongside my day job.
“What if you and your husband both lose your jobs and can’t get new ones and run out of money for rent?” (You can see now how nasty my spiral gets.)
We’ll sublease our apartment – or we’ll break the lease and eat the cost from our security deposit if we have to. We can find a cheaper apartment to live in outside of the city, too.
Or, we’ll move in with our parents if we have to. That’s an option we’re lucky enough to have – even if we’d prefer not to use it. And we’ll do it all before draining our emergency funds, but as soon as it becomes clear it’s necessary.
Focus on your resilience
For some of us (myself included), we spend so much time worrying about how we’re going to hold the cards of our carefully crafted lives together that we forget that this isn’t the be all and end all of life. But focusing on your resilience can help.
Sometimes we have to go backward to move forwards. I’ve done this a few times by moving across country and changing careers. And sometimes we just need to focus on what we can do instead of worrying about what we’ll lose.
If your money stress is serious, seek help
I want to take a minute to say that I’m approaching this topic from the point of view of privilege.
I’m not worried about losing the roof over my head because of a tenuous financial situation. I’m worried about it because I’m a worrier.
Anxiety is always with me and it’s pointing to my greatest fear – not being able to provide for myself and my family.
If, however, your financial anxiety is caused by a very real concern about feeding and housing your family, seek help. Check out your local food bank or seek out other local services and resources to help.
And if all else fails, google the website of your city. For example, when I searched “New York City” in google, I found their website, which links to many local resources. Try this for your hometown to see what help might be available to you.
Finally, if you’re able to make ends meet, but financial anxiety is threatening to take you down, you might want to seek help from both a financial planner and a psychologist.
A financial planner can help you evaluate your money situation and suggest changes if necessary. A psychologist can help you get to the root of your anxiety – especially if financial anxiety is a symptom of something else.
No matter what the case, understand that you’re not alone. Seek help if you need it and start taking steps to work through this. Nothing is more powerful than taking that first step.
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