How I Learned to Manage My Financial Anxiety
It’s 7:15 a.m. and my alarm is blaring. Like any good millennial, the first thing I do is roll over and grab my phone, but as soon as my thumb scrolls over the balance alert from my bank, my heart begins to race. How many times did I eat out this month? Did my rent payment go through? Wait, did I send it?
It’s 7:19 a.m. and I’m already anxious.
When my partner asks if I’m okay, I force a smile and nod. I’m too embarrassed to tell him that I may not be able to cover my portion of this month’s rent. At dinner, I spend an absurd amount of time squinting at the menu, calculating the cheapest possible option, then beating myself up for caring more about the check than genuinely connecting with my friends.
Sick of the vicious cycle, I sat down with Alicia Eggen, a licensed therapist, to learn how to conquer what I (and so many others) suffer from—financial anxiety.
What does financial anxiety look and feel like?
Let’s face it—change is scary, and life is always changing. People who experience financial anxiety may have a fear of the future or the unknown, and worry about having enough money to provide for themselves and their family. It’s natural to feel uneasy around things you can’t control, like [changes] in the stock market, job loss, or sudden illness. But you may [also] have difficulty developing a plan around things you actually can control, like budgeting and retirement.
How do I cope with financial anxiety?
Worrying about things outside of your control just wastes your mental and emotional resources. Instead, focus on creating a budget.
How can I stop seeing my finances as a reflection of my worth?
Live out your values. I find that we often experience anxiety when we’re doing things that contradict our values. Write down the three things in life you value most, perhaps family or travel, and let these inform your goals about your finances.
What about all the shame and negativity?
When things feel overwhelming, it’s natural to focus on the negative. But in order to see the whole picture, remember the positive things you’re doing as well. Writing these down as well can be a helpful reminder of what’s actually going right.
This can even be something along the lines of spending in accordance with your values, as we just discussed. Reminding yourself that you’re spending money on what’s truly important to you can be reassuring and empowering.
Putting advice into practice.
I started by coming up with a list of what I truly value in life, leading with my heart instead of my wallet. Exercise, nutrition, and mental health were the top three. I realized that I rarely beat myself up over spending money on my weekly therapy session, because deep down I know this type of self-improvement and discovery is incredibly important to me.
On the other hand, I always feel guilty when I spend money on food and alcohol. That’s probably because the food I make at home is healthier than what I eat when I’m out (shocker).
For the next week, I tested out using these values as a lens to inform my purchasing decisions. By Thursday, I didn’t feel any FOMO turning down that happy hour invitation from former coworkers. I knew I would have gone to the bar, spent $12 on a glass of wine, drank only half of it, and chastised myself for it afterwards.
Instead, I asked if they’d want to grab coffee and go for a walk over the weekend—two activities I felt genuinely excited about (and one of which was free).
Celebrating what I’m doing right.
Per Alicia’s advice, I also tried writing down a few things that were going well for me financially. To be honest, it was challenging. I practically forced myself to jot down: I have a budget (and restrained myself from adding in parentheses: that I struggle to follow).
Surprisingly though, that first bit of positivity opened up a wave of other realizations. After a moment, I wrote: I hired an accountant to help me with taxes. Next came: I spent $20 on yoga class, which supports my values of exercise and mental health. Within the next few minutes, I had a list of four positives. But more importantly, I felt better—grateful and in control. In my clear-headedness, I even set a calendar reminder for next month’s healthcare bill.
Alicia’s exercise showed me that no matter how many things I may be doing right, the negatives muscle in and take center stage. I’m too focused on my debt to pat myself on the back when I resolutely chip away at it each month.
The truth is, the road to financial security is more like a stair master. There are about a billion tiny steps, but recognizing each small, proactive behavior is a boost to your mental and financial benefit.