When you’re worried about your finances, your anxiety can go through the roof. Read on to find out how you can tame that anxious money brain.
Feeling anxious is a normal, albeit uncomfortable, part of being human. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective—your anxiety’s only job was to warn you of impending doom, like when a sabre-toothed tiger was approaching.
What’s interesting is that the part of your brain meant to keep you safe, sometimes colloquially referred to as the reptilian brain, is one of the oldest parts of the organ. This part is where the fight/ flight/freeze/fawn response comes from. The newer part of the brain, the frontal cortex, helps you make decisions and deals with logic, reasoning and creativity. But make no mistake: The older part will take over when a threat is perceived.
This is also true for financial threats and stressors. When you encounter financial risk or pressure, you can easily step out of rational thought and right into fight, flight, freeze or fawn. We’ve all been stressed about money, and the next thing we know we’ve made an impulsive decision that’s made the situation worse. That could look like having an epic money fight with your partner (fight), walking away from your financial responsibilities because you’re so worried (flight), avoiding a money conversation or collection calls (freeze), or trying to appease your partner by promising you’ll do better (fawn).
Symptoms of Financial Anxiety
Some signs that you may be feeling anxious around your finances can include, but are not limited to, feeling sick when you think about money, avoiding your problems, issues with sleep, fights about money with your partner, and/or a constant nagging feeling like you are one or two paychecks away from insolvency.
Financial anxiety can act as a warning, like a check engine light in your car. However, if you don’t deal with what is making you anxious, it will continue to impact your life, including your physical and mental well-being.
How to Treat Financial Anxiety
Breathe! No, seriously, breathe. When you’re anxious, your breathing tends to get shallower, which means less oxygen is going to the brain. It’s hard to be resourceful and resilient when you’re panting. Try inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4, exhaling slowly for 4 seconds, and holding your breath again for 4. It’s a great technique that calms the body and mind just through mindful breathing.
Write down what’s bothering you. It doesn’t matter if it’s logical, realistic or even possible, if it’s sticking to you like a burr, write it down. This process can help pull all those nebulous, hard- to-describe anxieties out of the woodwork and into the light for you to consider.
Gently explore, by yourself or with someone you trust, the things that are causing you angst. You can gently challenge yourself about whether something is true or not, without gaslighting yourself. You can consider how realistic your worst-case scenario is. You can also explore the concept of control—what is within your control and what is not? Remember, the only thing we can control is our response to a situation.
Do the math. What this means is look at your own numbers. Are you able to pay your bills comfortably? Are you able to put money aside for a rainy day (or pandemic)? Are you saving for your future (retirement)? This is engaging the newer part of your brain; and ascertaining the facts can ease financial anxiety.
Realize you are not alone. Nonprofit credit counsellors are available to help you navigate your situation, without judgment. After an appointment, people walk away with a realistic budget, an action plan, resources and possibly a referral for other services. Sometimes it’s easier when you have a partner, like a credit counsellor, to help guide you.
Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy is a Chief Executive Officer at Credit Counselling Canada.