Health and Wellness

Always anxious about money? Here are 3 strategies to cope, from a psychotherapist

Chad Springer | Image Source | Getty Images

From worries about job security during the pandemic to managing crippling student loans, young people face many stressors when it comes to money.

"Anxiety is really meant to bring our attention to something, because humans are wired to survive," Amanda Clayman, a mental health clinician who specializes in money issues, tells CNBC Make It. However, "anxiety can get attached to a lot of things, especially related to money."

Financial anxiety is more severe than just worrying about having enough money in your bank account. It manifests similarly to the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, such as tension, worried thoughts and irritability.

People might avoid checking their finances, imagine scenarios where they don't have enough money, get hypervigilant about tracking their money or obsess over saving, Clayman says.

Here are some strategies from reframing your relationship to money, to developing a money "practice" that can help you cope, according to Clayman.

Reframe your relationship to money  

"One of the best things that we can do is to create a relationship with money, and an understanding of money that isn't just treating money as a problem to be solved," Clayman says.

Much of what we believe about money is culturally based and taught to us by the people in our lives, like parents. "Our family really provides that that first and most important layer of socialization around money," she says.

For instance you may have grown up thinking that your parents are really good with money, because they had stable careers as well as practices and processes, like savings. If your own adult financial situation and values don't match the framework that you were taught, it can lead to shame, isolation and avoidance.

"We may be very worried personally about making mistakes [with our money], and we may feel like that's a significant threat to our self-esteem and our identity," she says. "In many of those cases people end up being very paralyzed."

When it comes to money, we often try to impose control or set rules in the face of anxiety, rather than looking objectively at our own money behaviors and practices to learn about ourselves, Clayman says.

Creating a money "practice," or getting into the habit of regularly checking in with your finances, is the simplest way to shape a relationship with your money, Clayman says.

Set aside time to regularly look at your money

In situations where you feel highly anxious, your body thinks that it needs to react to a danger immediately, so it goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. The part of your brain that handles cognitive function and allows you to analyze options and predict consequences "literally goes offline," Clayman says.

People tend to respond to this anxiety by either avoiding their finances altogether, or becoming obsessive about "fiddling with their accounts," she says.

It's important to schedule time to look at your money, so you can approach it in a "safer, more focused setting," Clayman says.

For example, choose an evening on a random weeknight to look at money, rather than waiting for high-stakes situations when you need to make a decision or when something is threatening your financial stability.

"Make that practice really simple," Clayman says. Choose three things to do each time you check in: For instance, review how your money is coming in and out, predict what expenses you might have coming up and make adjustments to prevent being reactive, she says.

If you're only looking at your money when you're anxious, then it reinforces the idea that "money is dangerous and we should be afraid of it, because every experience we have with money is negative," she says. But having scheduled "money time" can make you feel more secure that you've made the best decisions to reduce anxiety.

In fact, research has shown that increased financial literacy is associated with decreased financial anxiety. Once you get more familiar with the way that your money ebbs and flows, you'll be less surprised and anxious when it's time to check in, she says.

Think: What is my anxiety trying to tell me?

There could be a deeper emotional reason why you are feeling anxious about your money. "Whatever's going on with a person internally is going to find some expression in their money," she says.

For example, are you afraid of losing control of something unrelated, so you're taking it out on your finances? "These opportunities to grow and evolve, often show up as a financial challenge," she says.

When you experience sensations of anxiety related to a financial situation — nervousness, having a sense of impending danger and increased heart rate, for instance — take note of it. Acknowledging your anxiety in the moment can create separation or distance to dig deeper and figure out what's going on.

Have a toolbox of strategies that can help you feel more centered, like calling a friend, going on a walk or reading a book, in moments where you feel overwhelmed.

If your financial anxiety is interfering with your daily life, seeking help from an expert, whether that's a mental health clinician or financial planner, can provide relief.

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