In the midst of holiday preparations and year-end work deadlines, more people than ever will find their minds drifting to their bank accounts.
In a recent Washington Post-Miller Center poll, more than half of respondents reported at least some worry about losing their jobs, with 32 percent reporting that they worry “a lot” about it. These are record numbers that underscore just how big a source of anxiety that finances and the economy have become in this country.
Money Anxiety Disorder
Oftentimes, our fears and anxieties are about things that are not potentially life-threatening or completely life-altering, and even the ones that are — such as concerns about sudden illness, accidents, etc. — tend to be far-fetched or irrational. But financial stress and anxiety is unique, because your economic situation has a profound impact not only on your emotional but also your physical well-being.
Food and shelter, two of our most basic needs, are nearly impossible to come by without money in today’s world. And with the current economic climate, no one would call financial anxiety “irrational.”
In fact, it is an area of concern that has contributed to serious anxiety in people who had never experienced anxiety before. Psychology professionals use the term M.A.D., or Money Anxiety Disorder, to describe the pervasive sense of fear over money and finances that so many are facing today.
This monetary anxiety tends to impact more women than men, though this is largely attributed to the fact that in many homes, men are still the primary breadwinners. This leaves the women in these households to grapple with a high degree of uncertainty, since their family’s economic success or failure feels out of their control.
M.A.D. tends to manifest in much the same way as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, with the body’s fight-or-flight response kicked into high gear much of the time, causing symptoms such as racing heart, a sick feeling in the stomach, dizziness and lightheadedness, sleep problems, and more. It is also characterized by a sense of overall dread when thinking about finances, panic about job security, as well as a sense of confusion, shame or even anger over one’s financial situation.
Couples who are coping with this anxiety may find themselves fighting constantly about money, contributing to even more stress and anxiety in the home. Some M.A.D. sufferers find themselves turning to unhealthy coping methods, such as overeating or excessive alcohol consumption.
Keeping Financial Stress and Anxiety in Check
The problem with financial anxiety is that there are usually not many steps you can take to remedy the underlying problem in the short-term. While sound financial practices, such as saving, budgeting and paying down debt are certainly part of solving this problem in the long run, these steps do not ensure job security or immediately create a financial safety net.
Because the persistent anxiety has you playing out endless scenarios of financial ruin in your head, with very few practical actions you can take, you find yourself in the position of trying to “think your way out of a tough situation,” as therapist Steve Sisgold writes in a blog on economic anxiety for Psychology Today.
But, he notes, “Your personal economic situation, as well as our national and global fiscal crisis will inevitably change — and more than likely it will change for the better in time. Flailing around in the crosscurrents of the mind will only exhaust you.”
The first step to getting control of your financial anxiety is to honestly assess your economic situation. If you have been doing what so many with anxiety tend to do – avoiding – realize that you are only perpetuating the problem by refusing to acknowledge it.
Once you’ve taken the first step, consider what steps you can take (realistically) to remedy some of your financial concerns. Examples are:
- following a budget,
- cutting out unnecessary expenses,
- or saving a larger percentage of your paycheck.
Try to accept those factors you don’t have much control over – whether there will be a layoff at your company, for instance, or whether an emergency will deplete your savings.
Remember not to overthink things. If you are taking all the practical steps you can to alleviate financial concerns, then you are doing the best you can. Indulging your anxiety isn’t going to change anything, so when you catch yourself worrying, take several deep breaths and try to think about something else.
Don’t keep all your financial worries to yourself – tell somebody. Whether it’s a therapist, a close friend, or a non-judgmental relative, sometimes just getting it off your chest is a huge relief.
Remind yourself of the good things in life that are free. Sometimes when everything feels overwhelming, it’s important to take a step back and remind yourself that the things that bring true happiness do not cost money. Love, friendship, knowledge, passion, and spirituality are all freely available.