If you’ve found yourself worrying about money lately, you definitely have company. Money anxiety, also called financial anxiety, has become more common than ever.
In the American Psychological Association’s 2022 Stress in America Survey, 87 percent of people who responded listed inflation as a source of significant stress. The rise in prices for everything from fuel to food has people from all backgrounds worried. The researchers say, in fact, that no other issue has caused this much stress since the survey began in 2007.
When money and financial concerns cause ongoing stress in your life, you could eventually begin to experience some feelings of anxiety as a result. This anxiety can, in turn, have a negative impact on your quality of life.
You can’t always fix the state of your bank account as you might like and eliminate the stress directly. But you can take steps to manage money-related anxiety.
Read on to learn more about money anxiety, including key signs, causes, and tips to handle it.
What are the signs?
Money anxiety, in basic terms, happens when you worry about your income or fear something bad could happen with your finances. To put it another way, it’s an emotional response to your financial situation.
But money anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean you have no money at all. You could make an income you consider perfectly decent and still fret about your mortgage, or worry about losing all your savings to an unexpected medical bill or other major expense.
Maybe you pay all your current bills easily, but you still can’t push down the uneasy feeling that you should be saving more for your retirement.
A few signs your anxiety around money is becoming a more serious concern:
- Aches and pains. Perhaps you get a headache or upset stomach when you look at your bank account.
- Avoidance. Your bills might remain on the countertop for weeks because you can’t bring yourself to go through them.
- Analysis paralysis. Even minor decisions like which sponge to buy may bring you to a halt as you review the costs of each option.
- No work-life balance. You may feel you have to dedicate every waking hour to work in order to stay afloat.
- Rigidity. You might plan your budget down to the penny and get upset whenever you have to make even minor changes.
- Rumination. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about your 401k and check the stock market multiple times a day — in bed, at work, or while running errands.
- Trouble sleeping. You might lie awake at night wondering about things like the next unexpected expense, or whether you’ll ever be able to retire.
Where does it come from?
Financial anxiety stems from an uncertainty of what the future holds. It’s a fear of not having the resources available to meet your needs or face challenges that lie ahead.
You’re more likely to feel stressed or anxious about money if you have:
A history of deprivation
Poverty can be traumatic. If you’ve ever gone without food or housing, it goes without saying that you might feel protective of your financial resources. You may go to extreme lengths to save cash, just in case you need it later.
When you do experience financial setbacks, your mind might latch onto a worst-case scenario more easily, since you’ve already lived through one.
This trauma can span generations. If your parents lived in poverty, they may stress the importance of earning and saving money. They might set heavy expectations on your shoulders to reach a certain level of wealth for your family’s sake.
Low or unsteady income
You’re more likely to worry about money if you don’t have much of it, since lower income leaves you more vulnerable to disruptions.
If you live paycheck to paycheck, you probably don’t have a savings account or home equity to fall back on in emergencies. A small delay in payment might keep you from buying dinner the last few nights of the month, or putting enough gas in your car to get to work — which, of course, would only set you back further.
Working in the gig economy can worsen your stress, suggests 2022 research. Gigs aren’t known for their stability. Your boss may have you work 30 hours one week and only 20 hours the next week, or cut your hours in half without warning.
This unstable cash flow can make it practically impossible to predict how much money you’ll have at any given time.
In many places, living has gotten much more expensive, and for many people, wages aren’t keeping up. That’s part of the reason inflation causes stress: The money you thought was enough to meet your needs no longer has the purchasing power it once did. As the ground beneath you shifts, you may wonder how you’ll keep up with future changes.
Another key finding from the 2022 Stress in America survey mentioned above: Half of Americans listed housing costs as a major stressor.
Housing has become an especially worrisome expense for several reasons, according to 2022 Pew Research Center findings:
- More people want to buy homes due to low mortgage interest rates.
- Fewer houses are being built.
- Large companies and private equity firms have reportedly bought 15 percent of available homes as investments, mostly in low-income neighborhoods.
All of these factors can drive up the prices of housing. And when homes become more expensive, so does rent. According to Pew Research Center:
- Among American renters, 46 percent are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing.
- Around 23 percent of American renters spend at least half their income on rent.
Debt is a unique kind of expense because, unlike purchases, you rarely have a choice except to pay it. If you regularly miss your payments, you can accrue interest, and the amount you owe can grow at a shockingly fast rate. As your debts swell, you might feel like you’ll never get free of them.
Student loan debt, in particular, can be extremely stressful. A 2021 survey by Student Loan Planner examined mental health trends in 2,300 student loan borrowers with high debt levels. One in 14 respondents said they had considered suicide at some point during their repayment journey.
How can money anxiety affect you?
Financial anxiety can make it hard to live your life to the fullest. It can also factor into mental health and emotional concerns, including:
Anxiety can often leave you feeling irritable or resentful. When you’re worried about paying the bills, you may find yourself in frequent arguments with loved ones who don’t seem to take the situation as seriously as you do.
Conflict can become even more likely if you and your family avoid talking about money until you absolutely have to.
Money anxiety can easily get in the way of restful sleep. Worries about bills, unplanned expenses, or other financial concerns can keep you awake long past your bedtime. Consequently, when morning comes, you might find it even more difficult to get up and face the day.
Over time, insufficient sleep can have a major impact on your health, memory, and mood. It can also increase your risk of developing health concerns like:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- worsened anxiety
Sometimes your debts and expenses can seem too steep a mountain to conquer through typical methods. You might find yourself considering gambling as an option for getting the money you need since a tiny hope might seem better than no hope.
But gambling may not help the situation, and the combination of gambling and anxiety could make matters worse. According to a 2016 study exploring the connection between anxiety symptoms and gambling behavior, participants with more severe anxiety symptoms tended to meet more of the criteria for gambling disorder.
Hoarding disorder involves an urge to collect unneeded objects and an inability to throw things away.
While a number of factors can contribute to this mental health condition, money anxiety could, in some cases, lead you to hoard certain items. For example, you might:
- save food long after its expiration date
- keep used napkins for future spills
- collect multiples of every appliance you own, just in case one breaks
- save every bag or box you find, even though you don’t have room to store them all
Recycling can be helpful, absolutely. And there’s also nothing wrong with saving things you might need later on.
But at some point, you’ll likely need to throw certain things away. Otherwise, you could wind up with a cramped, unsafe living space — and getting sick or injuring yourself could cost you more money in the long run.
If feelings of anxiety about money become intense and overwhelming, you might find yourself turning to alcohol or other substances to cope.
Alcohol and drugs might offer a temporary distraction from things you don’t want to think about, but they won’t help you address what’s triggering those feelings. They can also pose some health consequences, including the risk of dependence or addiction.
A 2017 study involving 454 undergraduate students found evidence to suggest financial stress predicted alcohol dependence over time. Alcohol dependence, in turn, predicted worsening finances. In short, using alcohol to escape your money anxiety could affect your mental health, not to mention make the situation worse.
How to handle it
When you have persistent money worries, your first instinct may lead you to push those thoughts down and ignore the issue. But avoiding your fears won’t make them go away.
These strategies, on the other hand, can help you address both your anxiety and the underlying financial issues provoking it:
Blow off some steam
It’s hard to (accurately) calculate income and expenses when your mind is racing a mile a minute.
If you’re finding it tough to focus, try a 10-minute break to ground yourself and improve your mood and focus:
- Take a walk around the block or do jumping jacks.
- Listen to music.
- Try some breathing exercises.
- Try a short meditation.
Once your mood is back to baseline, you might find it easier to consider your bank statements with a clear head.
Make a budget
A budget can help you plan where your money will go each month. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping you don’t accidentally spend too much on groceries, you can set a firm limit to stay under while you shop.
According to a 2022 study, planning was the most effective strategy workers used for reducing money-related stress.
Read the fine print
Financial contracts can sometimes feel a little intimidating, especially if you don’t have a background in business. Brushing up on your financial jargon can make money decisions feel less daunting.
You can also hire a guide, like an investor or financial coach, to help explain confusing language and show you the lay of the land, in a manner of speaking.
Join a union
Unions can do a lot of things, including:
- negotiate for higher pay
- advocate for your rights
- help ensure job stability
This extra social support and bargaining power can help you feel more secure about your employment and your income.
A 2013 British study considered companies undergoing organizational changes like mergers. Such changes often raised stress levels, but union members tended to have less anxiety than non-union employees. Why? Union negotiation appeared to help soften the impact of layoffs or budget cuts, lowering the risk for individual workers.
Consider social support
Many people hide financial issues because they feel embarrassed or blame themselves for their situation. But lots of folks have trouble with money, often through no fault of their own.
Keep in mind, too, that anyone can experience money anxiety or have financial concerns, even people in your circle who wear expensive clothes and have prestigious jobs.
Problems of any kind tend to be less frightening when you face them as a group. Turning to friends and loved ones, or members of a support group, gives you the opportunity to:
- vent your fears and worries
- brainstorm solutions
- receive — and lend — a helping hand
You can also consider joining a mutual aid group and exploring the resources available in your community.
Getting professional help
When money anxiety causes lasting distress and begins to intrude on your daily life, support from a mental health professional could make a difference.
Even if you have a tight budget, you still have options for affordable therapy. Many therapists offer sliding scale fees, for example, so people who can’t otherwise afford therapy can still access support.
What can professionals do to help?
Money anxiety isn’t a mental health diagnosis, but therapy can still have benefit.
A therapist can help you:
- address past trauma around money or deprivation
- practice strategies for communicating with your partner or family about money in a healthy, respectful manner
- identify and address depression, anxiety, and any other co-occurring concerns, from difficulty discarding unneeded items to increased substance use
- examine patterns of distorted thinking, such as “I need to make X salary or else I’m a failure”
- let go of shame and guilt around past financial mistakes or difficulties
You might consider connecting with a financial counselor, who can offer more guidance with improving your financial health.
A financial counselor can help you:
- explore more efficient ways to pay off debts
- complete application paperwork for public assistance benefits
- learn and practice money management skills
- get more familiar with other general information about finances
The bottom line
Plenty of people are worried about money these days. However common they might be, these lingering feelings of money anxiety can leave you overwhelmed, to say the very least. Over time, they could also contribute to serious mental health concerns, including depression and chronic anxiety.
It can take time to resolve long-standing financial challenges, but you don’t have to navigate your fears and worries alone. A financial counselor can offer more guidance with the numbers, while a therapist can support you in finding helpful self-care strategies and techniques to manage anxiety and stress.
Culled from healthline.com by Emily Swaim