Perhaps you’re filing your taxes late, or you’re having a hard time juggling your rent and other bills. You feel your whole body tense up and a sense of dread coming over you at the very thought of having to tackle financial tasks. Money worries come from many different sources, but that panicky feeling does have a name: financial anxiety.
As it happens, you’re far from the only one experiencing anxiety over money. In fact, in April 2019 we conducted a survey and found that 75% of participants responded “yes” when asked if they had ever felt anxious about their financial situation. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey also shows that money remains one of the top stressors reported among Americans year over year, alongside work and health-related concerns.
Despite money being such a big trigger for anxiety, we don’t seem to talk about either money or anxiety enough. To help get the conversation started, let’s take a closer look at what financial anxiety is and how you can recognize it. And for those who are already dealing with money anxiety in one way or another, we’ve got some expert tips to help you cope and feel better about your financial situation.
What is financial anxiety?
Financial anxiety can look different from person to person. Your money worries may be different from your friend’s money worries. The way financial anxieties manifest themselves in feelings and behaviors may not be the same either.
“Financial anxiety can be described as a fear-based response or attitude towards one’s personal finances that is often connected to (or leads to) ineffective money management and suboptimal financial decision-making,” said Megan Ford, M.S., LMFT, a financial therapist at the University of Georgia and a member of the Financial Therapy Association (FTA).
As Ford noted, anxiety over money is not a diagnosable disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which helps classify various mental health diagnoses.
Ford emphasized that she likes to differentiate a disordered level of financial anxiety from general anxiety, which is a normal reaction to stressful and uncertain situations. Money anxiety becomes disordered when you find yourself worrying about the economy or your finances for hours on end, for example, which prevents you from sleeping or performing your usual tasks and responsibilities.
Is financial anxiety normal?
If you find yourself with intense money worries, know that you’re not alone. In the aforementioned MagnifyMoney survey, more than 1 in 3 respondents, or 34%, reported feeling anxious about money every single day in the last week. And it also seems as though money anxiety could be getting worse: 44% of respondents were more anxious about their finances today compared to one year ago.
“It’s also likely that as we begin to recognize this phenomenon and discuss it more openly, people might be more inclined to identify with it,” Ford added.
Both anxiety and money are largely taboo subjects in society, although discussion around both topics are opening up. Wider awareness and education of money anxiety can help bring more acceptance and help to those who need it.
What causes financial anxiety?
Turns out, having a lower income is a big source for Americans’ financial anxiety. It was the most common reason across all age groups surveyed, although notably Gen Z’ers — with 66% of its respondents, the youngest cohort surveyed — marked that reason more than Millennials and Gen X’ers did.
The second-most common source of money anxiety was living paycheck to paycheck, which more Gen X responders chose compared to their younger counterparts.
Tips for coping with financial anxiety
As mentioned above, the sources of your money anxiety and the things that trigger it may not be a cause or a trigger of the next person’s financial anxiety. Given this, your coping methods needs to be adjusted to your needs. Here are a few tips that can help you start getting money anxiety under control, courtesy of Ford:
Accept your anxieties and name your triggers
Being anxious but not knowing the root of your anxieties can instill a sense of panic or powerlessness. Finding the source of your anxiety and identifying what triggers it can help you regain some of that power and control over your situation.
“If anxiety can be relieved through education or clarification on a particular aspect of one’s finances, this can help to significantly reduce someone’s experience of financial anxiety,” Ford suggested. Once you understand the source of your money anxiety, you can take the necessary steps [to] address the root causes of your financial problems.
For example, perhaps you notice you feel anxious whenever you check the mailbox. Receiving mail is probably not what’s making you anxious; bigger and bigger credit card bills is the likely root problem. Recognize that your creeping credit card debt is affecting your daily life — you can’t look at the mailbox without feeling queasy. Use this moment of clarity to help reform your credit card use and switch to using your debit card instead.
Educate yourself about the financial problems causing your anxiety
Education and knowledge is the right place to start removing stress and fear from your financial life.
If you’re worried about passing your debts onto your loved ones when you die, for example, do some reading about the way debt is passed on after death. That can provide some clarity to the gray areas and help you create a plan with your loved ones. Afraid of unmanageable credit card debt? Research counseling that can help you come to grips with your problems and put a plan in place to resolve them.
Try slowing things down
Since a state of anxiety can make things seem like they’re speeding up and out of your control, Ford suggested slowing things down. Take deep breaths and try writing down the thoughts in your head and the sensations in your body.
Ford suggested taking notice of “whether you’re being driven to make a decision rooted in anxious or fearful feelings.”
“Evaluate whether those are fully, 100% true,” she continued, “or if there are exceptions or untruths.” Slowing down and reflecting can give you the opportunity to navigate any impulsivity and potentially find more productive ways to think about the issue at hand.
Visit a financial therapist
Sometimes you need extra, outside help to overcome a hurdle like money anxiety. If you can afford to do so, you can pay a visit to a financial therapist who can help guide you through your anxieties and proposed solutions.
According to the FTA, financial therapists use a “combined approach informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies [to] help people reach their financial goals and attend to the emotional, psychological, behavioral and relational hurdles that are intertwined.”
The FTA website can help you find a financial therapist in your area. While therapists can work on a sliding scale to accommodate your situation, seeing a financial therapist without properly budgeting for those costs can result in even more money anxiety.
Note: MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 819 Americans ages 18-53. The survey was fielded from April 14-23, 2019, and the margin of error for all respondents is +/- 3%.