3 Therapy Approved Ways to Cope with Money Anxiety

Living with money anxiety can feel suffocating or even paralyzing at times. In this article, you will learn 3 strategies to cope effectively with your…

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Living with money anxiety can feel suffocating or even paralyzing at times.

In this article, you will learn 3 strategies to cope effectively with your money anxiety. These therapy skills will help you feel less stressed and more empowered in your life.

Money Anxiety and Your Wellbeing

Money anxiety can negatively impact more areas of your life than just your financial health.

This anxiety, of course, can led to stress than manifests physically. Perhaps you notice you can’t sleep at night because of racing thoughts for example?

Or maybe you experience high blood pressure or a sense of pressure in your chest related to the panic you may feel about money?

Related: Self Care Guidelines: 4 Simple Ways to Commit to Self-Care

You may also notice that sometimes it’s harder to get out of bed, exercise, or eat nourishing food if you feel stressed about money. This can be both related to a physical lack of motivation as well as a sense that you can’t afford to treat yourself well.

From “What to do if you can’t afford therapy: 4 effective tips from a therapist”

Money Anxiety and Your Self-Esteem

Money anxiety also impacts your relationships – both with others and yourself.

Your self-esteem may suffer when you experience the shame, insecurity and embarrassment common with feeling like you don’t have enough money. In Western culture, money is often tied to a sense of worth. This is a false narrative of course yet it can be easy to believe that you’re “not good enough” when you are stressed about having “not enough” money.

Related: Building Self Confidence in Your Relationships: 4 Simple Steps

Money Anxiety and Your Relationships

Stress about money can also hurt your relationships unfortunately.

It’s well known that money is a common source of arguments for couples.

Additionally, money anxiety can hurt your ability to be present and enjoy quality time with loved ones. For example, if you’re stressed about how much a date costs, it will be hard to really focus on your partner. Or if you’re single, money anxiety is a common reason people avoid dating altogether.

Furthermore, if you feel insecure or ashamed about your financial situation, this insecurity naturally impacts your relationships. After all, the way you care and feel about yourself is the foundation for all your other relationships.

Money Anxiety Coping Skill #1: Honor the Gift of Anxiety

Fortunately, you can learn how to cope well with money anxiety.

One of the most important things many of us learn in therapy is that there are no bad emotions. Rather some are comfortable and others are uncomfortable. And what we do with our emotions can be helpful or unhelpful.

The goal of therapy fundamentally is to learn how to cope with uncomfortable emotions in a helpful way since these feelings are a natural part of life. We can’t prevent them entirely but we can cope well with them.

One strategy to cope well with emotions is to ask yourself: What information is this emotion giving to me?

All emotions have a gift and in the case of anxiety, or fear, the gift is protection. Therefore, anxiety helps us assess safety.

Figuring Out if You’re Safe

It’s natural if you have money anxiety. After all, survival and safety in this world are dependent on having a certain amount of money.

Literally, if you don’t have enough money your basic needs and health are jeopardized. Therefore, some degree of money anxiety isn’t irrational in certain cases.

Honoring the gift of your money anxiety leads you to ask yourself:

  • Is this fear something that I’m just conditioned to feel perhaps because of past – but not present – circumstances?
  • Or do I literally not have enough money to care for my life?

If you have enough money now to ensure your life is taken care of then it’s healthy to practice releasing these thoughts (see tip #3). It’s not wise to allow thoughts of money anxiety to consume you when you’re literally safe.

Related: An Essential Therapy Skill: Wise Mind from DBT

However, if you don’t have enough money to care for your needs the next tip is for you. (Of course, you will still need to practice tip #3 when you’ve done what you can to make more money.)

Money Anxiety Coping Skill #2: Practice Courage and Boundary Setting to Make More Money

Much of the financial advice out there is about cutting back on costs – like less lattes – and saving more. However, this advice fails to neglect the fact that literally some of us don’t make enough money to care for basic needs!

For much of my adult life, I was in this category! After paying bills and ensuring I had money for groceries and gas in my car to get to work, I had less than $50 to last me for “savings” and “fun” for the next two weeks. My money anxiety was logical over these years. But what I now realize looking back was I needed to be proactive in advocating for my financial needs in a way I wasn’t. Back then, I felt resigned that as a new therapist I had to make a wage that barely allowed me to survive working at a non-profit.

I learned the necessity of courage and boundary setting to protect my financial – and mental – health the hard way. This lesson led me to write my section on money and work in my book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach).

I want to provide you with an exercise from this book to help you assert yourself to make more money if you need. After all, your money anxiety may be giving you this insight. Below, you will see the exercise from Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach).

Negotiate a Fair Salary or Raise

Many people with porous boundaries have experienced the pain of learning they make less than others in the same role because they didn’t assert themselves to ask for a fair salary when taking a new job. If you provide a service, honor your fair wage – even with friends. It’s a boundary violation to be expected to work for free or less than what makes you feel respected. If you’re looking for a job, allow this respectful wage to be nonnegotiable. Otherwise, you will feel resentful later. This activity will provide you the opportunity to practice assertive communication around financial negotiations.

Steps:

  1. First, determine what wage or salary will make you feel respected in your work (or on a project). Notice the difference you feel emotionally between considering what would make you feel respected versus what you’re currently being paid.
  2. When discussing pay during the interview process, say something like, “I appreciate that offer, but I need to get closer to [larger number than nonnegotiable].” You must advocate for yourself to counteract the human nature that company representatives will show (they will take as much as they can get for as little as possible.} Employers expect to negotiate, so state a number higher than your ideal wage. If an employer rejects you, they revealed they aren’t a good choice for you as you’re starting this relationship from a place of too much self-sacrifice.
  3. If you’re already in a job, it’s essential to advocate for a raise. You may have understandable fears or guilt, but you’re the only person who can protect your financial well-being. Use this outline for assistance:
    • Say or email, “I need to have my yearly evaluation by [give a date within the month].
    • Before the meeting, if possible, find out the yearly cap for raises (this may be in the employee handbook.)
    • During this meeting, note the length of time you have there and any accomplishments. For example, if you have been doing the job of others as they eliminated roles, discuss this. State, “Based on this increased work (or accomplishments), I need to get a raise. I’m hoping for [state maximum they offer yearly].” Now you can negotiate.
    • If your request for an evaluation and/or raise is rejected, no matter the justifications, your boundaries are being violated. Your financial boundaries are violated when you are not given career advancement opportunities, including raises, or if barriers are put in place such as penalizing you for taking maternity leave. This employer has revealed they don’t value an interdependent, safe relationship together. Prioritize your well-being over the employer’s. Update your resume and look for a more respectful company. This may feel like a lot of work at first, but notice the future relief of being valued – and earning more money.

A Raise or a New Job?
Many employers justify not giving raises, so be sure to explore your other options. The Pew Research Center found in 2022 that people who stayed with their current employers from April 2021 to March 2022 saw their “real” wage (after adjusting for inflation) drop by 1.7 percent for the median worker. But half of those who switched employers had their real wage increase by at least 9.7 percent!

Money Anxiety Coping Skill #3: Shift Your Thoughts

Once you’ve honored the gift of fear and made changes that literally help you feel safer (such as making more money or if relevant, aligning your spending with your values), then the work is to shift your thoughts.

Dealing with anxiety effectively – whatever the source of this anxiety – is a always a process of learning how to redirect our thoughts from unhelpful to more helpful thoughts.

This is the practice of mindfulness. Very simply, mindfulness is to pay full attention to the present moment without judging it. For example, “I notice that I feel a sense of pressure in my chest and I’m thinking about my rent being due. It is what it is.”

Practicing Mindfulness

When you’re mindful, you – or the situation – aren’t “good” or “bad.” It’s just an awareness of what’s happening in the moment.

Mindfulness is a practice though. You never “master” it. Rather all human minds have the tendency to get preoccupied with the noise of life, the past, and the future – including our fears about it. Therefore, the practice of mindfulness is to pay attention to your thoughts. And when you notice your thoughts are anxious ones, you simply shift back to the present.

Your money anxiety thoughts aren’t “good” or “bad” and you need not analyze them. Rather, you simply want to use your energy to let the thought pass like a cloud in the sky and focus on the present moment.

How to Practice Mindfulness

You can come back to the present moment by focusing on your breath or paying attention to what’s around you. For example, you can count how many trees you can see around you if you’re outside or how many purple things are in your room.

This is the work of mindfulness which allows you to stop feeding the anxious thoughts and feel better with practice.

Coping Well with Money Anxiety

With practice, you can cope well with your money anxiety.

Remember, it’s not a “failure” to experience anxiety about money. Your sense of safety in this world is tied to money – this anxiety makes sense.

Rather keep working on advocating for your financial needs and setting boundaries where possible. And when there’s nothing you can do in the present moment about your financial situation, work to shift your thoughts.

After all, letting your mind race with thoughts of your money anxiety never helps the situation. For more coping skills, check out these articles:

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About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com or DM her on Instagram. We will always keep your name and other identifying information confidential.

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