What is Money Anxiety Disorder?

“Money anxiety disorder” is a term used by psychologists to describe a condition of constant worry and unease about money. The term seems to have come into use around 2008 to 2009, when the economy was unraveling and most people were concerned about their financial well-being. Additionally, research has shown that women seem to suffer from money anxiety more than men. Here we look at what it is, how to recognize it and how the financial planning process might help.

Money Anxiety Can Trigger “Fight or Flight”

A person so afflicted has a pervasive fear about money that triggers the “fight or flight” response. When this fear-based response is triggered, our rational minds get pushed aside and emotions tend to predominate. It’s not like we can think our way out of the anxiety, because our thoughts tend to feed the anxiety. It’s easy for our mind to lead us from being fearful about the possibility of losing our job, to losing it, to not being able to pay the mortgage, to being homeless, and to almost certain death in a matter of seconds.

What To Do About It

According to Koorosh Ostowari, author of The Money Anxiety Cure, practicing mindfulness is a necessary first step in helping yourself out of the morass of money anxiety. Signs of the fear response show up in our bodies. To begin to understand what is happening to us, we need to be aware and in touch with ourselves. Check in with how you feel when engaging in any behavior involving money. Ask yourself:

1. Does looking at your checkbook cause your heart to race or you to feel nauseous?
2. Do you find yourself comparing your financial situation to that of others?
3. How do you feel when this happens?
4. Where in your body do you feel it?

Knowing how and where the anxiety shows up in our body alerts us to our stress.

People often have an underlying belief or fear that there will never be enough money. This scarcity thinking is seldom rational, as we live in a society that leads us to believe that we should always strive for more, and that more is always better. We may also have experiences or stories in our personal history that reinforce the belief that money is scarce. Ostowari reminds us that we seek to ultimately balance what we want with what we actually need.

Practicing Awareness in Situations Involving Money

Ostowari suggests that reducing money anxiety and feeling better about our financial situation requires more than just managing the numbers. What is needed is a practiced awareness of how we feel when we’re in situations involving money. When we are in touch with ourselves, we begin to see our reactions for what they are: fear-based and the result of our past relationship with money. When you begin to accept the feelings in your body and recognize that they are impermanent, they will pass. Acknowledging these feelings and working more constructively with them is a big step in the direction of healing anxieties around money.

Where the Financial Planning Process Comes In

It is important to take steps to manage your financial situation to reduce anxiety. In addition to practicing money awareness financial planning,  can lead to increase your feelings of being in control. Financial planning provides a process, structure and a path to create goals and to attain them. The result is more clarity about your money. More information leads to to better decisions.

This may not seem intuitively obvious to those having anxiety around their financial situation. People coming into my office may know on one level they need to do some planning for their future but at the same time feel a sense of dread around the idea. Being aware of this can be powerful in that once realized you can make a choice that is more conscious and aligns with your best intentions for yourself.

Financial Planning Builds Confidence

The process of financial planning then becomes part of your healing as you face the “thing” that contributes to your anxiety. It starts with looking at spending, where does all the money go? Then, we look at savings and investments. The process of financial planning can lead people to a place of knowing what enough might look like. I have witnessed this many times and admire people’s strength and courage to step into their fears. Each step along the way people seem to get stronger and build a sense of confidence that things will be OK. And as Ostowari reminds us, we need to cultivate other practices around money that help us acknowledge and deal with our feelings about it. That is the path to more peace in our financial lives.

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