Money can be a significant cause of stress and anxiety in life, and it has the potential to negatively impact mental wellbeing, relationships, productivity and resilience.
Before COVID-19 hit the Australian shores, typical concerns about overspending, budgeting, mortgages, rent, superannuation and bills were some of the factors keeping people awake at night. For others, they may have been consumed by what felt like an obsession to save money (abstaining from that weekend take away avocado on toast). These factors alone were enough to cause too many Australians to experience financial anxiety.
Since early 2020, however, uncertainty and isolation have thrust even more Australians into positions of financial hardship. Many can’t switch off their worries about losing their job and not being able to generate a reliable income. Others, particularly our older generation, are concerned about losing their superannuation.
Amidst uncertain times, some self-awareness of our level of financial anxiety may be key to addressing it and working through it as best we can.
What is financial anxiety? How is it different to financial stress?
There is a difference between financial anxiety and financial stress. A person who is experiencing financial stress may have difficulty meeting basic financial commitments due to a lack of savings, income or financial support. While financial stress can have a negative impact on someone’s health and psychological wellbeing, it is different from financial anxiety.
Financial anxiety can be defined by an individual’s uneasy and worrisome attitude toward finances and a larger than usual focus and concern about how to effectively spend their money. People experiencing financial anxiety may be pre-occupied with questions like “Do I have enough savings?” and “Am I using my money on the right things?”. These worries may be more frequent and difficult to control, impacting on a person’s everyday life and causing distress. People experiencing this type of anxiety are more likely to be pre-occupied with budgeting and planning (more so than would be helpful), checking, or avoiding checking account statements, and finding purchase decisions difficult to make or requiring excessive reassurance from others about these decisions. These worries and unhelpful behaviours around finances are symptoms of anxiety.
It is important to normalise this stress and these worries. Ask yourself...Is what I’m feeling realistic? What impact are my attitudes having on my relationships? How much distress is this causing me?
6 Signs you might be suffering from financial anxiety
Some level of concern about money is normal but it shouldn’t have this level of impact or be causing significant distress:
A fixation on money
When we feel anxious we sometimes pay more attention to things we see as a threat. Whether you’re constantly increasing your financial goals or constantly disappointed by not reaching them at all, obsession with financial goals can be toxic.
You don’t want to discuss money
If the idea of discussing your financial concerns with others makes you feel uneasy, this could be the most obvious sign you are suffering from financial anxiety. On the flipside, one of the most common reactions to anxiety, is avoidance and so it might sometimes feel easier to avoid these discussions than to face them head on.
Money woes create sleeping woes
Anxiety and over-thinking (about finances and more generally) often result sleeping difficulties. If you have enough savings and earnings to allow you to live comfortably, but your concerns about finances still prevent you from getting a good night’s rest, you should consider talking to a therapist about coping with this anxiety. Addressing your mental health concerns can also help prevent any adverse impacts on your physical health.
Saving versus stockpiling money
Having a sensible budget and solid savings plan can suggest you have positive associations with money but if your saving turns into an obsession, you’re probably experiencing some financial anxiety.
Money as a negative impact on your relationship
There are plenty of factors in our everyday lives that can impact the strength of our relationships. Money is one of these. If your conversations with others about finances create ongoing friction and torment, your financial anxiety is having an impact on your life. It would be worthwhile talking to a therapist to develop the tools to maintain positive and purposeful conversations about money.
Many of us get so consumed about making financial decisions that we stop making decisions around finances altogether. If you find yourself in a position where you no longer feel like you can’t make any financial decisions you might be experiencing decision paralysis, which may be worth talking to a therapist about.
Which came first, the spending or the anxiety?
Spending to make yourself feel better can snowball quickly and generate a vicious cycle. If you tend to spend to feel better and this in turn increases your financial anxiety, we suggest you talk to a professional about breaking the cycle.
When should I seek psychological help for financial anxiety?
Seeking psychological help, for any concerns you have, is a healthy and proactive way to prioritise your mental health. This includes treating financial anxiety.
For individuals who have savings and can finance a comfortable life but have had negative experiences with money in their past, or feel panicked thinking about your saving and spending, you may like to speak to a psychologist about unhelpful beliefs and attitudes about money.
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