How to cope with financial anxiety

Written by

Lauren Perez


October 30, 2019

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. Our friends at MagnifyMoney earlier this year 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. Let’s take a closer look at financial anxiety 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. How financial anxieties manifest 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 as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which helps classify various mental health diagnoses.

Ford stressed there’s a difference between a disordered level of financial anxiety and 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 usual tasks and responsibilities.

Is financial anxiety normal?

If you find yourself with intense money worries, know you’re not alone. In the MagnifyMoney survey, 34% of respondents said they felt anxious about money every 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 a 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 said.

What causes financial anxiety?

Earning a lower income is a big source for Americans’ financial anxiety. It was the most common reason across all age groups surveyed, although, at 66%, Gen Z’ers identified 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

Because the source of your financial anxiety likely differs from someone else’s, your coping methods will need to be adjusted to fit your needs. Here are some tips to help you start getting money anxiety under control, courtesy of Ford:

Accept your anxieties and name your triggers

Identifying your anxiety’s triggers can help you regain power and control over your financial 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 said. 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. Getting mail is probably not what’s making you anxious; bigger and bigger credit card bills, however, could be the problem. Recognize that your credit card debt affects your daily life and use that clarity to reform your credit card use.

Educate yourself about the financial problems causing your anxiety

Education and knowledge are keys to removing stress and fear from your financial life.

For instance, if you’re worried about passing debts onto your loved ones, research how debt is passed on after death. Get clarity on the gray areas so you can create a debt-payoff plan with your loved ones. If you’re afraid of unmanageable credit card debt, get counseling that helps you come to grips with your problems and develop a plan to resolve them.

Try slowing things down

Because anxiety can make things feel like they’re speeding up out of your control, Ford suggested slowing things down. Take deep breaths. 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 said, “or if there are exceptions or untruths.” Slowing down and reflecting can give you the opportunity to navigate any impulsivity and find more productive ways to think about the issue at hand.

Visit a financial therapist

Sometimes you need extra help to overcome money anxiety. If you can afford it, pay a visit to a financial therapist who can help guide you through your anxieties and propose solutions.

Financial therapists, according to the FTA, can help people reach their financial goals while attending to the emotional, psychological, behavioral and relational hurdles intertwined with their anxiety.

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.