A 2-step strategy can help you feel less anxious about money, says financial therapist

Lindsay Bryan-Podvin
Lindsay Bryan-Podvin is a financial therapist.
Courtesy Lindsay Bryan-Podvin

As a financial therapist, one of the things my clients find most surprising is when I tell them that anxiety, in and of itself, isn't something that is bad or dangerous. 

At its most basic level, anxiety is simply a healthy, time-limited worry response to a stressor that affects the way we think, feel, and behave. When our body feels anxious, it can react by going into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. When our body activates that way, it becomes more adept at moving quickly and nimbly. The downside is that after the fact we realize the choices we had to make quickly at the time might not have been the best course of action.

When tensions are high, it is easy to let fear drive our decisions about how we handle our money. We might compulsively track the markets and then, when we get anxious, decide impulsively to sell our investments, for example, or we might watch too much news, start getting afraid that the stores will run out of toilet paper, and then follow our impulse to go panic shopping.

The good news is, there is a simple, two-step strategy you can use to help cope with financial stress and set yourself up for the future. Step one: Ask yourself two questions. Step two: Reframe your thinking, and ideally shift your focus towards action.

Here's how it works.

Step 1: Ask yourself, 'Is this thought true?'

There is a lot of uncertainty around employment right now, and you might find yourself having anxious thoughts like, "I'll never work again." 

When that fear arises, I want you to ask yourself how true that is. Is it true that you might not work for several months? Yes. Is it true you may have to find a new place to work or collect unemployment? Yes. But that's very different from "never working again."

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When heightened, our anxiety likes to play tricks on us that include making us think more negatively than we would if we were in a balanced state of mind. 

Finding the facts, or remembering what is true about your situation, can help ground you and give you the knowledge, and the calmer mental space you need, to make smarter long-term decisions you can feel good about.

And ask yourself, 'Is this thought helpful or harmful?'

When our anxiety is high, our brains move differently to keep us safe. If we were walking and a bicyclist was flying down the road toward us, rather than think, "That person seems to be peddling quite quickly. I wonder if I should signal to them to slow down," our brain is going to tell us, "Danger, move!" It goes into that mode to get us out of the way so we don't get hurt.

So when you find yourself thinking, "I'll never get a job again," ask yourself the second question: Is that thought helpful or harmful?

Odds are you'll recognize it's harmful, since thinking in this negative and fear-based way makes you even more anxious and could leave you feeling helpless or trapped. 

Realizing the thought is a harmful one can help you realize it's worth reframing the thought, or considering the underlying worry in a different, more helpful way. That's step two of the process. 

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Step 2: Reframe and reroute

A reframe of this anxious thought could be, "While I'll be out of work for a little while, I know I have valuable skills I can bring to a new job or industry."

That reframing can lead you to actions, which will help you even more. 

In this case, I'd encourage you to write down a list of your transferable skills and experience. Right now, the restaurant industry has been hit hard. But for someone with hostess experience, for example, you have excellent organizational and customer service skills that you can lead with as you explore new roles. 

Fear can be paralyzing, but reframing thoughts can help you remember you have choices and options. There are concrete steps you can take if you are concerned about your job security or are now looking for new work, for example, like reaching out to your network and knowing where to get assistance if you need it. 

Remember the things you can control 

During times of uncertainty, focus on putting your energy and your efforts towards what you do have control over, no matter how small. Feeling a sense of control helps us to feel less anxious. Here are some options.

Make good money choices. You can contribute to your emergency fund, or start one. You can spend some time on sites like CareerOneStop for career resources and 211 to learn more about assistance programs in your community. 

Limit how much news you consume. You have control over what kind and how much media you engage with each day.

Take care of yourself. You may have control over when you take your body outside for some fresh air. You have some control over when you go to sleep and when you wake up. You may have control over reaching out to your loved ones. 

Think about your community. Another way to help with anxiety, financial and otherwise, is to be good to one another. If you are a nonessential worker and can stay at home, follow the CDC guidelines and do so. Buy a gift certificate to use at your salon or favorite café when they reopen. Shop locally as much as possible. Tip your delivery drivers generously. 

When anxious thoughts creep in, take a step back. Ask yourself, Is this thought true? And: Is this thought helpful? Then, with those answers, reframe your thinking and direct your energy to the concrete things you can do to alleviate your fears and keep moving forward.

Lindsay Bryan-Podvin is a biracial financial therapist, speaker, and author. She's passionate about helping high-earning couples recommit to their relationships using shame-free money coaching. It's her mission to teach all her couples how to stand in their power by including money in their relationship.

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