May 06, 2024

Woman in light blue hijab leans back on a couch with her hands clasped behind her neck and a content expression on her face.

Anyone can experience financial anxiety, including mental health professionals. Just ask Joyce Marter.

In the early 2000s, Marter, a licensed psychotherapist and author, went through a period of financial difficulties while running her counseling practice. Eventually her constant worries about her business and paying her bills led to insomnia and panic attacks. 

“As an entrepreneur, I definitely dealt with money anxiety,” she said. By relying on her professional background, though, she was able to manage the impact. “I used the skills I developed from my clinical training to help myself and save my business.”

Many people have money concerns during different periods of their lives. For some, worrying about money can turn into financial anxiety, harming their health and quality of life.

Marter, now a Florida-based expert in financial health and wellness, says there are practical steps you can take that may help overcome symptoms of financial anxiety. These steps might also help you overcome some financial challenges. By understanding the signs of money anxiety you can begin to proactively address it.

What is financial anxiety?

Financial anxiety is described as long-term, extreme emotional distress related to money and finances, typically lasting six months or more, Marter said.

Stephanie Smith, a licensed psychologist based in Colorado, agrees. “When I think of financial anxiety, I think of a longer-term struggle,” she said. Although very real for many people, financial anxiety “is not a formal mental health diagnosis,” she noted.

Because it is not identified as a single ailment, it may be difficult to recognize the way financial anxiety impacts our lives.

Yet the links between money worries and mental health are well known. A survey from the American Psychiatric Association showed that 59% of adults said they were anxious about their personal finances.1 Worries about money also affect a range of generations, including Gen Z and millennials.

While it is common for people to experience money concerns periodically, there’s a difference between more ordinary financial stress and financial anxiety. Financial stress refers to money worries that may affect someone occasionally. Financial anxiety, however, is a more severe situation, which can arise due to a number of factors.

“Just like with generalized anxiety, financial anxiety may occur with or without reason,” Smith said. Sometimes people suddenly experience an episode of money anxiety without an apparent cause. Other times financial anxiety can be rooted in a history of some kind of financial hardship.

Money anxiety might be related to a major life change that affects a person’s financial health, such as unemployment or a divorce. Other people with money anxiety may have a “cluster of symptoms that reflect anxiety about money,” Marter said. “Many people who deal with money anxiety might also have an underlying anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or adjustment disorder,” she said.

Unlike money stress, financial anxiety has an impact on a person’s daily life—in their relationships with family and friends, in their work habits, and in their ability to enjoy activities or hobbies, Smith explained.

“Just like with generalized anxiety, financial anxiety may occur with or without reason.” 

- Stephanie Smith

What are the signs of financial anxiety?

People with financial anxiety often experience overwhelming thoughts or compulsive behaviors about money and finances. For example, they may check their bank balances or their bills over and over. For some people, obsessive thoughts about money may produce physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, or affect their appetite or sleep, Marter said.

Other signs of money anxiety that were identified by both Marter and Smith include the following:

  • Avoiding finances or bills because it increases anxiety
  • Constantly worrying there is not enough money saved for sudden, unexpected expenses
  • Drastically restricting spending, or having excessive guilt about making even small purchases
  • Feeling a loss of control with money and finances
  • Exhibiting overspending and impulse purchasing
  • Feeling extremely overwhelmed when making even simple decisions about money
  • Feeling so hopeless about money that it’s difficult to enjoy everyday life

Why does financial anxiety occur?

Following daily news reports about the state of our economy or inflation rates may create overwhelming money worries, the therapists noted. Personal experiences and learned beliefs may also contribute to anxiety over financial issues.

“The beliefs that we learn from our families and cultures about money can very much shape our thinking, our emotions, and our behaviors about money,” Marter said. For instance, many people are taught from an early age not to speak openly about money with others. Not sharing money worries with others can lead to even greater financial anxiety, she said.

Those with a history of multigenerational financial trauma, financial abuse, or sustained economic trauma tied to childhood poverty may also experience financial anxiety during their lives.2

In addition, previous lack of job prospects, an unsteady financial history, or even a stressful job might also be contributing factors, Marter said. Episodes of financial anxiety may also follow a stressful event that negatively affects finances, such as a sudden job loss, a bankruptcy, or unexpected, large medical expenses, she said.

“The beliefs that we learn from our families and cultures about money can very much shape our thinking, our emotions, and our behaviors about money.” 

- Joyce Marter

What are some ways to manage your financial anxiety?

If you worry that your financial concerns are leading to anxiety, learning financial skills and receiving therapy that targets anxiety may help reduce financial anxiety, according to some studies.

Marter and Smith separately identified a number of ideas that may help you manage financial anxiety. They suggested some practices to consider:

  • Seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in financial anxiety and related conditions. The Financial Therapy Association, an organization for professionals working in the field of financial therapy, may be a good starting point to find a therapist or counselor.
  • Practice mindfulness around money and finances. These practices may include identifying your beliefs around money, becoming self-aware about your approach to money, and focusing on decision-making.
  • Set limits on the amount of time you spend thinking about, talking about, or looking at finances each day.
  • Develop a financial plan with the help of a professional financial advisor or knowledgeable friend.
  • Apply techniques that may work to manage other types of anxiety, such as pursuing cognitive behavior therapy, breathing exercises, meditation, or writing in a journal.

How can you be better with money?

Learning how to manage your money is another way to help financial anxiety. Some people turn to financial professionals for practical guidance. You might also speak with family members or friends who have experienced financial anxiety. They may give you tips on how they have managed their money and mental health.

Marter and Smith agreed that you might also:

  • Educate yourself about personal finance through podcasts, websites, books, and financial professionals.
  • Take a class about managing personal finances, either through a local community college or online learning sources.
  • Find financial counseling from nonprofit agencies or local government or state agencies on how to manage debt.
  • Learn how to budget your money and create a realistic financial plan.
  • Think about consolidating your debt as a way to gain more control over your finances.

It’s important to keep in mind that financial anxiety can affect anyone at different times of their life.

“There is a subset of Americans who struggle to manage their worry about finances,” Smith said. “This is to be expected when there are actual financial hardships or crises going on, like when it’s getting close to tax day, the credit card bill from December arrives, or the car breaks down.”

The good news is that you can make changes that may improve your money anxiety. By taking the time for what Marter calls financial self-care, and by staying focused on small steps towards progress, you can make a positive impact towards achieving your financial goals.

How to Achieve Financial Goals

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