The #1 Thing You Need To Do to Dump Your Money Anxiety

Here’s how to take control of your financial stress now!

Author: Kari Lorz, Certified Financial Education Instructor

Author: Kari Lorz – Certified Financial Education Instructor

It’s that time again, and you’d rather be doing anything else (and I do mean anything) than paying bills! Do you feel like this? Every month, the same dread and the same thoughts go through your brain… “How did we get here?”

Why do we feel like we failed?

Let’s do the hard work together and label your feelings over your money anxiety!

I talked with Moms about their feelings about money anxiety. Maybe their insight can help you start the process of clarifying your own feelings and see how to move past the worry that financial stress brings.

how to dump your financial stress

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Who’s facing the weight of money anxiety?

Stressing out over money and beating ourselves up isn’t doing us any good. You know that, right? But before we can move through this phase (and it is a phase), we need to recognize and acknowledge what we’re feeling! Please notice that I said, “we.” It’s an “us” thing because this absolutely isn’t a “you” thing. So many women and families struggle with the weight of their debt, or their lack of savings.

The American debt situation is indeed bleak, and according to this research, 41.2% of American households carry credit card debt. They continue to say, “The mean credit card debt of U.S. households is approximately $5,700, according to most recent data from the Survey of Consumer Finances by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

This information comes from data collected up through to the year 2013, and represents the most reliable measure of credit card indebtedness in the United States.”

So there’s proof, you’re not alone by being in debt. You are in good company, as we are in this together!

It’s also helpful to come to terms with what’s involved with our financial anxiety, as it’s not just our money situation right now. We’ve been subjected to stress & money having a relationship for a long time, although we may not have realized it.

This long-term narrative is called your money story. It’s how you were raised, taught, and observed how money and financial situations were handled in your home. It’s impactful and it’s important!

What being in debt feels like to us Moms

As I said above, I talked to Moms about how their debt and financial challenges makes them feel, all over a very official medium, Facebook :). People tend to be very blunt on the internet, so I take their feelings and emotions about their financial stress to be entirely authentic and a bit raw.  

I’m going to give it to you unfiltered, not softened, or sugar-coated. Because this is real life, this is what being in debt feels like…

  • feeling that I’ll never be able to pay it off
  • feelings of scarcity
  • my body gets sick from the stress levels
  • making me desperate in other areas. i.e., take any job, cut any expense, even things that we need
  • anxious & ashamed
  • depressed
  • failure and shame
  • struggle with being present in life, always thinking about their debt to the point of distraction
  • compulsively check account balances. Is there enough money to cover it all?
  • trapped
  • ignore it, as it wears you down to think about it
  • frustrated
  • loss of control
  • being stuck
  • scared
  • muscle tension & pain due to high-stress levels
  • anxiety because they don’t know what spouse will buy next
  • it feels like we’re drowning in our debt
  • get buys remorse even for buy things we need
  • always chasing the debt, a cycle
  • the feeling of going deeper into a hole

Could you identify with any of these Moms? I know I sure can! Let’s get personal here, as even though my husband and I have dumped our credit card debt, we do still have a mortgage.

When we were in our deepest debt, I can remember that I would check our account balances almost every day. I would imagine myself in old age, living in poverty. Fearing we would always be stuck, always be broke. I feared that nothing would ever change. That was my version of financial stress.

You may be wondering why I am sharing this, as our feelings are personal. There are a lot of stigmas that come with being in a bad financial situation, so we don’t talk about it openly. Which only reinforces that it’s something to feel ashamed about.

Talking about it openly and honestly can help you walk through your own thought process, making things clearer for yourself. And you could be helping others by letting them see that others struggle too.

Life shouldn’t all be IG-worthy; life shouldn’t be just a well-curated feed of beautiful hair and brunch photos. We don’t make connections that way; we make connections when we feel other’s pain, see their struggles, and watch them overcome.

Then we too can help them live that joy, slowly coming to realize that there’s hope for us too! …Why not me? This is what you should be asking yourself!

What I want is for you to read the feelings above and think, “OMG, this is me! This is how I FEEL!” and then letting the realization sink in that you are not alone! There is nothing “wrong” with you! You aren’t dumb; you’re not cursed. What you are in, is a crappy situation that can be turned around!

suze orman quote on financial stress

What happens if you don’t deal with your financial stress?

Maybe you’re in a place where you just can’t face your situation. That’s fine, acknowledge that you can’t (for right now), yet make a promise to yourself that you will come back to it in one week or one month. And we know by now that the promises we make to ourselves are the most important!

We can’t let ourselves be stressed and worried about our finances for too long though. A mom mentioned above that she gets sick from the stress. But what does that mean, and how does it show up?  

Stress in the moment of threat

The Mayo Clinic has done an excellent job of explaining the effects of stress on your body.

When you feel stressed, “Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol… Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies.

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes.”

This is called the fight or flight response.

Once the perceived threat has passed, your body returns these hormone levels back to normal.

But when stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on and your physical and mental health suffer.

“The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at an increased risk of many health problems.”

Prolonged stress effects on our lives

Helpguide did a fantastic job of breaking down what prolonged stress looks, feels like and how it presents itself in our lives (this isn’t specific to just financial stress though).

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical Symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g., nail-biting, pacing)

If you can identify and relate to any of the symptoms mentioned above, then take heart. Knowledge is power! If you were watching T.V. in the ’80s, you might remember NBC’s “The More You Know” PSA campaign. When you learn about something and understand it better, you can then take action on it!

Do you have money anxiety disorder?

If you’re experiencing long-term high financial anxiety, then maybe it’s time to get professional help. A few resources that I looked at mentioned money anxiety disorder, but there wasn’t a lot of information, so it might be uncommon or just recently come into view of the financial therapist and psychology community.

Psychology Today says, ” Money disorders are persistent patterns of self-destructive and self-limiting financial behaviors. I believe that they result from distorted beliefs about money we develop from our financial flashpoint experiences. Financial flashpoints are painful, distressing, and/or dramatic life events associated with money that are so emotionally powerful, they leave a lasting imprint.”

Dr. Brad Klontz developed the money script categorization – and within those has identified three types of money disorders.

  1. Money Avoidance – includes Underspending and Excessive Risk Aversion
  2. Money-Worshipping – includes Pathological Gambling, Workaholism, and Overspending
  3. Relational Money – includes Financial Dependence and Financial Incest

The #1 thing to do – make a financial plan to feel more in control

How to overcome your anxiousness in the moment

There are other things that you can do to help you feel better in your mind and body, and help you move through the axiousness faster.

  • Go for a run & get your heart rate up! Get all that nervous energy out of your body!
  • Start taking small steps to learn more about what you are fearful of, as learning about something demystifies it. Listening to podcasts is one of the easiest ways to start!
  • Talk to like-minded people, share concerns, and hear their stories; someone is probably a few steps ahead of you on their journey, they may have tips or can empathize and help you feel heard, understood, and validated. Find some great Facebook groups to be a part of!
  • Be proud of your steps forward, no matter how small, they all add up to help get you to where you want to be! Sometimes you need to not only be proud but to celebrate as well! Pay off a credit card? Have a living room dance party, get a cupcake, journal your feelings of pride to help the moment sink in, and be real!
  • Practice reframing your worries into positive wealth affirmations. Using affirmations is part of using the law of attraction, where you focus on what you do want, not on what you don’t want. Because worrying obsessively is just going to bring you down, where you need to focus on building yourself back up!
  • Pray. Yes, prayer can have have a hugely positive effect on your anxiety. Offer up your prayers about your money worries and trust that the higher power is listening.
picasso quote on planning

How do we get rid of our long-term financial stress?

There were a lot of Moms that repeated the above comments, and a few feelings got a lot of agreements and “OMG me too!” responses. Yet, there was only one response that wasn’t echoed by others. One single person said that they never felt bad about their debt, as they have always had a plan to pay it off.

What? Yup. She had a plan, so she didn’t feel bad.

I am sure this person still felt some sort of other feelings about their debt. Yet this is the response she chose. (oohhhhhh, did you catch that? She chose her feelings! SHE CHOSE!) She wasn’t stressed about her money situation at all (so it seemed).

You can call B.S. if you want, but those of you that have taken control of your thoughts and mindset in other areas of your life know that this is hard to do, yet so powerful! Your money mindset is particularly powerful, don’t dismiss it as being too woo-woo (I made that mistake too!).

Yes, feel all the feels, wallow for a little bit, and then pull yourself up, tell your money problems to take a flying leap (or insert curse word of choice) and then get to work building your own action plan!

The way to move past your anger, fear, and financial anxiety will be to take control and make a plan of action, and then to choose how you feel about it! I’m not saying that you have to feel good about it, or even ambivalent. Your darker emotions may pop up every now and then (that’s normal). But you know that you already have the mental and emotional tools to pull yourself up out of the negative place that you’re in.

One of the best ways to figure out how to reach your end goal is to reverse engineer the steps. It’s kind of like drawing a roadmap of exactly how to get to where you want to be. Be specific, be detailed; ask yourself “how” a bunch of times to achieve your big goals!

For example, to pay off my Visa card by 2021, I need to pay an extra $532 a month. In order to get that $532 a month I need to cut my household expenses, such as the gym membership, I need to have two garage sales (a spring and a fall one), I need to DIY Chrismas presents, and I need to cut getting my nails done, and my hubs need to nix cable.

To do this, I need to look into getting just Hulu, go through the garage and the attic for sellable items, call the gym to cancel, and get on Pinterest for cute DIY crafts. Done. There’s your plan. (of course, I do realize this is a very simple plan, but you get the idea).

One of the best places to start is to get a working monthly budget up and going. I know, people have a love/hate relationship with budgeting in the beginning. I hope you will take the stance that budgeting is a tool that will make your dreams a reality!

If you have a working household budget, then it’s time to look at the bigger picture. A comprehensive financial plan will help you for the long haul. Here are some other things you can do…

  • List out a financial goal – like build a starter emergency fund
  • List out your money worries, and then write the counter of that. So instead of saying “I suck at money”, you can say “I working on building my financial literacy every day.” (this is using positive money affirmations).
  • Analyze my spending habits by keeping an expense tracker.
  • Call your credit card company and ask about repayment options
  • Go over your monthly bills and aim to cut 20% of the outgoing dollars, especially your spending money (aka the non-necessity expenses)
  • Go over your credit report and get your credit score to establish a starting point
  • Look for a financial advisor, to open up a retirement account and start building security
  • Go to the library and check out a book. Your go-to personal finance expert could be – Dave Ramsey, David Bach, Jean Chatzky, Lara Adams, etc.

A good rule of thumb is to also not make your financial decisions at the moment. Get some space from the immediate situation, and take the time to research it thoroughly.

If you’re looking to not only get rid of financial anxiety but to stop the cycle at the beginning, then figuring out how to stop spending money in the first place is key! There are many reasons for spending and just as many creative ways on how to stop. If one thing doesn’t work for you then try something else!

At the end of the day

Mama, don’t feel bad about your situation, but don’t be complacent either! We can’t change our past; we can only move forward from today!

You can choose to take a new emotional path, it’s not easy (it will take practice and patience), but it will absolutely help you!

Again, making a plan won’t completely get rid of your negative feelings and emotions, but what it will do is give you a sense of control. You need to find healthy ways to help alleviate your anxiety levels. Going through life in fear, anger, pain, and shame is no way to live. I want better for you! I hope that you want it too, bad enough to fight for it!

money affirmations workbook square

Debt and the overarching anxiety over money shouldn’t define your happiness (or lack thereof) it’s time for a plan!

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  1. Those feelings arise from having debts are what motivated me to pay off my biggest debt, my mortgage. I remember the scary feeling i had during the financial crisis, holding a debt of this size is super uncomfortable as you never know what’ll happen next! I felt like a weight has been lifted now that I’m 100% debt-free. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of sacrifice, but it’s worth it.

  2. I have felt all the feelings you’ve listed. I have recently paid off my student loans and omg what Ana amazing feeling that is!

  3. You’ve got really great tips here! I am
    Making some pretty serious with my personal finances and yes it has been rather stressful. Thanks for putting things in perspective and for all your words of wisdom!

  4. Unfortunately debt is so common and can cause so much stress!
    I love all the ways you listed to deal with the stress of debt while also working to eradicate the debt

  5. Great article! We are currently working on paying down debt but preparing to add a new baby to our family soon so finances can be quite stressful when we sit down to really think about it! I always feel so much better when I have a plan and have to keep reminding myself to think about how far we’ve already come.

  6. Oh wow.this is me right now. Trying to balance motherhood, my personal life(that’s if I still have that), paying off debt and lot more. I’m so subscribing right now

  7. Great article Kari! Financial stress does suck the joy out of life! It takes a toll on your overall wellbeing and that is definitely no way to live! And the best part is that it is totally avoidable when we have awareness and when we stop being afraid to talk about it. Everyone should get mad and do whatever they can to dump financial stress.

  8. I love how you connect mental and physical well being with personal finance fitness. it’s SO important to our well being but so few of us take that step even if we’re focusing on our health and our mental health. Love this post and will definitely be following along!

  9. Financial stress can be so overwhelming! I completely believe that what you focus on you find more of, so you have to stop feeding it. Your tip about having a plan helps alleviate the stress by knowing you can deal with it. Loved this post. So many are having this issue and don’t know how to fix it.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your tips! At times we all have financial concerns, and it can be so stressful. Thank you for giving suggestions on how these can be dealt with in a more healthy way.

  11. Thank you for writing this so openly. I am currently going through this exact thing. It has been 6 months of debilitating anxiety and feeling like a failure as a mom. My SO and I made a plan and have started putting the pieces into action.

  12. Thank you for breaking this down! And yes, it’s totally a choice even though it feels so tough at the moment. This isn’t financially related but my husband keeps getting annoyed by the littlest things with our kiddos and I tried to lovingly convey this message without seeming controlling. There’s so much power in our awareness and owning how we feel. And then taking that information and doing something about it!!

  13. Financial stressbis definitely one of the worst to deal with. Taking control in whatever form I can helps me to reduce stress. I’m stressed by the thought of not being in control of finances, due to interest rates etc. Like you mentioned making a plan and reverse engineering what needs to be done has helped me to feel more in control and less stressed.

  14. I find talking to a financial planner really helps put debt into perspective. Once you have a plan in place it is easier to eliminate one debt at a time. Thank you for sharing, I am sure there are many moms who understand this feeling and can find some relief in learning they are not alone.

    1. Love the idea of reverse engineering in order to figure out what you need to do to pay off your debt! Sometimes, we don’t realize that we spend so much on things we don’t really need. We need to sit down and jot down the things we spend on so we can cut back on the unnecessary things. Budgeting should not be scary! 🙂 Nice post!

  15. There are days where everything seems to pile up and you can’t change what happened, you can only choose how to move forward.

      1. These are some great ideas for taking control of money and financial stress. I have learned through the years to sit and plan first then I feel better about it all.

  16. One of my goals for 2020 is to live within my means and reduce my debt. It’s indeed stressful but now that I have a plan and feel in control of this situation, I am feeling empowered!