The coronavirus pandemic has been full of uncertainties, with financial security chief among them. Nearly everyone — not just those who’ve lost a job or had their income reduced — is feeling worried and concerned. So what is financial anxiety?
“Financial anxiety is a feeling of distress around money when you have the necessary resources,” says Alex Melkumian, a licensed therapist who specializes in financial psychotherapy. “You’re unable to stop worrying and you lose sleep over financially related issues.” It's a lot to cope with, but there are ways to combat it. Read on for expert advice and strategies.
WHO IS AFFECTED BY FINANCIAL ANXIETY?
People struggle with financial anxiety for a variety of reasons. Some are simply more prone to worrying about their finances. For others, financial anxiety can stem from growing up in a household where their parents worried about money, which may mean they are likely to repeat and re-create a similar home environment.
As the trajectory of the pandemic remains unknown, lack of control is a major source of anxiety, says Heather Lyons, a licensed psychologist and owner of the Baltimore Therapy Group. “We can bring down levels of anxiety by realizing areas where we do have control,” she says. “It's important to realize that we can take action. We can't wake up from this nightmare with the snap of our fingers and we can't fix it all by ourselves, but we certainly aren't helpless.”
IF YOU’RE CONCERNED ABOUT POTENTIAL FINANCIAL HARDSHIPS
Between rising unemployment rates and a fluctuating stock market, it’s understandable to be concerned about what your future financial picture might look like. “My suggestion would be to stay in the moment and deal with it as it comes, and that is the hardest part of dealing with financial anxiety,” Melkumian says. “Anxiety in general is worrying about future outcomes, so when [we do this], we’re not in the present and we miss out on what actually needs to be done.”
To adopt a more present mindset, Melkumian encourages his patients to address their anxiety head-on. “When we don’t have containment for our emotions, such as anxiety, stress, fear, worry and sadness, they tend to overtake our mental health and our perspective,” he says. “Then, all of a sudden that person is stressed, anxious or sad — and then they have the unfortunate propensity to become clinically anxious and depressed.”
By giving yourself a dedicated — but limited — time to experience these emotions, you can then try to focus on not worrying for the rest of the day. Melkumian suggests spending five minutes or even half an hour each day to mull over and acknowledge your financial concerns, which can help you avoid ruminating obsessively. “The whole point is to stay balanced and aware,” he says. “You acknowledge, but don’t wallow.”
Allow yourself to recognize your feelings of frustration, anger or sadness instead of pushing them away. “This is an objectively difficult time,” Lyons says. “We need to allow ourselves to grieve our old lives." She also suggests picking up a mindfulness practice like focused breathing.
IF YOU’VE ALREADY EXPERIENCED A FINANCIAL SETBACK
An unfortunate reality of the coronavirus pandemic is that you may have already experienced a major financial loss, such as losing your job or having to cancel a non-refundable event or vacation.
In these situations, Melkumia encourages you to try not to dwell. Instead, focus on reframing the situation. “The more you fight against the idea that things are not going to be as good as they were before, the more anxiety that produces,” he says. “So the sooner you can get accept the here and now, you can then move forward and start taking action steps toward what needs to be done.”
It's also important to remember that these events can be more than just financial setbacks; they can be social and emotional ones as well. Lyons says it’s important to think of a cancelled milestone, like a wedding, as a loss and to grieve it accordingly. “People spend months, if not years, planning weddings, and the budget often reflects the magnitude of the event in a couple’s lives,” she says. “Couples might begin to cope with this by first acknowledging how unfair it is and identifying all that they were looking forward to that they'll miss out on. It's OK to feel sad and even angry about this loss.” It can also be helpful to think about next steps, such as getting married legally and celebrating later.
IF YOU’RE FEELING ANXIOUS IN GENERAL
You may be experiencing anxiety for other reasons right now, such as not being able to visit elderly parents or struggling to be productive while working from home. Creating some predictability, such as building a schedule (even a loose one), can help. This can be as simple as waking up at the same time, taking regular breaks and planning meals. Add in virtual happy hours or dance parties to remind yourself of all there is to look forward to.
And if you’ve been seeing a therapist, don’t let social distancing stop you from having sessions. “Research suggests that teletherapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for many concerns,” Lyons says.
It’s important to be patient during the transition to online therapy. There will be technical difficulties, and minimizing distractions might require you to get creative. For example, if there's not a quiet place in your house, consider attending therapy in your car. “I've been seeing clients online, and I've been amazed at how similar these sessions feel to the real thing,” Lyons says.