There’s something all-consuming about money troubles. The gnawing anxiety sticks to you like a vampire bat, leeching the joy and peace out of situations that have nothing to do with your financial woes. You’ll just be cleaning some dishes or finally putting your head on a pillow to sleep and, boom, fear explodes in your brain like a bomb. Or your eyes pop open at three in the morning and you’re suddenly wide awake, thinking about debt, or the upcoming payment you have to make — one you have no idea how you’re going to afford.
It’s an ugly feeling, and the first thing you have to keep in mind is that you’re not alone. Psychologists even have a term for it: “money anxiety disorder.” The term was popularized during the Great Recession, but even as the stock market has become somewhat more stable, its occurrences are only increasing. Millennials are saying they’ve felt physically ill over money worries at twice the rates of previous generations.
As you know, there’s no magic trick for getting out of debt and making your money worries disappear. But there are some things you can do to manage your stress and anxiety.
This sounds like pat, stereotypical Christian advice, but it’s much more than that, and it should be your first response when you’re feeling plagued by anxiety. Even psychologists outside the Christian sphere recommend meditation, mindfulness or just good, old-fashioned positive thinking as an active response to worry. Prayer is all that and much more — a conversation with a God who is able to grant peace that passes understanding. In a time when almost any sense of peace would be beyond worldly understanding, that’s exactly the sort of connection you need. Prayer is practical, peaceful and powerful. It is vital to any struggle with anxiety.
- Take Another Look at Your Budget
If you’re feeling fidgety, pull out your budget and try moving some of your expenses around. Maybe you didn’t anticipate your purchases accurately, or maybe some of your spending in one category is a little off. With a little math and some discipline, you can get your financial plan on track for the future. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s an important one that will pay off dividends in the future. Review your expenditures and make sure everything’s accurate, reduce some non-essential spending if at all possible and repeat as many times as necessary.
- Talk to a Financial Advisor
Your marriage doesn’t have to be on the rocks for you to see a marriage counselor and get a tune up. Your mental health doesn’t have to be in shambles for you to book an appointment with a therapist. And your financial situation doesn’t have to be dire for you to meet with a financial advisor and get some advice. Many financial advisors will even give you a free first session to hear about your situation and get to know you personally. It’s a good way to get an objective perspective on your finances and a little sound advice as well.
- Banish Comparison From Your Life
It’s hard to know how much of your financial stress comes from comparison — either comparing yourself to how good other people seem to have it, or spending too much money in an attempt to keep up with friends. A lot of this probably comes from Instagram, where your friends always seem to be out at new restaurants, taking long vacations and wearing amazing clothes. A few things to keep in mind about that:
- You don’t know the full story. Nobody’s posting Instagram photos of their credit card bills or makes Facebook posts about everything they’re cutting back on to afford a vacation. Don’t assume you’re seeing the full picture.
- You’re your own measure of success. Instead of using a friend or acquaintance as your yardstick of what happiness looks like, come up with one that’s tailored to you.
- Instagram isn’t the real world. It’s a filtered prism we use to put the best version of our lives on display. It’s not inherently a bad thing, but you need to discipline yourself to maintain a healthy perspective on it.
Delete Instagram if you have to. You’ve heard the quote about how “comparison is the thief of joy?” It’s true, and nothing breeds comparison like social media.
- Learn a Little
A lot of us grew up without healthy financial role models, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through life without knowing anything about money. There are lots of ways to learn more about how to take control of your financial situation. Every little step forward is a little step away from sleepless nights and upset stomachs. It’s up to you to start taking them.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.