The Ultimate Resource
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with money. While it can buy us access to things that bring us joy — whether it be a dream home or a family vacation — it can also be a source of anxiety (especially if we don't think we have enough of it). In fact, surveys have consistently found that money beats out all other stressors, especially among women. In the American Psychological Association’s 2013 Stress in America report, nearly three-quarters of women surveyed cited it as their top source of stress.
"From an evolutionary standpoint, we are wired to associate resources with survival. We are the offspring of resource accumulators, meaning, we’re descended from people who amassed enough resources to sustain their children,” says Andrew Shatte, PhD, stress expert and Chief Science Officer of meQuilibrium, an online stress management program designed to help you rewire your stress response. “Money is the ultimate resource, and we associate survival with having enough."
But while in this day and age it's unlikely that you'll die of starvation, your fears around lack persist. For a panicked person, Shatte says, no amount will ever be enough.
What you can — and must — do is shift your stress response and build resilience so you can bounce back from stress and be less likely to succumb to its negative effects. Here are some ways to shift your thinking about money.
Identify Your Thinking Pattern
The stress you feel about money (or anything else) isn’t all in your head, but it starts there. That’s because stress begins with a thought, and that thought is part of a story that you’ve told yourself is true, even if it’s not. Jan Bruce, the CEO of meQuilibrium, was lying wide awake in bed one night, worried about her flight to see a client the next day: What if she overslept? What if the flight was delayed or canceled? She’d surely lose the client, then lose her business and all her money and end up a bag lady. “I went from fear of missing a flight straight to homeless,” she says.
This is what Shatte calls a “thinking trap” — one of the many we subject ourselves to every day. It’s a pattern of thinking that has you stuck. This particular trap is pessimism, because Bruce assumed that one single incident would ruin her life.
Try this: Follow the fearful thought. Until you can identify the trap, you will remain snagged in it, making it harder for you to perceive situations clearly. The next time you’re worried about a money issue, follow the chain of thinking to its illogical conclusion. See if it passes the laugh test, says Shatte, meaning once you actually spell out what you’re afraid will happen, it seems ridiculous. “Rumors of downsizing do not create homeless people,” says Shatte. See it for what it is: not the truth, but an automatic and ingrained pattern of thinking that likely isn’t true.
Look Beneath the Surface
A $200 rent increase can rattle anyone’s fears of “not enough” (I happen to know this first hand). This can trigger stress on a deeper level, caused by what Shatte calls an “iceberg belief.” Unlike the knee-jerk response of a thinking trap, an iceberg belief is a thought, formed early in life, about how the world works and how people behave — hand-me-down beliefs that rarely serve you.
“We call them icebergs because you don’t see how much influence this belief has over your life, since most of it is submerged into your subconscious,” says Shatte. In my case with the rent increase, it was, “People are always trying to cheat and manipulate you,” which made me furious with the landlord. Of course, I know better than to take the economy personally — but the belief still held. I had to see it for what it was: a rent increase, plain and simple, and let it go.
Try this: Expose your false beliefs. Just because your father believed wolves were always at the door doesn’t mean they are. Pay close attention to the stress caused by conflicting iceberg beliefs, like when “There will never be enough for me,” comes up against “I need more stuff to prove my worth.” (Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.)
Check Your Impulses
One of the hallmarks of resilience, says Shatte, is impulse control. When your fears and emotions around money run unchecked, so can your ability to control spending. “That impulsive drive to buy things, especially things you don’t need, stems again from that evolutionary need to accumulate resources,” says Shatte. “When you feel out of control, you may have the urge to take back the reins through spending,” says Shatte. “It feels good in the moment, but it’s bad problem solving.”
Try this: Trap it, map it, zap it. To improve resilience and reduce impulsive spending, interrupt the pattern. As you reach for your wallet, says Shatte, trap the thought: What is causing me to do this? What am I feeling? Then map it: Where is this coming from? Finally, zap it: Once you face the real issue, you can recognize what the purchase won’t solve. Put it off for now; you can always go back for it later. Chances are, when the mood passes, so will the urge.
Connect to Something Larger
Resilient people face the same stress as anyone else, says Shatte. But they’re anchored in a way that keeps them from capsizing every time another financial storm rolls in. “Fixating on wealth does not make you more resilient,” says Shatte. “The ones who fare best during times of economic stress are connected to something larger than themselves.”
This may mean community, faith, values — “something that was there before you and will be there after you’re gone,” says Shatte. “Those who feel part of something larger than themselves have more purpose and meaning in their lives, and often feel significantly more resilient.”
Try this: Make giving personal. There’s plenty of research on the health benefits of giving (one being that it quells anxiety!). But to get the most out of giving, new research published in the Journal of Happiness and Development suggests giving to a person you know. Study participants were asked if they wanted to donate to a charity, and while both groups gave around the same amount, the participants who were told they had a personal connection to the charity felt happier about giving. In other words, they got more bang for their literal and emotional buck. That social connectedness can do wonders for your resilience, not to mention make your electric bill sting just a little bit less.