How to Deal With Money Anxiety Disorder

“Money anxiety disorder” is a term used by psychologists to describe a condition of constant worry and unease about money. The term seems to have come into use around 2008 to 2009, when the economy was unraveling and most people were concerned about their financial well-being. Additionally, research has shown that women seem to suffer from this malady more than men.

A person so afflicted has a pervasive fear about money that triggers the “fight or flight” response. When this fear-based response is triggered, our rational minds get pushed aside and emotions tend to predominate. It’s not like we can think our way out of the anxiety, because our thoughts tend to feed the anxiety. It’s easy for our mind to lead us from being fearful about the possibility of losing our job, to losing it, to not being able to pay the mortgage, to being homeless, and to almost certain death in a matter of seconds.

According to Koorosh Ostowari, author of The Money Anxiety Cure, practicing mindfulness is a necessary first step in helping yourself out of the morass of money anxiety. Signs of the fear response show up in our bodies. To begin to understand what is happening to us, we need to be aware and in touch with ourselves. Check in with how you feel when engaging in any behavior involving money. Ask yourself: Does looking at your checkbook cause your heart to race or you to feel nauseous? Do you find yourself comparing your financial situation to that of others? How do you feel when this happens? Where in your body do you feel it? Knowing how and where the anxiety shows up in our body alerts us to our stress.

People often have an underlying belief or fear that there will never be enough money. This scarcity thinking is seldom rational, as we live in a society that leads us to believe that we should always strive for more, and that more is always better. We may also have experiences or stories in our personal history that reinforce the belief that money is scarce. Ostowari reminds us that we seek to ultimately balance what we want with what we actually need.

Ostowari suggests that reducing money anxiety and feeling better about our financial situation requires more than just managing the numbers. What is needed is a practiced awareness of how we feel when we’re in situations involving money. When we are in touch with ourselves, we begin to see our reactions for what they are: fear-based and the result of our past relationship with money. When you begin to accept the feelings in your body and recognize that they are impermanent, they will pass. Acknowledging these feelings and working more constructively with them is a big step in the direction of healing anxieties around money.

What I find compelling in the approach is my own appreciation for how it works. In my past, I’ve had periods of intense anxiety around money, particularly with respect to having “enough.” It has motivated and driven me to be a saver all these years. However, having the numbers work out isn’t enough to quell the anxiety. As Ostowari reminds us, we need to cultivate other practices around money that help us acknowledge and deal with our feelings about it. That is the path to more peace in our financial lives.

Jeffrey Stoffer is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.