Another tool I sometimes recommend when financial anxiety manifests physically is to, literally, shake it off. If your heart is racing, your stomach is in knots, or your breathing becomes shallow when thinking about signing up for life insurance at work, say, you can try standing up and shaking your arms or legs (I like to picture my overzealous Portuguese Water Dog Birdie doing one of her full-body shakes for inspiration). It might sound a little strange, but the technique is based on a therapy model developed by renowned trauma psychotherapist Peter Levine, PhD, called “somatic experiencing”—which involves processing and releasing tension and stress by tuning into and sometimes moving your body. Like other grounding techniques for anxiety, a bout of vigorous movement may help regulate your nervous system, at least in the moment.
4. Take your time learning about money.
Financial education is often preached as the way to end financial anxiety, and while it can certainly help, the mainstream advice to fill your brain with money management information is often short-sighted. Trying to learn everything you can about personal finance at once can cause you to feel overwhelmed, which, yep, can lead to financial anxiety! For example, someone might get very interested in zero-based budgeting (a method that accounts for every penny, every month), so they spend a lot of time researching the topic and creating the perfect color-coded spreadsheet, and then end up feeling like a failure when they overspend in a certain area, causing them to give up and decide that managing their money isn’t for them.
Instead, I recommend educating yourself in bite-sized chunks. Learn a bit about budgeting one month, for example, then listen to a podcast on emergency funds or try reading a book on investing the next month. I’m also a fan of regularly setting aside time to engage with money—I now schedule 45 minutes each month to dedicate to whatever financial to-dos are on my list, but when I was first getting started, it was 30 minutes per week. This way, when I experience a twinge of anxiety about a certain financial task, I know I have dedicated time to focus on it, which helps me feel calmer.
5. Come up with your own money language.
Jargon like “annuity,” “diversification,” “balance sheet,” and “time horizon” can be a turnoff in the money management space–especially if you’re experiencing financial anxiety. Many people I work with say they feel like personal finance isn’t for them because they’re intimidated by the cascade of confusing terms. Instead, try renaming terms with words that make you feel less anxious. For me, “budget” feels restrictive and punitive, so I use the term “spending plan” instead. The outcome is the same, but I’m less likely to feel anxious when using a term I feel more comfortable with. Other examples of this are calling an emergency fund a “life happens fund” or calling a retirement account a “financial freedom” account. This may seem trivial, but I’ve noticed (in myself and in my clients) that it can make engaging with money significantly more welcoming.
6. Know that it’s okay if you need to seek professional help.
While the above tips can certainly help dial down financial anxiety in certain circumstances, it’s important to note that they might not work for you—and it’s not your fault if they don’t. If your financial anxiety is ongoing and regularly impacts your ability to take care of yourself, get work done, and/or interact with others, a health care professional can help you determine the severity of your anxiety and offer treatment options to help you manage it. If you have one, you can ask your primary care provider for an anxiety assessment and potentially seek therapy, if you’re able. (The Financial Therapy Association has a database of therapists who specialize in financial wellness, some of which accept insurance and/or offer sliding-scale services.)
And if you’re struggling to make ends meet, are in a cycle of credit card debt, and/or are worried about your ability to pay for basic needs, you’ll also need more help than the advice in this article. In that case, working with a professional to figure out how to earn more and spend less so you can meet your financial needs is most important. If a financial therapist isn’t accessible to you, the United Way’s free programs on financial stability are a great resource—you can google “United Way financial stability + your county” to see if there’s help available in your area. Clever Girl Finance—an education platform focused on helping women achieve financial independence and closing the racial wealth gap—also offers a host of free courses that can support you in reaching your financial wellness goals.