Taming Your Financial Anxiety

By Denise K. Ambre, LCSW

We entered into uncharted territory in March, when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the US. As if it weren’t enough to wrap our heads around the risk to our health — and our lives — the financial ripple effects soon followed. And they’ve been equally daunting.

With the unemployment rate higher than it’s been since the Great Depression, the Small Business Association slashing loan limits and an increasingly restless throng of furloughed employees, financial anxiety is widespread.

Unlike stress, which can sometimes act as a positive motivator to push through a challenging situation, anxiety — financial or otherwise — can feel paralyzing.

Left unchecked, it can have a serious impact on your ability to eat, sleep, focus and engage in healthy relationships, creating a dangerous loop: The more you experience anxiety around your finances, the harder it becomes to manage your mental health … and the more your mental health is taxed, the harder it becomes to manage your finances.

Worrying about money is normal, even in the best of economic times. From early on, we’re taught to believe that having a certain amount of money will make us feel safe. Scarcity can trigger insecurity — and inferiority when used as a basis of comparison to others. These associations can create anxiety, regardless of the economic climate, leading to the adoption of unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g., overeating, smoking, substance abuse) and feelings of hopelessness and depression.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep your financial anxiety under control:

Stay Grounded in the Present

Recognize what you can and can’t control right now. Accept that life might look and feel very different for a while. Take stock of the resources that you have, and consider ways to make the most of them. Shift your focus away from what’s missing; focus on what’s available to you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “what-if’s.” But because “what if’s” are usually negative, they cause undue stress and anxiety. Nobody has a crystal ball that can predict the future!

Worrying about all the things that could happen is an unproductive use of your mental energy — and it doesn’t stop those things from happening. Focus on “what is,” and from there, use your energy to problem-solve.

Explore Tactical Solutions

Having the right mindset in place will help you objectively explore your options. If you’re not sure where to start, these are a few of the many resources that can point you in the right direction for financial relief and emotional support:

  • 211 (a free service that can connect you with organizations to help with essential needs, disaster relief and other COVID-related challenges)

  • Career OneStop (a U.S. Department of Labor resource for career exploration, training and jobs)

  • Families First Coronavirus Response Act (for information on expanded family and medical leave)

Consult experts you know and trust for advice. Talk with a financial advisor, accountant, career coach, real estate broker and other specialists who can help you make prudent decisions based on your specific circumstances.

As you explore your options, avoid taking unnecessary risks — with your health, physical safety or money. Avoid putting yourself out on a financial limb if you can’t comfortably afford it right now. Any steps you can take to provide a sense of security will help temper your anxiety.

Prioritize Your Mental Health

Because the link between financial distress and poor mental health has been long established, it’s particularly important to engage in activities that support your overall wellbeing when you’re wrestling with financial anxiety:

  • Even (or especially) if you’re not feeling motivated, incorporate some sort of physical movement into your day. Practice good sleep hygiene. Eat healthy foods.

  • Try an app like HeadspaceCalm or Insight Timer to incorporate meditation into your daily routine. Many studies have substantiated the long-term benefits of meditation in treating anxiety disorders.

  • Try to become aware of what tends to spark your anxiety. Overexposure to the news and social media can become overwhelming; recognize the fine line between being informed (which can be calming) and being overwhelmed.

  • Stay connected with friends and extended family. While social distancing is keeping us physically apart, take advantage of technology (e.g., Zoom, Skype or FaceTime) to stay in touch with people you care about — and who care about you.

    Related: How to Manage the Emotional Ramifications of Social Distancing

  • Reach out for professional support. If you’re already in therapy, keep your appointments — now is not the time to skip therapy! Most counselors, therapists and psychiatrists now provide virtual therapy.

Know That You’re Not Alone

Challenges can bring out the best in people. Reflect on the strengths you’ve drawn upon to get you through past hardships. How can you rely on those strengths to manage your financial anxiety during this crisis? Taken a step further, how can you use your unique gifts to be in service to others?

Sometimes, knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles can be comforting. While the pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways, it’s a battle we’re all fighting together. Be patient — with yourself and others — as the situation continues to evolve.

You don’t have to go this alone. 

*In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now providing telemental health sessions.*

If you’re interested in learning more about individual psychotherapy, psychoanalysis or adolescent psychotherapy, please contact us by submitting this form, or by phone at 847-729-3034. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.


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