We all have stress in our lives. This is a normal, natural part of being alive, and often the stress response we have is very helpful. In nature, stress signals us to avoid threats.
Take for example the stress a zebra experiences when he sees a hungry lion. In life, our stressors are more chronic, and oftentimes more subtle, but nevertheless they affect our health and well-being, just like a hungry lion would.
Money plays a key role in creating our daily stress. While we don’t have lions chasing us on a daily basis, we do lose our jobs, struggle to find a job, or find our livelihood threatened in countless other ways.
All of these threats to our livelihood make us stressed and with good reason: if we don’t have work, we won’t have money, and we’ll struggle to survive.
That’s why we get so stressed and overwhelmed with our finances when they’re awry. At some fundamental level we’re fearing for our own survival. No wonder it’s so challenging to deal with financial stress.
When stress becomes chronic, like most financial stress, we run the risk of causing damage to our relationships, our emotional health, and even our physical well-being. Here are a couple tips to help you ease your financial worries:
Step 1: Identify Your Toxic Thought Patterns Around Money
Our thoughts play a huge role in our stress cycle, and we often get caught in patterns that make us feel even worse. Take catastrophizing for instance. Catastrophizing is when you imagine progressively worse scenarios.
For example, you might think “Oh no, my boss looked at me funny,” which by itself isn’t a particularly troubling thought.
Catastrophizing is when you follow the train of fearful thoughts that come up next. “I hope he’s not upset with my work. What if he fires me? I can’t lose my job.
We just took out that loan, and we’re about to have another baby. What would I do? I think he is mad at me… what am I going to tell my spouse?”
Even if you haven’t had that exact chain of thoughts, you’re probably familiar with following your negative thoughts down a rabbit hole.
When we feel fear about something, like not being able to have enough money to survive, the mind comes up with all sorts of ways our fears could become reality.
Out of habit, we typically follow along on the emotional rollercoaster, caught in our imagination about how bad things could be.
With so many ways to spend your money, it’s normal to feel a little financially stressed. Having only a few considerations for how we spend our money helps us to be more clear about the value and priority of each option. Learn more in an upcoming Mindful Daily session!
How Mindfulness Helps Manage Toxic Thoughts
When talking about mindfully working with stress, one of the key steps is to learn how to be aware of your thoughts without following after them. Here the skill is to watch your thoughts come and go, like clouds passing through the sky.
When you’re able to pull yourself out of your habitual thought patterns and let them go, you cut the chain of catastrophizing.
This skill is useful for a lot of problems, whether they are money-related or not. Learning to choose which thoughts you want to follow won’t get rid of your financial stress, but it can certainly help it from getting out of hand.
Step 2: Isolate Dangerous Spending Habits
Most likely, one of the greatest contributors to financial stress is not living within your means. Our consumer culture does everything it can to get you to spend money, so you need clarity and a strong will to keep your desires at bay.
Advertising fuels our desire to buy, then credit companies foster debt by allowing us to have what we desire in the moment. It’s a powerful combination, and sometimes you are faced with strong urges to keep yourself from spending. Luckily, we can learn how to work with our urges by learning to urge surf.
How Mindfulness Helps Control Your Spending Urges
Urge surfing is when you’re aware of an urge but don’t engage in it. Imagine yourself sitting still when you feel an itch on your nose. Immediately there’s an urge to scratch it, but when you urge surf you see what it’s like to not scratch the itch right away. We don’t wrestle with the urge by trying to snuff it out or push it away.
Disarm the charged emotions and distorted expectations we have about money, and you’ll discover the path to prosperity becomes a surprisingly easy journey. Try our six-session program, The Money and Spirit Online Workshop to transform your financial roadblocks.
Instead we just relax, keep breathing, and simply observe our urges. They might get stronger, or they might disappear, but we don’t get involved. Simply watch as a passive observer watches a drama unfold. As we get better at urge surfing, we can use it to manage our urges to spend on things that are outside our budget. When we’re not buying based on our advertisement-induced desire, we give ourselves a better chance to not fall into spending outside our means.
More Ways to Manage Your Financial Stress
We can’t completely get rid of stress, and we don’t really need to. Financial stress, like other types of stress, gives us useful information that helps us stay alive. With a bit of awareness, we can relax some of our financial stress. With the help of our stress-reduction programs like Stress Less, Live More, we can learn to reduce our catastrophizing thoughts and curb some of our spending urges.
Just doing this will make a big shift in how we’re affected by money-related stress. Once the urge passes, see if it’s really the right thing for you, or if it was just sparked by clever advertising. And don’t forget to keep breathing. A few deep breaths might be all you need to keep from getting overwhelmed by money problems.
About the Author – Mike Engle
Mike Engle has been passionate about training his mind since he was first exposed to mindfulness at the age of 16. Since then, his desire to understand and work with his mind has led him to earn degrees in Psychology and Philosophy, to research attention training in monastic education in Nepal, and to sit four and a half years in intensive solitary retreat. After finishing his retreat Mike began to teach mindfulness to others, and after starting his own family he became interested in bringing the benefits of mindfulness to parents, children, and families. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and sons where he spends his time teaching mindfulness, coaching, and working in the field of Tibetan translation. Mike has worked as an eM Life instructor since 2017.