Fear, stress and anxiety around money is a common part of the human condition. This is such a huge topic that I will explore it with you in greater depth in the next several blog posts.
Just like any relationship, our relationship with money can be a source of great stress and anxiety when not managed skillfully — especially when what fuels our stress and anxiety arises from real or imaginary fear. On the other hand, our relationship with money can transform our lives and the lives of those around us in rich and abundant ways.
When our relationship with money is stressful, anxious, tense, uptight, or fear-based, what tends to get carried forward in the world through us (in the ways we spend, invest, share, receive, plan, etc.) reflects these various unwholesome states — regardless of how much money we actually have.
Consumerism, excessive greed on Wall Street, taking on excess debt, or trying to keep up with the Joneses are just a few ways where fear and anxiety drive us to make decisions and take actions that result in increased suffering, both for ourselves and others. The end result of not managing stress, anxiety and fear is almost always more pain and disconnection.
Do you stress over not having enough? Or having too much?
The root of stress and anxiety are often found in two categories of fear.
The first category of fear is the practical, legitimate fear of not having enough money to save for retirement, pay our bills, or pay the rent; or the fear of not feeling safe and secure, not having shelter, food and friends, and perhaps of not feeling like we belong in our community and society. All these can be a real source of stress and anxiety.
The second category of fear is the imaginary fear that we are not safe and secure, even though we actually have plenty of material security. Perhaps this comes from missing an inner sense of safety and security. In this state, we may not feel enough gratitude for what we do have and all the ways that we currently already live in abundance. We fail to recognize that most of our safety and survival needs are already being met. We feel unwarranted stress because of possible unresolved past fears or traumas, which often get projected and turn into a fear of what could happen in the future.
Often, stress and anxiety arise from low self-esteem or a false sense of self-understanding, and have a storyline that goes something like this: “I am not enough; I don’t have enough; I am not safe and secure.” This storyline exists independent of the fact that we may indeed have plenty of cash, savings… and maybe even a mansion or two. What tends to fuel this perception is often a feeling of emptiness within that we desperately attempt to fill from the outside with excess attachment to money, fame, beauty, etc.
The sad reality is that even though this strategy may work to some extent, for the most part this empty void within is not fillable from the outside.
Regardless of the kind of fear that drives us, when it is not held with skillful awareness, understanding and compassion, the results are often a survival-oriented primal response resulting in stress and anxiety. Sometimes we even experience physical symptoms such as constriction in the chest, shortness of breath, a tight jaw or belly, poor digestion, a sleeping disorder, snappiness, a short fuse, or a tendency toward greed or aversion. These physical reactions are fueled by all kinds of chemicals released by the brain to help you cope.
The good news? Your body is designed to mobilize and protect you regardless of your real or imaginary fears. Stress and anxiety are actually the body’s protective strategy to get you to respond to your real or perceived threats by mobilizing you to find a solution. What you may notice in your life when you get caught in a state of fear or overwhelm is a fight/flight/freeze response. The urge to fight, fly or freeze is a natural biological survival response — just as it is for animals that face real threats in nature. However, it’s often not the best strategy for coping with financial or life-related stress. And when a fear or a survival response orientation becomes our habituated response toward our finances, there will eventually be suffering. We will suffer, our decisions will suffer, and others will suffer.
If we don’t take the steps to find clarity and resolution — or a way of relaxing and releasing from our fear-driven past, current or future financial circumstances — then our financial life will be consistently driven by stress, anxiety and primal survival responses.
Stress is our natural way of compensating for the strategies that we have chosen, as well our body’s intuitive way of communicating what is not working. When stress is not managed, and we keep going despite the warning signs, then we end up coping with the discomfort of stress by impulsively acting out to relieve the pain. The result is what we too often see in the world: rampant greed, addictions, aversion to money, and our tendency to shut down emotionally.
Think about your car: ignore the lights on the dashboard for long enough, and your engine will eventually blow up. When we deny or avoid the truth about our stress symptoms, we eventually destroy our own financial life. We can’t function with one foot on the brake pedal and one on the gas.
We come up with all kinds of clever strategies to cope with real or imaginary fear, pain and suffering. What are your fears? What are your coping strategies?
- How does stress (and the physiological symptoms of stress) show up in your life around your finances?
- What is your relationship with stress in your financial life? How do you deal with it?
- How did your family cope with financial stress?
- What is the core message underneath the stress?
- How would it be if you invited fear to tea and listened to what it had to share?
In part two of this series, I share some tips and exercises to start to alter your relationship to fear and stress around money.