How To Deal With Money Stress When It Sneaks Up On You

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Here’s a confession: I am an incredibly anxious person. On top of that, I can also be a bit of a pessimist. It’s something I’ve been working on, but give me a crisis, and I’m coming up with worst-case scenarios and waiting for the other shoe to drop. While I’m definitely better at managing my anxiety than I used to be, depending on what is happening in my life, I still go through “seasons” where it feels like my fears are running away with me.

Money stress is a kissing cousin to your garden-variety, run-of-the-mill anxiety. Many of us experience anxiety in different ways. When I graduated college and started my first year as a working (read: broke) actor, money stress was the constant monkey on my back. Not only did I have credit card stress, but I only cleared a whopping $12,500 that year. Every decision I made, every social situation or grocery store run presented itself with a cycle of money stress that ran on loop in my head. And I was nervous about whether or not my card would clear every time I swiped.

Then I moved to New York, got a high-paying job as an administrative assistant at a hedge fund, (where I cleared six figures as a 23-year-old receptionist), and I slowly learned how to manage my money. I learned how to relax, pay my bills and have fun, and my money stress took a backseat… until I moved again, and bought my own house. The renovation drained every, last, single penny that I had, and money stress ruled my life. It was an old, familiar feeling, but not in a good way. Money stress is sneaky in that way — one minute you’re fine, and the next you’re back in an old, shaky place.

My old headaches came back. I stopped eating and laughing. Instead, I sat at home checking my bank account balance, and arguing with my contractor. When the renovations were over, I focused on building up my emergency fund and paying off my credit cards. I finally started to feel good about money again, and enjoyed a break from the constant stress of a large project. But when I decided to leave my full-time job in April to freelance and work for myself, my old friend money stress was back.

I’ve finally realized money stress is going to come and go in your 20s, no matter how prepared we are or how much we’ve saved. We worked hard for that money in the bank. And it is super stressful to watch it come and go, even if its for an important emergency. So as a salute to my old friend money stress, I wanted to write out what I’ve found to be the most effective tips for kicking it to the curb. Here are five productive ways to deal with money stress:

Exercise

No surprise here, as exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety and depression, but exercise works for money stress too, and not in the ways you may think! I find that when I exercise I have more energy for the hustle, which is important for tackling my to-do’s and growing my business. So it’s a double win — exercise to decrease stress while increasing energy and productivity.

Throw yourself Into a project

When things are out of control, it’s calming to focus on the things you can control. Get the groceries, balance the checkbook, paint the trim in your den, clean out your inbox, organize your dropbox, brush the dog’s teeth…whatever. Often those nagging little to-do’s are the perfect antidote when you’re feeling crazed.

Stay positive

At the beginning of 2015 I was in a low place, at the end of another failed relationship. Tired of hearing me whine about this guy I couldn’t get over, my friend told me about the power of positive thinking and how it might help me transform my life. She told me to write and say daily, “Things are always working out for me.” And she’s right. That small daily affirmation has changed my entire fucking life. It’s done wonders for my overall attitude and outlook. So now, when things (especially money matters) seem out of control, I remember my mantra. I write it down. I think on it for just a second. And things are just a little bit better when I’m done.

Scale back

If money is leaking out of your bank account (whether it be business, emergency, or life-related) scaling back is an important step for moving things in the right direction. Remember: you are in control of your money. Emergencies or important life changes aside, you control how it gets used and where it goes. Scaling back on discretionary spending helps you feel in control while reigning in your spending.

Remind yourself that it is only temporary

I’m going to musical theater nerd out for a little bit. In the show “Avenue Q” there is this song at the end called “For Now.” The song’s message is to demonstrate that everything in life, both the good and bad, is only “for now.” Right now you have money stress. In six months, you may not. Your situation is always subject to change. The point is: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT COULD HAPPEN!

Prepare

I’m a big advocate of having an emergency fund. During one of your abundant phases, be sure to set aside money for when the tides turn. It is going to save your sanity, and a healthy EF will help keep the money stress from turning into a full-blown money mental breakdown. And trust me, I know it is the biggest bummer to get a nice healthy nest egg, and then have to use it. It’s not so pretty when the old EF is low, but alas, that is what it is there for, and better to use that than go into debt. In general, having an emergency fund will definitely ease some of your money-related anxieties.

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