The Real Reasons Money Stresses You Out (Regardless of How Much You Have)

2015 Stress in America survey was released this month, and I’m curious if you recognize yourself in their findings. First, if you’re female, you’re probably significantly stressed. If you have money worries, you’re likely very stressed. If you’re a woman who has money worries, boy do you have it bad.

The fact is, there’s no easy answer for money worries. Earning enough to support yourself or your family, spending what you do have wisely, saving enough for college, retirement, and more—those are serious, real concerns.

But what concerns me is the 40% of survey respondents who aren’t willing or able to talk about money. Not only that, but 30% of the participants cited money as a major source of spousal conflict. You’ll never manage your financial stress peacefully if it stays taboo. That’s a perfect recipe for miscommunication, resentment, panic, fear, you name it. All of which can corrode your relationships and your resilience. You can’t build emotional support when you can’t talk about what’s killing you.

At meQuilibrium, we have found that there are usually two obstacles to talking about money-related stress: iceberg beliefs and thinking traps. The good news is that both can be overcome.

Your deepest beliefs about money have you stuck

For many of us, talking about money falls under the catchall of “Things That Aren’t Polite,” but the source of that queasy dread you feel comes from something much deeper. The stress that’s rattling you comes from what what meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer Andrew Shatté calls an “iceberg belief.” An iceberg belief is a thought, formed early in life, about how the world works and how people behave—hand-me-down beliefs that rarely serve you.

“We call them icebergs because you don’t see how much influence this belief has over your life, since most of it is submerged into your subconscious,” says Shatté. The taboo around money might come shameful or fearful beliefs like these:

  • “People will judge me badly if I say I don’t have enough money.”
  • “I should be better handling my about money.”
  • “People will ask me for money if I talk about how much I have.”
  • “People in my family just aren’t good with money and I never will be.”

Try this: Before you can talk openly about money problems, you need to know which icebergs are sinking you. Pay attention to the moments your temperature (and maybe temper) rises when money issues come up. Big emotional responses are often one of the best clues to discovering what iceberg belief is at play. Once you can identify it and navigate around it, you are closer to dealing with the actual problems at hand.

You can’t talk about money

Iceberg beliefs are often the source of thought patterns that repeat themselves whenever stressful situations arise. Thoughts that shunt you into fear, isolation, or resentment are thinking traps. You may fall into a pessimism trap and think that one rent increase is going to ruin your life. Or perhaps you think that a botched credit card payment is a mark against your worth as a person—and who wants to talk about that kind of shame and pain?

Try this: Until you can identify the trap, you will remain snagged in it, making it harder for you to perceive situations clearly and talk openly about them. Instead, get out your brightest mental flashlight and follow the fearful, shameful, pessimistic thoughts to their source. See it for what it is: not the truth, but an automatic and ingrained pattern of thinking that likely isn’t true.

Once you get a handle on the icebergs and traps keeping you stuck in financial stress, you will be more resilient when “not-enough” moments happen, as they surely will. That emotional resilience will help you talk with your spouse, friends or family about the problems at hand and move through them with a clear head—and with love.