A recent American Psychological Association survey confirms a well-known truth of modern life: a whopping 64 percent of Americans say that money is a “somewhat” or “very significant” source of stress.
And while it’s tempting to believe that simply having more money would eliminate financial stress, striking it rich overnight won’t solve the heart of our issues with money, which have more to do with fear and anxiety than cash itself.
The answer to reducing money-related stress: build your resilience to it, as with any kind of stress. Your tendency might be to hide, deny, and argue over it, but there’s a lot more you can do to feel strong in the face of financial distress. Here are three ways to start changing your relationship with money for good.
1. Shine a light on your spending habits
So many things we buy don’t give us the pleasure or usefulness we anticipate. Another pair of shoes that doesn’t quite fit, another $4 latte we don’t finish, another magazine we skim and throw away. And yet we go out and buy the same or similar stuff again and again.
You can’t change anything—whether it’s a buying habit or a stressful thought—unless you are aware of your patterns and their consequences. For a week, keep track of all the non-essential things you buy. Score each one on how rewarding it ended up being. What lives up to your expectations? What consistently fails? This exercise gives you the information to start to spend your hard-earned money on what is truly worth it to you.
2. Bring your beliefs to the surface
Our deepest beliefs about money often keep us from even talking about it. These beliefs tend to be what meQuilibrium’s 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 should behave—and they are often inaccurate. For example, you might believe that people in your family just aren’t good with money and never will be.
The key here is to bring those iceberg beliefs into your conscious awareness, rather than push them farther down. Pay attention to the moments your emotions get riled up around money issues, because big emotional responses are one of the best clues to discovering an iceberg belief. Once you can identify and navigate around these beliefs, you are closer to dealing with the actual problems at hand.
3. Manage your money (thoughts) with more calm
Shatté notes that a hallmark of resilience is impulse control, which can be in short supply if your fears and emotions around money are running wild. “When you feel emotionally out of control, you may have the urge to take back the reins through spending,” he says. “It feels good in the moment, but it’s bad problem solving.”
This is when you need to tune into your thoughts—because the problem isn’t really money or the purchase. It’s the fearful, stress-based thinking pattern getting you into trouble. First trap the thought: What is causing me to reach for my wallet? What am I feeling? Then map it: Where is this stressful thought coming from? Finally, zap it: Acknowledge that whatever you’re about to buy likely isn’t going to solve the real problem. Put your wallet away, even just for a few hours. You can always go back for it later. Chances are, when the mood passes, so will the urge.