Gail Welkes Blog

Money Anxiety – A Growing Epidemic

Mortgage. Bills. Debt. Taxes. Retirement. College Tuition.

Is your pulse racing yet? Regardless of the socio-economic class, we all seem to be worried about money. And it’s no wonder that when clients come to therapy, a hot topic they wish to discuss is about the anxiety caused by their financial circumstances. Money Anxiety.

Many people have a difficult time talking about money due to fear of judgment about self, or from others. Judging our self-worth and level of success by the money we make, sets up problems with self-esteem and can interfere with important interpersonal relationships. Interestingly, those with money anxiety seem to have developed this problem at an early age. The messages we receive from our families, the information we get from the media, and the competition and comparison with peers, are all absorbed by children in early development. For the achievement oriented child, who has equated success with their grades in school, we see similar thoughts and feelings as they develop into adults – except now we grade ourselves not by a test score, but rather by the size of our paycheck.

While every person with Money Anxiety has their own set of unique problems, here are some common warning signs that indicate help from a professional is warranted.

Symptoms of Money Anxiety

  • A feeling of fear when thinking about money or spending money
  • Sleep problems due to nighttime rumination about money
  • Physical symptoms of stress that include headaches, stomach problems, and pain
  • Obsessive-compulsive symptoms that may manifest as constant counting, checking bank accounts over and over, or even shoplifting
  • Inability to seek jobs or promotions in order to better ones financial position
  • Continued shopping even though one is carrying debt
  • Keeping secrets about money and spending from the ones we love

Treatment for Money Anxiety involves looking at the distorted thoughts that drive Money Anxiety and replacing them with different or more realistic thinking. In my practice, the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) along with Life Strategies Counseling, yields the best results in the battle against Money Anxiety. In addition to the standard treatments for anxiety disorders, other symptoms can be well managed with:

  • Relaxation techniques when feeling anxious about money
  • Coping with career issues such as unemployment, job search, or promotions
  • Learning motivation techniques to change ones perceptions and behaviors about money
  • Looking at how money affects relationships, in particular with family and significant others
  • Exploring the messages about money one received in childhood
  • Practicing communication techniques about money with our family and friends
  • Learning budgeting, decision making, and financial management skills

Therapy provides a safe place to discuss Money Anxiety with no judgments. When clients realize how pervasive Money Anxiety actually is, it normalizes their feelings. This allows them to begin to work towards a better future without having the constant fear about money infringing upon their daily lives.

Gail C. Welkes, LCSW is a clinical psychotherapist, practicing in the Philadelphia area.