Managing worry about money

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

If you are experiencing money problems, worry can prevent you from taking positive action to improve your circumstances. Managing your emotions around finance can be an important step in taking control of your money.

How worry prevents us from acting

If you’re having problems balancing your finances, it is perfectly natural to be worried about money. Concern about our financial resources creates worry about how we meet our most basic human needs: our ability to feed ourselves, feel secure and safe and to keep a roof over our heads.

A small amount of worry can help us to focus on the problem and take steps to address it. But sometimes worry and anxiety can be overwhelming and when that happens, it can prevent us from acting.

An overwhelming amount of worry, about finance, can impact in one of two ways.

  1. Thinking about the problem makes us anxious, so we avoid thinking about it at all and pretend things aren’t that bad
  2. We worry so much that we can’t think straight. The worry paralyses us, we struggle to decide on a way forward and so don’t tackle the problem.

The impact of worrying about money

We know from research that worrying about money can have a range of impacts:

  • It can impact you physically. You may notice that when you think about money, you get uncomfortable feelings in your stomach or chest, you may clench your jaw or hold your shoulders tight or you may feel physically agitated. This can lead to headaches, tiredness and irritability
  • It may disrupt your sleep, causing you to sleep too little or too much
  • Your academic work may suffer if you find it reduces your ability to think and concentrate
  • How you feel may also have a negative effect on your relationships.

Managing your worry

Accepting the situation you find yourself in, and working to take control of your finances, is ultimately the best way to reduce your worry and anxiety. However, this can be easier said than done and you may need to take some steps to feel calmer, before taking positive action.

There are a number of ways that you may want to do that – different things work for different people, so it may help to experiment with some of the suggestions below -

  1. Breathe: when we are anxious we breathe in short, shallow breaths. This helps to keep us on edge and increases our anxious feelings. Consciously controlling your breathing can help to reduce these feelings, so you can think about what you want to do and then act. You may want to try breathing deep down into your stomach for the count of 7 and out for 11; this is explained in more detail on The Wellbeing Thesis
  2. Ground yourself: – this means connecting physically to your surroundings. It may help to feel your feet on the ground, or you back against the back of the chair and just concentrate on that feeling for a few moments.
  3. Relax your muscles: starting in your feet, tense up your muscles for a few moments and then let them relax. Then work up your body. This will gradually help you to relax.
  4. Face reality: worry will convince you that the problem is worse than it is. Get yourself into a calmer state and then look at the true financial picture. Look at your bank statements, your bills and map out your budget, so you know exactly what the true picture is.
  5. Recruit back up: you may find it helps to have a friend, family member or member of support services with you, when you look at your finances. They can ensure you stick to the task and keep things in perspective, so that worry isn’t the only voice you hear.
  6. Remember that your financial situation will change: many students experience debt and manage to overcome it and go on to have fulfilling, secure lives.
  7. Identify positive steps forward: taking control will make you feel hopeful and help you to stay motivated to address the problem.