Financial stress bears very little difference to general stress. Let’s face it, the only difference between stress due to finances and stress due to anything else is the cause! So if the cause of your stress finances, then we should get to the bottom of why finances are causing such an unhealthy reaction in you.
When I think about finances now, I don’t even flinch. No, it is definitely not because I am financially well off. As a matter of fact, I’m not even bringing in a steady income and I have tons of student loans waiting for me once I finish my degree. Even in these circumstances, however, I am not stressed about finances in general. I’ll do my best to get you to this point by sharing the tools and techniques I used to become more “zen” about finances.
While I was going through my worst financial low, I had no tools on my belt to deal with the stress. Every time something came up for me that had anything to do with money, I would ignore the feeling of stress and go about my day as though it wasn’t there. Slowly, that stress started spilling out onto other areas of my life. I was experiencing a lot of common signs of stress that led to extreme irritability. But of course, I was ignoring whatever deeper emotion causing this frustration and finding reasons to get upset at the people around me instead. Ever happen to you? Unfortunately, this happened to me off and on for many years. It wasn’t until 5 years ago that I started to become familiar with my own mind and how it operates.
So I gave myself time, space and an open-minded view of what was happening in my head when the subject of finance/money was involved. Once you gain the tools to look deeper into your thoughts and reactions, you can find what I call the “root.” Once I found the root of my negative reactions toward finances/money, I was able to take control. Using mindfulness techniques has done wonders for me in many aspects of my life and this situation is no different.
So here is what I did to retrain my brain through mindfulness:
10 minutes a day:
I would choose a quiet comfortable place where I wouldn’t be interrupted. For me, it was outdoors. I started every 10-minute session with 3 minutes of mindful breathing. I would sit in a comfortable position, close my eyes and start focusing on my breath. When my mind wandered, I would notice and let the incoming thought float away and come back to my breath. No judgments when thoughts crossed my mind, just accepting them and letting them go. After that, I would allow a single word come into my head: “money.” I first focused on my physical reactions to the thought of money.
It took me a couple of days to be fully aware of my physical reactions because my mind wandered so often that it was hard to pull myself back into focus. Everyone is different so it is important to be patient and forgiving with yourself. On the 3rd day of doing this, I noticed my jaw clenching and my hands starting to tense when I thought about money and I focused deeply on those reactions.
As I focused on these physical things, I reminded myself that it was okay to react this way. I accepted these traits and then I began to mindfully breathe “into” the affected parts of my body. As I inhaled, I focused on my jaw, and as I exhaled I focused on letting the tension out with my breath. I did this for a few moments and realized that my body became much more relaxed.
Once I was comfortable with controlling my physical reactions, I began to dig into the emotional reactions. I was done taking out my stress on others when I knew there was something deeper! I used the same steps as the physical, but this time I focused on my emotions when I thought about money.
*Note* Starting with mindful breathing every day is a key step! It helps to clear the mind of distractions and makes the rest of the process much easier.
This process took me longer than the physical reaction step because I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I just knew I wanted to figure out why money, in general, brought me such stress. After about 5 days of my ten-minute routine, I noticed a recurring emotion: Resentment. I determined that this was the deeper emotion that I was ignoring.
I took this knowledge and broke it down into reasons someone may feel resentment toward finances/money:
- Some people are born into it and don’t earn it
- I didn’t get the things I wanted when I was a child, due to cost
- I worked my butt off every day and still couldn’t live comfortably
The hard part about accepting these realities was the fact that I had to admit to myself that all of the reasons behind the emotions are nobody’s fault. It just is. (More on this in a later post) Yes, for me it was a general resentment of people born into money and the way business is built for them. I had to let that go because I don’t want my emotions to be determined by anyone else’s experiences. But it took a while to realize that it is more important to take care of myself than be angry at uncontrollable circumstances.
How does this relate to real-world situations?
Good question! Here are a couple of ways it helped me:
I found a bill that I had been putting off for a couple of weeks and realized in that moment that it had now accrued a late fee. I had just enough money in the bank to pay what I needed to and have some extra money for myself…well, not anymore! My usual reaction would have been to tighten my jaw, grind my teeth and if I were alone, possibly throw something or yell. My reaction this time was to think first. Because of the calming, mindfulness, I had been doing around money and acceptance, I was able to notice the anger coming on. I took a deep breath and paid the bill. I moved on to whatever else I was doing that day and didn’t think about it again. It was empowering. I may have added another week to my life just from that moment!
Another time, I was hanging out with some friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile. One of them was so excited that she had gotten accepted into a very expensive college that her parents were paying for. Meanwhile, I was adding up my student loans for a community college! Well, instead of bottling up a bunch of resentment and letting it explode later, I took a breath and accepted that it was not her fault I was in my situation. I didn’t even think twice when I congratulated her on her success.
Once I was able to find those deeper reasons behind the emotion, it was time to start accepting them without judgment. After a while of practicing these skills in the real world, I found that I was able to notice my physical reactions first and stop the emotions from flooding in. I was able to take one deep breath in and let it go on the exhale.
Once you find your “zen” around the subject of finance you can take this new skill and start practicing in real world situations. When financial topics come up, you’ll be more equipped with the tools to stop that stress from sneaking into your life.
Though I don’t have the tools to get you out of your financial problems, these tools will definitely help you keep a healthy mind when they arise.
If you are looking for information, tools, and crafty ways to live a wonderful life on a tight budget, check out these websites. The amazing women that run these sites offer tons of great ideas and ways to live a fulfilled life on a budget!
Cheapsters: Budgeting and financial advice for freelancers from real people with real stories.
Club Thrifty: Best advice, discounts, and resources for budget traveling.