5 Thought Reframes to Improve Financial Anxiety

By: Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, LMSW

What is financial anxiety?

Financial anxiety happens when a person feels nervous, worried, or on edge when dealing with money. Financial anxiety can happen to anyone, regardless of how much money they earn or have.

It can show up in our thoughts (“I’m so worried that the IRS will come after me!”), in our bodies (E.g. stomach in knots or shallow breathing), and in our behaviors (think: refreshing a banking app multiple times a day to check if your paycheck was deposited).

Some anxiety isn’t a bad thing. In fact, when it’s temporary, it can help us focus on the present. How? Our nervous systems shut off some of the “not always essential” functions so we can meet the needs of what’s happening. But, when anxiety occurs consistently, it can cause our minds and bodies to struggle. Long-term consequences of anxiety are associated with increased blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and an inability to complete necessary daily tasks at work, home, or school.

Why your thoughts matter

Our thoughts are powerful and can contribute to how we feel and behave. When we experience unhelpful thoughts, called “distortions,” they can trick us into thinking things are worse than they are. So, for example, if you think, “I’ll never increase my credit score,” you might feel deflated or pessimistic. That sadness and pessimism may translate to financial behaviors of avoidance, like avoiding checking a credit score, or not paying more than the minimum on a credit card (because you feel like it’s pointless).

Reframing Unhelpful Thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the primary modality of TherapyLab practitioners, is a method of helping people understand that their thoughts impact their feelings and behaviors. A cornerstone of CBT is addressing thought distortions and finding healthier ways to change them. Using the credit score example from above, a financial therapist or CBT therapist may help clients examine how much truth is in the thought, “I’ll never increase my credit score.” After exploring the thought with curiosity, a more helpful or neutral thought might be, “Even though my score is lower than I’d like, I know certain actions that I can take to help increase my credit score.” The behaviors associated with the new, healthier thought could be checking their credit score, paying more than the minimum on credit card bills, and not taking out new loans.

5 thought reframes for financial anxiety

Thought reframes for financial anxiety are important in helping people address their anxious thoughts and find more neutral and helpful thoughts. Below is a list of common types of cognitive distortions, along with examples of thought reframes for financial anxiety.

  • Black-and-white thinking. Also known as “all or nothing thinking,” this distortion is when you have difficulty seeing the nuance in situations. Things appear to be good or bad with no room in the middle. This distortion can lead to a lot of thoughts around being “bad” or things being “pointless.”
    ·       Example, “I missed my student loan payment again. It’s pointless to even try.”
    ·       Thought reframe “Missing one payment isn’t great, and I can set up automatic payments to prevent it from happening in the future.
  • Jumping to conclusions. Assuming you know how a scenario will play out or how others think about things without any evidence.
    ·       Example, “If my friends find out I got help with a house downpayment from my parents, they’ll think I don’t understand the value of a dollar. They’ll probably look at me as someone who can’t relate to them.”
    ·       Thought reframe, “I can acknowledge my financial privilege and understand the value of a dollar. While some people might not have the same financial foundation I do, I can’t predict what they think of me.”
  • Discounting the positive. Disregarding any positive experiences or situations and focusing only on the downsides of things. This can also look like deciding that when good things happen, they don’t count or there was malice behind them.
    ·       Example, “Sure, I did ok with my tax refund this year, but it’s only because student loans were on pause. I know I’ll screw up my taxes next year.”
    ·       Thought reframe, “I’m thankful I got a tax refund this year, and can work with an accountant to make sure I have a plan for the upcoming tax season.”
  • Catastrophizing. Assuming that the worst-case scenario will happen based on little to no proof.
    ·       Example, “I heard about someone getting fired when they asked for a raise. I know that if I try to negotiate a raise I’ll get fired too. Ugh, and I’ll probably be escorted out of the office with security and no one will ever hire me again!”
    ·       Thought reframe, “While negotiating a raise can feel scary, I trust that my manager has my back.”
  • Personalization and Blame. Taking the blame for something that wasn’t entirely your fault. Or the opposite; excluding yourself and blaming others for something that you had a part of.
    ·       Example, “I deserve to lose money in the stock market. I’m so dumb to think that I had any business investing money in my retirement account.”
    ·       Thought reframe, “I don’t deserve to lose money. The stock market goes up and down, and it makes sense that with the recent dips I’d be feeling anxious. I know that if I don’t actually withdraw money/sell my stocks, I actually haven’t lost money. Investing in my retirement is a long-term strategy.”

Do you experience financial anxiety-related cognitive distortions? If so, try out the thought reframes to help you have healthier, more neutral money thoughts!

A note: practicing thought reframes is helpful for financial anxiety, but I'll always advocate for systems supporting our basic needs as humans. No amount of thought reframes will help when a person is experiencing homelessness, being underpaid, doesn’t have access to affordable childcare, or in other life-threatening situations.

About Lindsay

Lindsay Bryan-Podvin is a financial therapist and founder of Mind Money Balance, a shame-free financial therapy and coaching company. She has a background in clinical social work, with additional training in financial social work and psychology. Lindsay believes all people deserve the right to understand the ins and outs of money through financial literacy and feel good about their relationship with money. She's expanded her services to help private practice therapists with their money mindset, sustainable pricing, and authentic marketing so they can include financial self-care in their work. She lives with her partner and their dog on the occupied land of the Fox, Peoria, Potawatomi, and Anishinabewaki people known as Michigan. To learn more about your relationship with money, you can take her free money archetype quiz here: www.mindmoneybalance.com/quiz

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