Why Is Money So Triggering? - Humantold

Why Is Money So Triggering? 

Juli Walchuk, MHC-LP April 23, 2024

52% of Americans say money has a negative effect on their mental health, scoring higher than other stressors including health, current events, relationships, and work.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say Tax Day is no one’s favorite holiday…except maybe the IRS. But for the rest of us, this time of year might bring our money stress to the forefront. According to a survey conducted by Bankrate in April 2023, 52% of Americans say money has a negative effect on their mental health, scoring higher than other stressors including health, current events, relationships, and work. As they say, “money makes the world go round,” but this comes at a cost to our mental wellbeing, so first we’ll explore some of the reasons that money is such a triggering topic. 

One contributing factor is the moral value we apply to being “good or bad with money.” We view financial challenges as a direct result of poor decision making and personal responsibility, often resulting in feelings of guilt and shame. For example, we’ve all heard the trope of millennials not being able to afford homes due to spending too much money on avocado toast and coffee… but let’s be real. We are operating within a capitalist system where wealth is disproportionately distributed along racial, gender, and generational lines and there’s a whole lot more to this story than Sunday brunch. 

Of course, there are some elements of personal finance that fall within the control of individuals, but we too often ignore systemic factors such as generational wealth (or lack thereof), rising living expenses, plus the aftermath of a global pandemic. We also live in a society where poverty is stigmatized and criminalized and where the financial safety net is not sufficient for those experiencing financial hardship. For all those reasons and more, please know that if you are struggling with financial anxiety, it is not strictly a “you problem.” 

Our relationship to money is also often shaped by our early experiences, so it may be helpful to reflect on your first money memories. The ways that our families spoke about money (or didn’t dare breach the subject) have an influence on us as adults. Some of us may have “money trauma” stemming from difficult experiences with finances in our pasts. For example, people who grew up in a lower socio-economic household or witnessed adult caregivers struggling to make ends meet can get stuck in a scarcity mindset, even if they may objectively be in a more stable financial position now. 

Another reason that money can be triggering is that so many big life choices include a financial component. Should I go to college? (And can I afford to take on student debt?) Should I buy a house? (And can I afford a mortgage, closing costs, and home repairs?) Are we ready to get married? (And can we afford a wedding?) When do we want to have our first child? (And can we afford to raise a child?) Should I leave my toxic work environment? (And can I afford to quit without having a new job lined up?) These are emotional and consequential life transitions, but many of them are inextricably tied to money, and money can either be a tool or a massive barrier to achieving our goals. 

So how can you deal with your money stress? 

General stress management - It’s difficult to do tasks like budgeting when you’re feeling anxious and elevated, so first, focus on self-regulation. Practice deep breathing, exercise, meditate, journal, go for a walk, anything that can pull you out of your ruminating thoughts and bring your nervous system back to baseline. 

Knowledge is power - Taking stock of your finances can be overwhelming, so no wonder many of us avoid looking at our bank accounts, student loan balances, and credit card statements! But getting familiar with your income, expenses, and bills allows you to take strategic steps to improve your financial situation from an informed position. 

Take action - Unfortunately when it comes to finances, so many factors are outside of our control, but we are not powerless. Focus on what is within your control and identify tangible steps you can take, such as creating a budget. Though budgeting isn't always fun or glamorous, it does take the uncertainty out of the equation, which for so many people is at the root of their money anxiety. There are numerous budgeting tools and templates available online to help you get started. You can take other steps to improve your financial situation, like checking your credit score and learning about ways to improve it. Negotiating with your boss about a raise, automating your savings, consolidating your debt, and consulting with a financial advisor are other practical steps you can take to be more in control of your financial life. 

Talk about it - Few subjects are more taboo in our society than money. Many of us have been told that discussing finances is rude and impolite, so no wonder most people feel isolated and as if we're the only person on the planet who doesn’t have our financial house in order! It can be uncomfortable but let’s normalize discussing money with friends and family, normalize pay transparency, and normalize asking for financial advice or help when needed. 

Mindset Shift - Many of us view money as a barrier and a stressor, but a simple mindset shift towards seeing money as a tool can be helpful. As mentioned before, a lot of major life milestones have a financial component, so it can be both empowering and motivating to adjust our framework to see money as a vehicle for getting the things we want out of life, whether that be to see the world, to grow a family, to pursue education, or to support causes we care about. 



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