Financial Anxiety? Don't Panic
by Connie Vanderzanden
“I just want to do it right.“
“I don’t feel that I’m doing it correctly.”
No matter who I am talking to, when the conversation is about numbers or money 80% of the time, these are the phrases I hear the most.
Perfectionism in numbers and the need to be “perfect” is just one sign of financial anxiety.
Financial anxiety shows up in our thoughts, bodies, and behavior, just like traditional anxiety.
Financial anxiety does not discriminate.
- No matter your income level. If you have 5-figures, financial anxiety will still be there at 7 or 8-figures.
- No matter how long you’ve been in business. Financial anxiety doesn’t magically go away after you’ve been in business a few years. Experience can help, but every new growth hurdle or life change may become another trigger.
- No matter your money archetype. Even if you are a natural saver or a natural spender (like me).
- No matter your gender, culture, or community.
Financial anxiety can show up when you are just thinking about money. Even though some people’s brains may be wired to look/work with numbers easily, it does not mean they are not triggered when it comes to having a relationship with Money.
Financial anxiety creates a worried, nervous feeling. You might even feel “on edge.” These effects are like a ripple in a pond.
The feelings come from the fear/flight/fight/fawn response. When your body recognizes a threat (I’m not perfect, my numbers aren’t perfect, I can’t do this, run away), your brain and autonomic nervous system (ANS) react quickly, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. It can start with that tickle at the back of your neck and uneasiness in your stomach. Eventually, it crawls down your back and overtakes your whole body filling it with apprehension and dread. Then, your mind shuts down, your thoughts spiral with worry, and you have problems shutting down.
Your sleep is affected, waking you up in the middle of the night, or you don’t feel rested upon waking. It affects how you make decisions in your business. Rather than make choices from a proactive state, where you are grounded and clear of thought, you are making choices from a reactive state, often based on fear or other people's demands. Now we can find ourselves waiting and making decisions at the last possible moment. Often these actions come with regrets and feeling that there were no other choices. And the fear spiral loops.
What I just mentioned above is financial anxiety. Let me be transparent here I have first-hand experience with this. I have experienced the symptoms outlined above, some of them multiple times, even though I am a seasoned business owner and accounting professional.
Maybe you see yourself in one of these types of clients I work with:
- Avoid anything related to taxes. Don’t open up tax mail or don’t file a return, especially when prior years are unfiled. Clients will mail me unopened envelopes so that they can avoid the anxiety of the unknown. Clients who failed to file for many years, even after they get everything caught up, will struggle that very same year to continue the process. Even the tax instruction letter that the tax pro will provide with a finished return can trigger anxiety. Clients have often had me handle the processing, simply telling them where to sign.
- Abdicate all knowledge and processing of the bookkeeping. I felt I was doing the business owners a service, lifting the weight from their shoulders by handling the processing. I realized I was doing a disservice to them. The business owner didn’t have enough information about their numbers and activity.
- Put off updating bookkeeping. Clients will update it once a year before sending it to their tax pro, resulting in reactivity regarding the amount owed for taxes. I confess I did this in my first year in business. During start-up, we’re focused on hustling, not on routine paperwork.
You may have already guessed that the result of financial anxiety creates either perfectionism or procrastination. When you are waiting until you can get it just perfect, it often pushes you into procrastination. Two are intimately linked.
Here are a few other ways financial perfectionism and procrastination can show up:
- Excessive organizing
- Keeping everything because you might need it
- Rigid standards, being inflexible
- Daily, even multiple times a day, checking bank activity/balance
- Not moving forward with taking action on financial related items
- Not setting up a financial plan or accounting tool
- Resistance to making a decision on purchases or hiring
- Not opening mail, especially anything from a governmental agency
- Only looking at your bookkeeping quarterly or once a year
- Financial to-dos are at the bottom of the priority list - someday, you’ll have a trust, will, or get that life insurance
- Ignoring bank and credit card statements
- Avoiding any financial, accounting, or tax conversations
While 2020 and 2021 are prime examples of an outside economic force influencing our anxiety, what we learned from our families and popular media add to our natural anxiety tendency.
We learn about perfectionism and its relationship to numbers in school. I would even say we are encouraged to practice perfectionism with numbers. Correct (perfect) answers equate to good grades. Good grades = praise and happy parents, maybe even a cash incentive. The concept is that if we want a rich and fulfilling life, going to college would be the next step, and good grades are a requirement (not to mention more money and/or financing).
We also learn about perfectionism and the relationship to taxes or the “tax man” from popular media.
Does anyone recognize these films?
- Say Anything with John Cusack - a big part of that plot is one of the character’s dad getting arrested for tax evasion.
- The Untouchables, is a 1987 movie with Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, who decides the best way to bring down the bad guy, Capone, is to go after his taxes.
- The Blues Brothers, are “on a mission from God” to save the orphanage that cannot pay its taxes.
If the resulting perfectionism and procrastination can stop us from taking action, what else is possible?
Practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
You are only human. As humans, we will make mistakes. However, these mistakes do not define us as individuals. In fact, can you shift that perspective and find the lesson?
Practice giving yourself praise before letting your inner-critic takeover. There is an art to self-compassion, and it takes practice. The first step is taking three deep breaths, forgiving yourself, and giving your inner child a little love.
Build your resiliency muscle.
Ask for help.
Financial anxiety, and the solutions, aren’t something you have to shoulder all by yourself. Talk to a colleague, gather several trusted sources, and create a mini mastermind group. Hire professionals to help support bookkeeping, tool set-up, tax strategy, and financial investments if funds are available. Work with a therapist and mention any physical symptoms to your health practitioners.
Make time to build your financial knowledge.
You can build your toolkit by listening to podcasts, reading books, attending webinars, and reaching out for support from financial providers.
Instead of worrying about retirement savings, talk with a financial advisor to get more information. For tax support, connect with a tax pro (well before “tax season”) to get information on your unique tax situation. Here’s the secret - you may need to have several conversations. Just because you “like” the first person you talk to does not mean they are a good fit. I encourage you to speak to at least one more.
Entrepreneurs look for collaborators. These partners need to be able to communicate their knowledge in a fashion that meets the entrepreneur at their experience level. These partnerships need to click on several levels, not just because they are “nice” or were referred by a friend.
Lean into building rituals.
Rituals build pleasure and joy into your financial actions and are a big part of the cash handling system I teach. Which is one way I ease my financial anxiety. I start with meditation, pulling tarot cards, and journaling. Next, I use the power of scent and music to add joy and grounding and time blocking for focus.
I dealt with financial anxiety for a long time without realizing it. I would self-soothe with sugar and carbs. I kept myself overly busy, with a to-do list that never seemed to have an end. On the outside, I did present as successful and happy. But, the inside was a whole different story.
Find what works for YOU.
I found my way out of the height of my financial anxiety using all these touchstones, working with a therapist, leaning into my health practitioners, hiring coaches for accountability, and intentionally shifting my perspectives.
Some of the lessons I learned during the height of my un-managed financial anxiety were harder to deal with than others. Some I am still actively healing. As I’ve said before, I am a work in progress (and so are you!). The same applies to healing my attachment to debt and creating a healthier relationship with money.
Knowing your numbers and seeing them in a black/white format can help with financial anxiety. That is the top feedback I receive from clients who have a strategy session or mentoring services with me. There is comfort in having a knowledgeable person co-create with you as the owner and visionary. You can actively see how money is currently supporting you. Once you know where you are starting, you are empowered to make new choices from a proactive position.
If this sounds helpful to you, let’s start with a conversation.