Losing sleep over money is common, but it doesn't have to be
When I go to sleep at night, I don’t dwell on that awkward comment I made in a meeting, or whether I’m doing enough to minimize my carbon footprint. My brand of worrying involves all-consuming thoughts of whether I’m making enough money on each of my writing assignments, or whether I should, in fact, be buying a house in this seller’s market. Stressing about financial issues so much that it compromises your ability to fall asleep isn’t a unique phenomenon. According to new Bankrate report, more than half of U.S. adults lose sleep over money. The biggest stressor? Everyday expenses, which nearly a third of respondents say occasionally keeps them up at night.
Amanda Clayman, financial therapist and financial wellness advocate for Prudential Financial, says that almost all of her clients present with a high degree of anxiety around money. “It's the number one reason why they seek out financial wellness work,” she tells Mic. “While I don't keep specific records on sleep disruption, it is an extremely frustrating symptom of anxiety.”
The good news is that you don’t have to let financial issues compromise your quality of sleep. Here are some expert-backed steps to getting a good night’s rest even when you’ve got bills on the brain.
Don’t avoid the problem
The common thread between most of Clayman’s clients who experience financial anxiety is a coping mechanism they’ve developed called information avoidance. “Eventually people develop a pattern where the worry about what they don't know gets bigger and bigger, until it eclipses the relief they get from avoidance, and then in an absolute panic they finally look,” she explains, nothing that this just tends to compound the issue.
Avoiding thinking about money is a self-fulfilling prophecy, reinforcing the belief that money is, in fact, as awful to think about as you initially thought. So instead, confront your fear head on. Give it a name. That way, you can better quantify it and find a healthier way to cope than a middle-of-the-night panic attack.
“Have a regular practice to review your money, catch any problems while they're still small, and chart progress toward goals. Too many people only do this when they're already anxious,” says Clayman.
Identify — and accept — your financial needs and desires
Look, we’ve all made financial choices we aren’t proud of, from making a major non-refundable purchase to racking up tons of interest on unpaid bills. Feelings like shame, guilt, and frustration are totally normal and part of the human experience, but berating yourself over money will only continue to elevate your stress levels, and thus prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
When Clayman’s clients begin to beat themselves up over an irresponsible financial decision so aggressively that it impacts their sleep patterns, she tells them that “all behavior is meant to meet a need.”
For example, an activity like shopping isn’t in and of itself a “bad” habit — it’s merely a tool to help you meet a deep-seated desire, be it thrill, acceptance, or social status, Clayman explains. Try to determine that need (a therapist can help you work through those emotions), and find a way to acknowledge and sit with it, rather than react to it or judge it harshly.
To practice this level of self-acceptance at home, Clayman says to think of your money as something that is in direct competition with your needs. Once you view yourself as a human with valid desires, you’ll be more likely to extend kindness and compassion towards yourself in the wake of a financial mistake or in the midst of an unideal situation. Then, find ways to satisfy those needs that won’t put a dent in your bank account. Instead of buying a new outfit for that party coming up because you want to impress a certain crowd, do a closet swap with a friend. If you want to buy a new smartphone because you feel pressured to keep up with gadget trends, check to see when your contract allows you to upgrade your device for free.
“We make impulsive choices because it's too hard to tolerate the feelings that come up when we need to think about our financial choices, so we're making choices that satisfy the need of the moment instead of balancing those needs with our goals for the future,” says Clayman.
Be honest with yourself
Denial is commonly associated with money because spending it fulfills our collective innate need for stature and power, wrote psychotherapist Carl Alasko, in Psychology Today. Psychological dynamics like personal stubbornness and impulsiveness can lead us to push facts into a corner, he explained.
To prevent yourself from succumbing to delusions of funds you don’t quite have, keep receipts in your wallet as tangible reminders of those everyday purchases that add up (you can throw them away at night), and have your credit card statement emailed to you so you’re not tempted to throw it in the trash.
Maintaining a level of transparency about our finances can feel incredibly vulnerable, but avoid the knee-jerk reaction to lie about money to others, too, just to avoid sitting with that discomfort. Even white lies, omissions, or cover-ups can compound anxiety and keep us up at night. “Deceit is corrosive to relationships and needs to be disclosed. Even if the behavior being hidden is not major in and of itself, the act of keeping something secret can be a major breach of trust,” says Clayman.
Don’t check your finances right before bed
After taking a pricey Uber ride instead of the train, or using an out-of-network ATM only to be slapped with service charges, it can be tempting to review your credit card and checking account statements right before bed to get a bigger picture of where you went “wrong” that day. But that is not the time you want to induce any sort of panic.
“At the end of the day, you probably want to stick to reviewing exercises that will promote a sense of calm, rather than get you all stirred up,” Clayman says. “You might want to write down three things you did well, or three things you're grateful for.” Let those positive thoughts guide you right to sleep so you don’t have a chance to revert back to panic mode. Your statements will be there in the morning. They can wait.
Overall, you should treat upkeep as a preventative measure against financial issues, instead of a form of crisis management in the midst of an anxiety-fueled episode.
“Money is something that requires small amounts of attention paid regularly. This way we can make small adjustments to deal with problems or small efforts toward goals, and over time we hopefully get where we want to go,” says Clayman. “If we're waking up at night worried, it's probably because that little voice that we're so good at ignoring during the day can sound a lot louder at night. We need to make time during the day to listen."
If you find yourself tossing and turning because you can’t seem to shake that feeling of money-induced anxiety, know that getting help is possible With a little extra compassion towards yourself and the help of a financial planner or therapist, you’ll be better positioned to sleep through the night — and feel more secure about your financial situation.