After 35 years in the financial industry, I have seen and experienced a lot of stress. Stressors come in many forms: buying a home, not knowing when to retire, refinancing a mortgage, selling a business, investing in the stock market, running out of money, running out of time. Also, is it time to ask for a raise? Are my spouse and I spending too much? Should I be giving more or less money to my kids or aging parents? Should I make this expensive purchase? Should I save for college or for retirement? Do I have enough?
Invariably, in 99% of these situations, I have discovered that it’s not the mortgage, or the business, or the amount of our net worth, it’s our thoughts around these issues that create stress and unease. I know this because I have witnessed clients respond to the same scenario in a myriad of ways. To me this awareness is liberating: the possibility of not feeling urgency just because our bank balance is low, the market went down, and the roofer says we need a new $50,000 roof–all on the same Monday. There is what happens to us in life, and then there are unproductive stories that replay in our minds about what happened. “I’m not good with money. I should have done this differently. I shouldn’t have listened to my friend. I will never have enough.”
If we could realize our money stress has more to do with our thoughts about our finances than the finances themselves, we could be happier, calmer, and wiser about money. It’s a decision to react the way we do to money events, and it’s a decision to realize there are millions of people with your exact money situation (or worse) who are way less stressed than you are.
The cost of stress, as we all know, is beyond enormous. It affects our heart, our vitality, and our mood. But when it comes to finances, I’d say the most significant cost is stress decreases our oxygen intake. Because with less oxygen in the brain, our powerful minds are compromised – just when we need creative brain power most.
For me, this stress showed up in how I always seemed to be worried about my money disappearing. Whenever I lost some money, either through an investment or a purchase, I felt anxious because I created a story that this loss could eventually lead to me being impoverished.
So, short of growing your money faster, here’s what can you do to find more peace around your finances:
- Take a Money Breath – Whenever you feel stress, inhale for 3 seconds through the nose, pause for 1 second at the top of your inhale, then exhale for 6 seconds through your mouth. Do this full 10-second breath cycle a few times. Then I want you to remember a time when you had less money than you have today yet felt a sense of enough and ease. Now, how do you feel about buying that $500 cashmere sweater or getting the unexpected roof repair bill? Maybe you still buy the sweater, but you do it more mindfully and less impulsively. Yes, you have to pay the roofing bill; but you see the bill from a wider perspective and are less fearful now.
- This will sound strange, but it works. As you inhale, imagine fear entering your body; as you exhale, imagine something positive flowing out to your friends and family. For example, I have breathed in the fear of scarcity and breathed out a sense of abundance for all. Set a timer and do this for 1-3 minutes a day for a week. The inhale is about getting comfortable with or befriending the negative energy, and the exhale is about transmitting the positive quality already within you. I know it still sounds a little paradoxical, but try it and see.
- Take on a Gratitude Practice – So much research supports the benefits of simply writing down (or recalling each morning or evening) 3 things you already have, and 3 things that happened yesterday or today that brought joy. You can repeat some of these things from day to day. Do this each day for a week. This practice is so simple, I often overlook it myself. Yet, I gain immeasurable rewards when I re-engage with it. When we appreciate what we have, the voice in our heads saying we need something new to be okay gets a little quieter and weaker. As we train ourselves to be less habitual about acquiring new things, we tend to enjoy our current stuff more and make more discerning decisions about new stuff.
- Lose the Envy – Comparing yourself to another is especially pernicious. It’s one of the most dangerous things you can do because you won’t benefit–ever–from holding yourself up to someone you perceive as having or doing more than you. Given many of us, including myself, feel envious multiple times per day, it’s an energy drain, and it infects the relationship we could have with that person. Again, this is counterintuitive, but close your eyes and wish that person,–as sincerely as you can–more success, abundance, and good fortune. Say to yourself as you think of your nemesis (or someone else who, in your opinion, has more than you): May your success continue; may your happiness increase; may your abundance never wane. As weird as this sounds, it has been working well for me. Instead of feeling tension with people I used to envy, I feel ease towards them, and most importantly, I feel more wholeness within myself.
- My final stress buster is to embrace how much bigger your net worth is than your bank balance. It includes all your earning power, your skills, the value of all the ways you help others and make a difference. If you were offered a billion dollars and a disease that kills you in 3 months OR $1, which would you take? Yes, being alive is worth a lot. And even more when you realize that you are the only YOU on this planet. Like Oscar Wilde said: Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Taken. There will never be another person with your set of gifts – offer your gifts to others!
Is Money the last taboo? Yes. It’s one of the biggest sources of stress regardless of our economic circumstances. And, yes, you can lower this stress with the 5 mindful practices I’ve outlined. You don’t need to change your outer life, or earn/save more money, or even become a better version of yourself. You just need to take 5 minutes a day and focus on the mindfulness practices that call to you. Nice to know that you don’t need to change yourself in order to change your life.