Three Strategies to Help You Work Through Financial Anxiety
Financial fears abound in our post-pandemic world. Everyone is concerned about the stock market, the recession, and the price of gas.
But perhaps no one feels money anxiety as keenly as the widow.
Most widows feel financial anxiety in addition to grief. Here are three key strategies that help me as a widow: a good financial plan, talking back to my fears, and redirecting my thoughts to gratitude.
Half of who we were is gone. Our spouses may have managed financial matters. They likely took care of home maintenance and provided at least half, if not more, of the household income. We didn’t need to understand how they did these things; we just trusted that they were done. Now in a world of loss, everything our spouses did falls on our shoulders, along with the weight of financial anxiety.
If you worry about paying bills, knowing how to invest, wondering if you should go back to work, or paying off the mortgage, you’re not alone. Most widows worry about these questions. Questions aren’t the problem; anxiety is.
A good, fee-only, fiduciary financial planner, like Wise Stewardship Financial Planning, can help you find the answers and a financial plan that fits your values and goals. Having that in place, however, is no guarantee that your fears will go away. That’s because worrying about money is not beholden to the size of your bank account. Widows with a little money worry. Widows with a lot of money worry.
Financial anxiety is like grief. It probably won’t just go away. It may be something that will always be with us, but it doesn’t have to consume our thoughts. Below are three suggestions to help us recognize what triggers it, how to talk back to it, and how to redirect our thinking.
1. Limit Media Exposure to Quiet Financial Anxiety
Journalists have known for years that we are more likely to read bad news. Negative headlines sell newspapers (some estimate 30% more of the time). None of us needs a scientific study to explain how daily exposure to negative information affects our moods and produces fear about the future. (If you’re interested, though, here’s one). What we read, watch, and listen to can ferment in our thoughts and shift our perspective.
It’s no coincidence that aside from the news media, some financial prophets of doom have something to sell. It may be a new product, a sure stock pick, or a secret strategy. The bleaker they make the world sound, the more vulnerable we become to fear-based decision-making.
Limiting media exposure to fact-based information can help us avoid fear triggers. Consider searching for an unbiased, apolitical news source like 1440 that you can read through in no more than 5-10 minutes a day.
Limiting bad news frees your mind to receive something better–like peace. When Paul wrote to the Philippian Church, he instructed them to replace their anxiety with prayer. Let your worry be a cue that it’s time to pray, asking God for what you need. Trust Him to take care of you. Philippians 4:7 tells us the result is a peace that is bigger than the unknown, greater than your bank account, and unaffected by the stock market.
2. Remember the 50% Rule to Balance Fear of the Unknown
Fear of the unknown tops just about everyone’s fear list. Whether you grieved over the sudden loss of a spouse or walked the long path of prolonged sickness before losing them, the unknown has already brought deep pain into your life. We can’t know what tomorrow brings or how it will affect us financially.
“I have anxiety all the time,” writes Patty, a widow in her 50s who works as an office manager in a large medical practice. “The struggle is worrying that something will happen to me so that I can’t work, or a major catastrophe will happen with the house, and I won’t have any financial support without a spouse.”
Good financial planning includes the possibility of the unknown and the changes it brings. It’s possible to have a plan for all kinds of scenarios. But knowing that plan doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of our fears.
Learning to talk back to our fears can be where the 50% rule comes in. Statistically speaking, unknown changes are just as likely to result in something better as they are in something worse. There is a 50% chance that things will turn out worse, but there is a 50% chance that they will turn out better!
When we worry, we tend to forget the “better part” of the 50% rule and believe that change is always bad. That’s because we are not wired for negativity, tragedy, and loss. Some of us have experienced these things in unspeakably heartbreaking ways. When we are pummeled with grief upon grief, we can forget that goodness and mercy follow us too.
Reminding ourselves that the unknown is a balance between difficulties and blessings is more than a cognitive exercise. We need to hear it.
Do scary thoughts follow your “What if…” questions? Talk back to them out loud. Replace the fearful thoughts with this phrase: “What if it works out?” Then think about what that looks like. Can you see multiple unknown circumstances working out in good ways? Name them.
This one exercise doesn’t change the future—it changes you. You will hear yourself tell your anxiety that the world you can’t control brings good as much as it brings suffering.
Another helpful 50% rule exercise reminds you of the good things that have already happened. Think through the outcomes of previously unknown circumstances. Be intentional about remembering welcomed changes. Keep a notebook and list the positive outcomes during the week, month or year. You will soon see in black and white that good things come just as much or maybe more than bad things. You’ll also be on your way to engaging another fear-destroying strategy.
3. Practice Gratitude to Heal Anxiety
The morning after my husband died from a sudden heart attack, I lay between sleep and wakefulness, hoping the day before had been a nightmare. “You will make it. Stand on gratitude.”
It wasn’t an audible voice, at least, I didn’t think so, but I recognized God’s loving care behind the assurance and instruction. I woke and began counting everything I had to be grateful for—all that Tom had been to us as a husband and father. I thought about all the good memories that could never be taken from my children and me. I thought about the home we had made, the dreams we hoped for, and all that I had become because of him. Two and half years later, the waves of grief still come but, remembering what’s good keeps the darker emotions away.
Intentionally remembering positive things is a fast track to the practice of gratitude. In fact, research reveals that the very act of searching for thankfulness builds neurons in the frontal cortex of your brain, reduces stress, increases the immune system, strengthens cognitive function, and helps you get to sleep faster. Science says that gratitude makes you healthier. Widows say it helps you heal.
It also helps us live with an abundant mindset by directing our thoughts to what we have now rather than what we don’t have or what we’re afraid we might lose. In fact, gratitude puts us in touch with another rule: the 100% rule.
The truth that no grieving person wants to be quoted–that God works all things for good– is a truth that will come to us only when our hearts are ready to receive it in our timing. Then we’ll know that God works all things (not just 50% of them) for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
When that happens, we’ll also find solace in the One who did not spare His own Son. The God who grieves like us as the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) is also the God who raises the dead. He is the God who freely gives us all things (Romans 8:32) in His time, and not one can be lost–not even to the unknown.