A lot of people have anxiety about money, including people who we wouldn’t think would have much to worry about. Anxiety about money is a symptom of a bigger problem though.
There is a lot written about managing anxiety out there, and many people spend a lot of time and effort on trying to get a better grasp of dealing with psychological stress. All the workarounds that we try generally miss the mark because we try to reduce the symptoms of the problem though rather than addressing its real causes.
Anxiety about money often can extend beyond rational thinking to the realm of the irrational, irrationality is a pretty popular thing among our species actually. Perhaps you have saved up $2 million for your retirement, reaching the goal that you’ve set for yourself where you don’t have to worry about money anymore, and when you get there you start to worry if this is going to be enough or not.
You start thinking about recessions and long bear markets and perhaps even black swan events that can send your portfolio crashing, where all your hard work over the years to become comfortable in retirement ends up not providing you what you need. These things are always a possibility, and there are always things that are not under our control, and it’s pretty easy to imagine all sorts of things that may occur that may ruin our plans or worse.
Perhaps we have enough money that we can just stop investing and put all of our money in a bank. Then we have to worry about the bank failing and our losing a lot of our money to that. Maybe we can put our money in U.S. treasuries, but what if a catastrophic event causes the collapse of the U.S. treasury?
What if we somehow get enough hyperinflation that our $2 million no longer is enough to get through the current year, let alone our lifetime? What if aliens kidnap us and take us to another planet where our money doesn’t spend and we’re left penniless and alone in a strange land?
While these worries are pretty far out there and beyond what most people think about, at the same time, there are plenty of people who are financially secure but still worry a fair bit about money. There is always something to worry about if we put our minds to it. We seem to put a lot of effort into finding things it seems, in spite of this really making no sense if we just shine the light on it.
This is Very Much a Human Disease
From observation, it is likely that we are the only species that thinks so irrationally, aside from exposing an animal to extreme and prolonged stress to the extent that they become neurotic. Animals don’t behave like that in the wild though even though they are exposed to constant threats. Animals and other creatures don’t really dwell on such things, they just deal with events as they arise and also practice prudence to not unnecessarily expose themselves to dangers that could be avoided.
If you are out in the wild though with predators all around, you can’t eliminate the dangers out there, you can only manage them. If these creatures spent their time dwelling on what might happen to them, this would distract them from matters at hand such as keeping an eye on their surroundings. While sitting under a tree worrying about wolves coming around, they may miss the real wolves approaching.
Humans spend quite a bit of time under trees, and while we can make our lives pretty safe compared to other species, and achieve levels of safety that take danger nearly out of the equation, we still have the habit of tormenting ourselves with worry.
While there are ways to try to cope with this, taking deep breaths and trying to relax for example, or any other manner of looking to cope with the effect of these ill thoughts, this can only help to a point, because the concerns are still there and remain unresolved.
It is the concerns themselves that are the real problem, and trying not to think about them may reduce them, or we may reduce the harm they cause us to some degree, but pushing them aside for them to just come back again later or bury them beneath the surface where they can harm us just as much or more when pushed below our level of awareness.
Ironically, it is our desire to avoid confronting our thoughts that is behind all of this trouble. Instead of examining these thoughts, we tend to either just accept them without any real consideration or just push them away, where they continue to impact our lives.
There are a great many things that we could worry about, including financial worries, and people do tend to worry about money quite a bit. We might think that it makes sense for those who have little or no money to worry about it a lot, but even this doesn’t make sense, and if we’re looking to sort out our own lives, we really need to get at the heart of this disorder.
Imagine that you somehow find yourself transported from where you are now to laying in a cardboard box in a back alley somewhere. You have no money, no income, and no friends or anyone else that will help you, and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. You can survive out in the rain in your cardboard box, but if you don’t eat you will die.
It’s safe to say that if there were ever a situation where you might need to worry about financial matters, this would be it. We could even add to this and say that your wife and small child is with you, and you have to be aware that they will die too if you aren’t successful here.
We Need to Think, But We Must Do So Constructively, not Destructively
This is clearly a time for thinking, and you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to get out of this mess, not just figuring out where your next meal is coming from, but hopefully coming up with a plan beyond that. Laying there and tormenting yourself with visions of you and your family writhing in agony as you all die a slow death from malnutrition isn’t going to be particularly useful and will certainly make things more challenging.
It wouldn’t make sense to do that, even though a lot of people would certainly fall prey to this, unless they realized that they would be adding fat to the fire here, already being visited by great harm and then choosing to harm ourselves further by losing control of our minds as well.
Controlling our minds sufficiently should not be viewed as something you might achieve after spending years living in caves with monks and casting off the material world in a quest for spiritual enlightenment, although we will need to be prepared to use our minds for what they were really designed for, to strive toward using our powers of reason.
Shirking our powers of reason, especially where it comes to evaluating our own thoughts, is a real epidemic, although this disorder also includes the inability to recognize what the problem really is. We unwittingly believe that the problem is out there, and our creating all this extra stress and anxiety actually helps us deal with all this, where the reality is that we are and our thoughts are the problem.
It is not that managing our lives effectively does not require any thought, and it actually may require quite a bit of it. After using a burner on a stove top, it’s a good idea to be aware that it should be turned off when not in use and perhaps even to check it to ensure we remember to do this.
Once should be enough for this though. We check it and confirm it’s off and then move on. There are people with OCD who will return to the stove many times to re-check such a thing, and perhaps even stand there for a long while repeating “off” to themselves over and over.
We may feel sorry for these people, who are clearly suffering from psychological dysfunction that is impacting their lives, and not realize that we have the same condition, where its manifestation may be less obvious but it still may impact our lives quite significantly.
Anytime we worry about anything, including money, beyond the point where we have worked out what we may need to do and come up with a plan, we are being obsessive compulsive. This is never a good idea and all it does is disrupt our lives in the same way that it does our stove watcher even though the extent may be less. Worry does not serve any practical purpose aside from upsetting us needlessly.
The extent that we are afflicted with OCD is simply a matter of self-examination. Overcoming this does not require we become a monk, but it does require that we at least examine our thoughts critically. When we do, any problems we have with this, and most people have a lot of them, will at least become transparent. If this is not made transparent, we will not even recognize what is really going on, and will never overcome what we don’t even recognize.
When we get such a thought, for instance thinking what will happen to our retirement savings if we get a long bear market, this is evidence that we may not have prepared ourselves as well as we should for it. We then need to consider what we should be doing here, and then do it. There is no need for any further thought about this unless things change or we get more insight into what we can do.
Like an animal would, once we deal with the situation, we need to move on. Perhaps we won’t have enough money for retirement, and a lot of people won’t, but once we have done all we can, we have no real choice but to accept our fate, or make our fates worse by obsessing with this. Perhaps we do want to think some more on this, but this really needs to be constructive thinking, not thinking that is destructive.
A big part of the cure is realizing that our lives occur in the present and while it can help to refer back to the past at times as well as looking ahead to the future, if we do not primarily live in the present, we will indeed find ourselves lost. Many have come to enjoy a radical transformation of their lives by learning to focus much better on where they actually are, which is always right here and right now, where they finally permit themselves to enjoy the moment without the normal barrage of harmful thoughts that we usually partake in.
If we want to stop worrying excessively about money, we need to stop worrying excessively period. All worry is excessive by the way, beyond sound consideration and action, as it serves no useful purpose but does indeed serve to do a lot of harm should we let it. All we need to do to get on the right track is to examine these thoughts and consider whether they are helping or hurting us, and we should want to be rid of the ones that hurt us, by simply asking ourselves why we feel we should continue doing this.
Whatever amount of financial success that we achieve, we will never be at peace if it is seen as not enough. We get this backward though, as the peace and happiness must always come first, or we won’t be able to really enjoy our success no matter how much we have. Being peaceful and happy will also much better promote the success we desire because we’ll be freer to focus on getting there without all these needless self-inflicted burdens. We need to make peace with ourselves first before there can be any real peace.