DH = Dear Husband
Anxiety without a compass
When I was a teenager in the late ’70s and early ’80s, mental health was a taboo subject. Nobody said things like, “I had a bout of depression that year,” or “I avoid that situation because it makes my anxiety spike.” I knew something was “wrong” with me. I was full-on petrified in most social situations, and public speaking put me into an absolute panic. Other people didn’t seem to experience the tension that I carried with me almost constantly, and I felt utterly alone in it. I didn’t have the language to define what I was going through, and efforts to talk about it met with responses like “Everyone feels nervous when they have to give speeches,” or “All you need to do is smile,” or “Oh, you’ll get over it when you’re older.”
Not true. What the passage of time allowed me to do was to develop coping strategies. I had my strategies for social gatherings – like going to the periphery of the room and finding one or two other people to talk to. And I had my strategies for public speaking – like prepare, prepare, prepare, and practice, practice, practice. But as the years went by, the culture changed. Mental health issues came out of the closet, and words like “anxiety” were spoken with intelligence, respect, and compassion. For me, it meant that I could talk with some people about what I experienced – a select few – without being subjected to platitudes.
In 2012, when I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, it was like receiving manna from heaven. I devoured those pages – those words that described situations my teen self thought she was alone in living. Although I had come a long way by the time that book was published, it was still an incredibly cathartic read. Cain gave context to the prevalence of anxiety, which became more and more widespread as Western society changed from agrarian to urban. People’s social circles expanded and changed as they moved from the farm to the city. Public speaking was a must as people had to “sell themselves” to get jobs, connections, opportunities. Personality became more important than character. Extroverts flourished in this societal shift. Introverts often faked it or withdrew.
I could go on and on about Cain’s book, but I won’t. I’ll just say that I think everyone should read it – extroverts as well as introverts. Cain did a great TED talk, and it’s well worth a listen. There. I’ll stop.
Anxiety and debt
My point in taking this look at anxiety is that I believe it plays a part in many people’s problems with debt.
Anxious to fit in = susceptible to marketing
It’s generally accepted that everyone wants to belong. Marketers, who are extremely good at tapping into human longings, use the “belonging” angle to sell. Keep your eyes open for it and you’ll see it everywhere – in ads for travel, for clothing, for the latest tech innovation . . . “If you buy this, you will be loved,” is the implicit message. Or “Once you have this, you’ll be accepted.” Introverts who are anxious provide fertile ground for that kind of marketing. We hate feeling isolated. We want to belong. So we’ll buy it – and finally be one of the cool kids!
Anxious about options = susceptible to confusion
In Quiet, Cain mentions a study in which 4-month old babies were subjected to stimuli like noises and flashing lights. The babies were divided into two groups: those who responded placidly, and those who reacted with sudden movement – like twitching legs and pumping fists. Guess which ones turned out to be introverts? The fist-pumpers. Extroverts are more comfortable with a bombardment of stimuli. Introverts are sensitive to it and feel an alarm. When we’re subjected to a range of financial advice – some coming from banks and credit card companies, some coming from financial planners, some coming from “experts” in the media, and some coming from friends and family – we get overwhelmed. There’s a chaos, and it all blends into an obnoxious, noisy mix. So when really good advice comes our way, we don’t recognize it. It’s just more white noise, and we block it out to keep our peace.
Anxious & overwhelmed = susceptible to emotional purchases
Last week, Shannon Ryan from The Heavy Purse wrote the post “7 Emotions and Their Affect On Your Finances.” Everyone experiences feelings, but there’s an intensity inherent to anxiety that makes emotions particularly powerful. Purchasing as emotional self-medication is a popular addiction these days. Feeling stressed from a tough week at work? Go out for dinner to relax and unwind. You need to take care of yourself!
Anxious to make things right = impatience
DH and I started our journey out of debt in June of 2012 after reading Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. That book broke through the white noise of my financial confusion, and once I got the message, I was psyched to get out of debt. One of the things Ramsey said was that solving your financial troubles had almost nothing to do with your money. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but once we started our journey out of debt, I came up against a recurring obstacle that had nothing to do with money: my impatience. Anxiety screams, “The problem has to be fixed NOW!” But it takes the average household 7 years to go through all of Ramsey’s steps to financial health. “7 years? Ugh!” And it’s not a smooth ride. All along the way there are roadblocks, like unexpected expenses, and they test your patience every time. 7 years is a long time for anyone. For a person with anxiety, it’s an eternity.
Navigating anxiety and finances – with a compass and light
If you recognize yourself in this post, here is what I recommend:
- Read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. There is nothing more effective in bringing about change in your life than self-knowledge. Shine a light on your anxiety by learning about it. Knowledge is power, and it will equip you to navigate your path with much greater confidence.
- Find a personal finance guru and stick to his/her plan towards financial health. Mine is Ramsey. I know someone else whose guru is Gail Vaz-Oxlade. Find an expert who cuts through the “white noise” of your own financial confusion. You’re under no obligation to read up on every expert out there. Find the one who speaks to you, and move forward. Clarity is a fabulous antidote to anxiety.
- Develop an awareness of your vulnerabilities as you take what will be many, many steps towards financial health. Emotional turbulence? Impatience? Recognize it for what it is as it’s happening; challenge yourself to say “Not now,” in response to any desire to buy that might come out of a vulnerable moment; watch it pass. I promise you, the “Not now,” part becomes easier and easier with practice. (“Not now” is way more effective than “No” – “No” tends to invite rebellion.)
- Step back for periodic perspective. 7 years IS a long time, and you’re more likely to make it to the finish line if you take stock of the milestones you achieve along the way.
Do you think that introverts and extroverts face different challenges in making their way out of debt? Do you recognize anxiety in yourself or in someone you know? Your comments are welcome.