Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The 3 Types of Responses to Financial Stress

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Financial stress is about as common as Geico commercials, just much more annoying. The commercials are short and sometimes funny. Not so with most financial challenges and the stress they produce. However, I’d like to propose that there are three types of stress responses associated with financial difficulty, based not on someone’s situation as much as on their perceptions about their situation. I’m going to break down these three types and then offer my take on how to address each one.

The first type looks over the basic situation of amounts coming in and going out. They tally up the numbers and see the shortfall. They also look around at all the things that are missing from their homes or lives or environment and they compare to what the other families around them have. “Wow, my kids don’t have those new phones, or that new thing that they’ve been bugging me about. They say everyone has one. And it probably would help them with their school work.” Or maybe they’ve been persuaded by some commercial. “Yeah, that Omi-zoomi ap actually would be preparing my kid better and what kind of parent would I be if I don’t want my kid to get ahead!” And then there’s the things that we parents want, too. And we focus on our deficits and we feel bad. We feel that there is something wrong that we aren’t able to have what other people have. We may reflect on the occasions or the people that we feel have ripped us off or made our life harder. Or we may sulk about our rotten situation and how we feel stuck financially and how it is not fair.

The second type gravitates instead towards worry. They have done the tallying and see how they are coming up short and their mind goes into overdrive. They start working through possible scenarios – could I this, what about that, maybe if this or that… They carry this with them and it affects their sleep and maybe their eating patterns. Where can we cut back and where can we make more? This type gets caught up in obsessing about their needs and may transfer their stress into medical issues like back aches and digestive problems. And likely everything feeds their worry.

The third type may begin in much the same way; calculating their situation and struggling with much the same feelings or stuckness, anger, and anxiety. But at some point it dawns on them to go to God with their emotions and their situation. I’m not suggesting that type one or type two folks don’t run to God. Sure they do. Although I think that many of type ones or twos run to God not to resolve their anger and anxiety, but either to demand or plead with God to rescue them and resolve their financial difficulty.

You see, I think that we struggle culturally with the sense that God loves us. What I mean is that we have been conditioned to understand God’s love as a sense of favor that is expressed through protection and comfort. From our perspective America has been so blessed and we interpret this to mean that God has favored us.  Or we learned somewhere that love means to be sheltered and so we project this onto God. And when we struggle we feel that God has disappeared and removed his care and may even feel abandoned by him. When we interpret God’s love and care for us in this way we will inevitably struggle with great anxiety or resentment when things go badly for us.  Jesus spoke of this struggle in his parable of the sower, which you’ll find in Matthew 13 and in Luke 8. Jesus describes a farmer sowing seed and he says that some falls on rocky ground, but since there was no depth of soil the plants had no root and withered away. And he says that some seeds fell among thorns and that the thorns choked them. He later interprets the parable and explains that the seeds that fell on the rocky ground are those who “endure for a little while, but when tribulation or persecution arises”, he falls away. As for the seeds who feel among the thorns he says, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” I believe that the seeds that fell on rocky soil parallel the type that gravitates towards anxiety and the seeds that fell among the thorns parallels the angry, resentful type.

I used to read this parable and analyze it to discern which seed I was and then worry about my not being the “right” seed. However, I have grown to believe that the parable can be interpreted as conditions that are changeable. That is, that if I am at some point on the rocky ground that I don’t have to stay there. The parable is not representing determinism, such that these denote destinies that are programmed. They represent attitudes or maybe even stages of growth.

That brings me back to the third type. I believe the third type has grown; grown through their financial struggles and so when they encounter them they are drawn to run to God to depend on him. They have grown to see their heart and their tendency towards either anxious fear or angry control. And so they surrender their inclinations and they acknowledge God as the wise provider who is in control. As they practice this they find that their anxieties diminish or their resentments are resolved by a love that doesn’t provide comfort and ease but instead comforts them with what they really needed – God’s presence.

You see, no matter what we are lacking situationally there is always something we need more. Let’s learn with the Apostle Paul how to be content whether in plenty or in want.

That’s the way to manage financial stress.



Thursday, October 03, 2013

Doggone Tired of Worrying About Money? Here's 4 Things You Can Do

By Laura Hull, LMFT
Coping Coach
Disillusioned? Disgruntled? Doggone tired of worrying about financial issues, both of a personal nature and for the country as a whole?  You are not alone…. There’s a choir of worrying handwringers waiting to join hands with you, while singing of the plight of “Gina and Tommy” in a verse of “Living on a Prayer” (80’s hair and all).  As much as songwriters like to write songs about the romantic notion of “all you need is love” and “we’ll live on love”, the rest of us who live in the real world know all too well about the financial pain many are experiencing and the worry and fear that go along with it.
A government shutdown created by the bickering of those some would argue are fat cat politicians does not conjure up positive feelings or hopeful sentiment from a large population of people who are struggling financially in their day to day lives.  While 800,000 government workers are seeing their pay cut or eliminated, the lawmakers in DC are still drawing their rather healthy incomes.  This can create bitterness and resentment for those who are living paycheck to paycheck, and in some cases losing benefits that helped sustain their lives. 
Even for those not directly impacted by the government shutdown, the long term economic woes in this country have landed many families in financial binds that are a breeding ground for stress and/or fear and its negative consequences.  Many are unemployed or underemployed, with no foreseeable changes in sight that would address this hardship.  It’s hard to stay positive and focus on the good in life when things feel dire for an extended period of time. 
It’s admittedly hard to watch someone we care about struggle with financial issues and the fear and uncertainty that goes along with them.  Telling someone “don’t worry…it will all be better eventually” when he/she doesn’t know how he/she will put food on the table is a bit like pitching someone a rock and telling him to make stone soup….you, while well intentioned in trying to bestow a ray of sunshine, might find yourself clobbered with your stone soup rock.  Be sensitive to others emotional struggles and their sensitivities to their struggles.  Don’t offer half-hearted sentiments/solutions that can come across as lightweight or contrived. People pick up on that quickly, and they really don’t appreciate it very much.  Want to help?  Listen.  Just listen without being dismissive of their fears.  Offer sincere compassion.  People aren’t always looking for us to “fix their problems”.  Sometimes people just want to vent.  Sometimes people just want to be heard.  I am not suggesting that you allow yourself to become someone’s verbal punching bag or puke bucket every time said person wants to lash out or spew his woes of life in your direction.  Being present and supportive for those we care about is important, but we can’t allow their stresses to become ours in a way that has negative consequences in our own lives.
If you are struggling with the stresses of financial hardship, and if fear of the future is keeping you up at night, creating heightened anxiety, there are things you can do to take back some sense of control in the situation. 
1.  Take every opportunity to network with people.  Get out of the house and interact with others.  If you are looking for a new job, make some new connections.  You never know when the person sitting next to you at the PTA meeting or at a volunteer situation may be in a position to help you connect with your next employment opportunity.  Let others know your situation and ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of opportunities that might be a good fit for you.  Do not let pride keep you from projecting an honest picture of your situation to others. 
2.  Control your stress and anxiety by taking care of yourself.  Rest.  DO NOT sit up until 3 am doing social media junk.  If you are having trouble sleeping over an extended period of time, seek help in addressing this. Eat right. Exercise regularly, particularly when feeling depressed or anxious.  Moderate to rigorous exercise for as little as 30 minutes has shown to boost the release of endorphins in the brain, which stave off depression and enhances feelings of wellbeing.  Not feeling motivated?  Make a promise to yourself to do it anyway.  It helps.  Taking care of you will reduce the likelihood of becoming both physically and emotionally ill.  Becoming sick is the last thing that’s needed at a time like this.
3. Trim back expenses.  Find ways to trim monies out of your budget.  You may say, “I’ve already cut out all the extras and I still can’t make it work.”  If you really have cut out the $4.00 cup of fru fru coffee, and scaled back on the extras, then it may be time to seek financial counseling.  There are many organizations that help people learn to live on a new/reduced budget.  Sometimes having a new set of eyes on your situation can bring suggestions you have not considered before.  It’s worth trying.  Many people have obtained their “financial freedom” by taking the advice of financial counselors.
4. Pray.  This should be the thing we do first and the most anytime we are struggling with anything in our lives.  Prayer is comforting.  It is so wonderful to turn over our worries and fears to God.  I can assure you that He is not going to drop a pot of money in your lap as soon as you say “Amen”.  But there’s a lot of power in prayer.  God hears us and loves us.  He does and will take care of all our needs, in His time and in His way.
Always keep in mind that in the long run, all situations are fluid, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the present.  Nothing stays the same.  Just because things are tough now, and maybe have been tough for a long time, doesn’t mean it will stay tough.  As long as we are doing the things we can do to help ourselves, we need to live and function under the assumption that things will get better eventually, because they often do.  No one can predict the future, but it makes sense to live and move forward with the belief that the future hold good things. Why believe anything else? J