Written by Liz Falconer, Edited by Malika Esmail
This is part of our Op-Ed series where we feature third-party opinions and thoughts on the ways finance affects our lives. The authors are not so much giving advice, as they are sharing experiences. Some will make you think, others will inspire, and we hope all of them will give you something to talk about.
I’m broke. I’m anxious. I’m depressed.
I’ve been all three. Sometimes at the same time. Could I say it out loud? Absolutely not. Raise your hand if you can. While your hand is up there, I’d like to request a high five and a bit of that confidence, if you’ve got some to share!
These feelings, for me anyway, have led to destructive financial behaviour.
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. I wasn’t shocked. It runs in the family, and I’m so used to feeling anxious that often I don’t know how to feel any another way. Most of my habits, spending or otherwise, were formulated based on the best way to stop my mind from creating problems for me. Anxiety can feel like you’re walking through life with an uninvited guest who accompanies you everywhere and slowly saps you of your strength. These feelings, for me anyway, have led to destructive financial behaviour. I truly believed if I bought that shirt, those jeans, or that necklace, I would feel better. The problem was, it didn’t help. All it did was get me deeper into debt, something that increased my stress. My life was the definition of a vicious cycle. Anxiety, spending, debt, anxiety. I tried to cut back, re-focus, and start being smarter with my money, but I kept falling back into bad patterns.
It’s become a lot more commonplace in recent years to talk about mental health issues (thank goodness!) but why don’t we talk about how our mental health can affect our finances, and vice versa? I feel like there’s a stigma when it comes to admitting to our mental health issues. We hear it all the time; We talk about our physical ailments, why don’t we talk more about mental health? Why, indeed – but the stigma is still there.
I’m lucky now that I have a job with benefits that allow me to seek assistance with my mental health. But what about those who don’t? It can feel extremely isolating to be stuck in that cycle, especially because it’s not easy to talk about for fear of judgement. No one should have to feel like that, regardless of status. As an adult, you’re supposed to know how to manage your money, right? So while you’re suffering internally, you’re projecting an image of someone who has it all together, potentially isolating you further. Personally, I spent years working in retail, living pay cheque to pay cheque and struggling with the same mental health issues I still deal with today. Without easy access to a mental health professional, I was lost. I couldn’t afford to see a therapist, not only because of financial limitations, but because I had no idea where to turn, or how to start my search. I spent years feeling hopeless, with little to no support system. My support system became retail therapy – a concept that is almost celebrated among women in today’s culture (#TreatYoSelf). I couldn’t afford the things I was buying to make myself “feel better”, but I justified it to myself anyway. Every. Single. Time. What I didn’t realize then was that saving money, while it doesn’t offer the same serotonin rush of a brand new pair of boots, can offset anxiety later on when something happens which would necessitate an expense. Take for instance my car (an old Chevy Cavalier at the time) breaking down. If I had an emergency stash, that new alternator wouldn’t have been such a hit to my wallet.
Recognize that you’re not alone, and you aren’t the only one who feels this way.
So, where do we start? How do you break that cycle of anxiety, spending, debt, anxiety? First, be honest with yourself, and with others, about your true needs. Recognize that you’re not alone, and you aren’t the only one who feels this way. Once you find the strength to reach out for help, you’ll be surprised how vast your support network can be. I’ve become an outspoken advocate for mental health issues through my own network. I’m happy to see the upsurge of programs like Not Myself Today and Bell Let’s Talk, who are working to erase the taboo surrounding speaking up and out about mental health. Resources do exist for people who don’t feel like they have anywhere to turn. Mental health and finances should not be topics we shy away from. They’re both things we all deal with daily, and the two often go hand in hand. Having anxiety about finances should not make anyone feel isolated.
The next step should be to examine your true needs, and there are tools out there to guide you in your discovery of what those are. Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Yes, I’m serious, and no, you don’t have to be a psych major to understand this chart. It’s a great tool to determine your base needs, and once you know it, you’ll find yourself stopping every once in a while to ask yourself, “Do I really need that?” Once I realized that not spending my money was going a long way towards lowering my anxiety, I adopted healthier habits – some small changes that were sustainable for the long-term.
Learning doesn’t stop, no matter what life stage you’re in.
Finally, take ownership. Your finances and your well-being are your business. It’s up to you to take the steps to make them better. And you can do it. Learning doesn’t stop, no matter what life stage you’re in. It’s ok to admit you don’t have it all together. Trust me, no one is judging you. They’re all too preoccupied with their own issues! Making real changes is an inside job. And I truly believe we all have the ability within us.
Illustration by David Laguna.