Mindpath College Health’s Lance Briggs, PNP discusses how money anxiety is affecting Gen Z and how to address it.

WHY MONEY ANXIETY IS SO PREVALENT AMONG GEN Z & HOW TO ADDRESS IT - Lance Briggs, PNP - Mindpath Health

There are many uncertainties in life that might cause stress in your life, such as a career path or where your relationship stands with someone. For some, the uncertainty surrounding the stability of their finances is a heightened concern, especially for Gen Z. This uncertainty, or money anxiety, has been on the rise lately due to inflation. In an American Psychological Association 2022 survey, 87% of respondents attributed the stress in their lives to the rise in prices of everyday items.

From inflation to lingering bills, money anxiety can have a direct impact on your mental health and happens more often than you think. I talked to a psychologist and financial expert to understand the impact of money anxiety on Gen Z and how to cope with it.

What Is Money Anxiety?

Money anxiety is a reality for many people whether you are financially stable or not. According to a 2020 Mind over Money survey by Capital One, more than three in four Americans report feeling anxious about their financial situation, and 52% have difficulty controlling their financial worries. According to Healthline, money anxiety can be defined as the worry regarding your income or the potential of losing your finances. Simply put, it’s an emotional response to your financial situation.

Money anxiety can look different for everyone. There are more intense cases where you are constantly obsessing over your money, which can be debilitating. It can cause insomnia, lack of sleep, or a hard time focusing. Or you could simply be dealing with a slight worry that might cause you not to look at your bank account.

Lance Briggs, a psychiatric clinician, tells Her Campus, “Money anxiety is a persistent worry related to finances, sometimes even in the absence of an immediate stressor. The most troubling feature of money anxiety to me is it’s often a thief of joy. It’s hard to relax, be present in your relationships and laugh with a persistent sense of dread of insecurity. The thoughts can be hard to turn off and these feelings can manifest physically with flushing skin, raised blood pressure, shortness of breath, and even upset stomach. Essentially every body system can be impacted by money anxiety.”

What Is at The Root of Money Anxiety?

Anyone can experience money anxiety, but the root of it is what differs. Briggs explains that even those who are secure in their finances can have it because it all stems from experiences. He continues, “Anxiety largely stems from a small almond-shaped tissue in the midbrain called the amygdala, which gives a hashtag or categorization to a set of current experiences. The amygdala is informed by the hippocampus (the tissue of memory or past experiences). Every current experience happening now is categorized by referencing past life events (memory). People that were exposed to an environment of financial insecurity early in life may suffer from the feeling of perpetual financial insecurity, despite having no immediate financial stressors. In these circumstances, the amygdala is triggering a false alarm.”

How your family taught you to think about money can also play a role in money anxiety. Annie Hanson, a financial coach, tells Her Campus, “Others may experience anxiety around money because they were taught that having money was bad and living frugally is a virtue. If you grow up with that belief, it can be a challenge to accept that you suddenly make more money. An example would be a new graduate with a starting salary above what anyone in their family ever made.”

So, if you feel that your money worries aren’t justified because you’re financially stable, know that money anxiety is common and doesn’t mean you have to be in unfortunate circumstances to experience it.

What Is the Impact on Gen Z?

For Gen Z, money anxiety is becoming a prevalent issue due to the state of the economy. According to a 2021 Credit Karma study, three-quarters of Gen Z experience stress and anxiety due to their finances, and the most common trigger was not having money available for the future.

On top of having to deal with normal financial concerns, such as bills and student debt, there is an influx in housing instability due to rising rent. In 2021, rent rose by 11.3% in the United States. At the same time, more people are looking for houses than there are houses available. Gen Z is having to save money for increasing rent, but also struggles with finding houses within their budget.

The job market has also changed dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, unemployment rates increased to 13%. Since then, unemployment rates have decreased, but Gen Z is still having a hard time finding jobs because there has been a shift to a virtual work environment, which makes it harder to find a career that matches their interests, and there is a decrease in pay in entry-level roles. Gen Z is settling for lower-paying jobs.

Briggs explains, “Gen Z faces enormous challenges as they pioneer into the working world. Although unemployment may be low, what Gen Z can obtain for their efforts keeps diminishing. In previous generations, being employed enabled certain freedoms, such as the ability to pay their way through school without crippling debt, purchasing a home, getting married and having children, or even taking a small vacation. Currently, many Gen Z individuals work multiple jobs and have difficulty obtaining even one of those life’s rewards.”

Briggs adds that humans need rewards to stay motivated, and when the reward of money is taken away, there is a lack of motivation in the workforce. He says, “As a psychiatric clinician, I see dopamine as the motivation chemical in the brain, which is released with a sensory reward (i.e., food, entertainment, security). When, in our society, money is a primary vehicle for obtaining this motivation chemical, how can Gen Z adequately pioneer themselves into the established world without depression and anxiety?”

Money anxiety is becoming a reality for Gen Z due to housing shortages and lower-paying jobs, but there are strategies that can lessen the impact.

How Do You Cope?

Though money anxiety can be scary, there are ways to overcome it and not let it impact your day-to-day life. Understand that coping with longer-term money anxiety can be more difficult because societal institutions are stacked against people with less socioeconomic power, and many of these issues will require widespread social change. However, Briggs advises coping with short-term money anxiety in three steps, which include:

Recognize the power of conscious thought. Take a moment to ask yourself if there is anything specific to worry about in the given moment. This will essentially limit the number of things you’re worrying about. Focus on the present, not the future.

Pick three sensations. When you feel money anxiety coming on, pick three senses, such as touch, sight, and hearing, and try to positively trigger them at the same time for 20 minutes. For instance, Briggs does back stretches (touch) while listening to music (hearing) and having a eucalyptus diffuser on (smell). These sensations will prevent your mind from wandering into anxious thoughts.

Keep away from negative behavior caused by money anxiety. Common actions that coincide with money anxiety include reluctance to check credit card bills or bank statements. These actions actually prolong anxiety. Instead of avoiding, whenever you’re ready, get financial counseling and make a plan to tackle whatever financial burdens are causing your anxiety.

Whether you’re worrying about rent prices or increasing bills, money anxiety is a common occurrence for nearly everyone. It’s completely normal to stress about money because it is such a large part of society and is a medium to fulfill our needs. If you find yourself worrying about your financial situation, take a step back and remember that a lot of your worries might be temporary.

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