Managing worry about money

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

If you are experiencing money problems, worry can prevent you from taking positive action to improve your circumstances. Managing your emotions around finance can be an important step in taking control of your money.

The impact of worrying about money

We know from research that worrying about money can impact us in range of ways:

  • Physically - you may notice that when you think about money, you get uncomfortable feelings in your stomach or chest, you may clench your jaw or hold your shoulders tight or you may feel physically agitated. This can lead to headaches, tiredness and irritability
  • Sleep - it may disrupt your sleep, causing you to sleep too little or too much
  • Academically - your university work may suffer if you find it reduces your ability to think and concentrate
  • Relationships - how you feel may also have a negative effect on your relationships.

How worry prevents us from acting

If you’re having problems balancing your finances, it is perfectly natural to be worried about money. Concern about our financial resources creates worry about how we meet our most basic human needs: our ability to feed ourselves, feel secure and safe and to keep a roof over our heads.

A small amount of worry can help us to focus on the problem and take steps to address it. But sometimes worry and anxiety can be overwhelming, it can prevent us from acting and often impacts in one of two ways:

  1. Thinking about the problem makes you anxious, so you avoid thinking about it at all and pretend things aren’t that bad

  2. You worry so much that you can’t think straight. The worry paralyses you, you struggle to decide on a way forward and so don’t tackle the problem.

Every year I piled on another student loan and could feel the pressure of financial problems looming over my head... Looking back, there are a few things I would have done differently to not only relieve my stress then but help the future me from being financially burdened.

How I cope with financial problems and stress - Caroline

Managing your worry

Accepting the financial situation you find yourself in, and working to take control of your money, is ultimately the best way to reduce your worry and anxiety. However, this can be easier said than done and you may need to take some steps to feel calmer, before taking positive action. Different things work for different people, however, there are a number of ways to take steps to feeling calming. It may help to experiment with some of the suggestions below -

  1. Breathe: when we are anxious we breathe in short, shallow breaths. This keeps us on edge and increases our anxious feelings. Consciously controlling your breathing can help to reduce these feelings, so you can think about what you want to do and then act, try the 7-11 breathing exercise.
  2. Ground yourself: this means connecting physically to your surroundings. It may help to feel your feet on the ground, or you back against the back of the chair and just concentrate on that feeling for a few moments.
  3. Relax your muscles: starting in your feet, tense up your muscles for a few moments and then let them relax. Then work up your body. This will gradually help you to relax.
  4. Face reality: worry will convince you that the problem is worse than it is. Get yourself into a calmer state and then look at the true financial picture. Look at your bank statements, your bills and map out your budget, so you know exactly what the true picture is.
  5. Recruit back up: you may find it helps to have a friend, family member or member of support services with you, when you look at your finances. They can ensure you stick to the task and keep things in perspective, so that worry isn’t the only voice you hear.
  6. Remember that your financial situation will change: even with the current challenges in the economy, in the long run graduates are likely to earn better and are more likely to have financial stability and security.
  7. Identify positive steps forward: taking control will make you feel hopeful and help you to stay motivated to address the problem.

Practical tips on creating a budget and managing your money

Page last reviewed: October 2022