Productive worrying vs pointless spiralling: How I stop myself from freaking out about money

how to stop worrying about money


That was my reaction a few weeks ago when the first pay day of the year arrived … and I hadn’t been paid.

My mind immediately went into overdrive.

Where was the money?
Was it just delayed due to the New Year public holidays?
Had it not been processed by the finance team?
What if I wasn’t going to get paid at all?
What would this mean for cashflow for the next week, and the week after, and the week after, and the week after? I’d have to tap into savings, maybe take some from the house renovation fund …

And so on and so forth. Straight into the worst case scenario and all the disastrous consequences.

It’s so easy to spiral – but I managed to take a deep breath before spinning totally out of control and reassess.

I had enough in that account to pay the mortgage – priority numero uno.

Cash savings elsewhere would tide me over for all the other expenses.

And that was all I truly needed to think about right then and there.

No use immediately jumping to catastrophic conclusions and getting lost down the paths of endless what ifs.

Worrying isn’t always a bad thing, if you know when to stop

There’s the productive kind that leads to making contingency plans.

But then there’s needless stressing. It’s like picking a scab.

It serves no purpose whatsoever – aside, perhaps, from giving your mind something to do. And the only possible result is that you make yourself feel worse and worse as it drives you into a frenzy of fear and self pity (you know exactly what I’m talking about).

That’s unhelpful, unhealthy, and it’s something I’ve worked hard to cut out.

It doesn’t sound like much, but I was super proud of myself for catching myself in the act and nipping it in the bud.

Because as it turns out, my biggest downfall is my own hyperactive mind. Some might abuse substances, or food; my destructive behaviour manifests as compulsive, obsessive stressing.

Happy ending! The money came through sometime between then and the next time I checked back – which I refrained from doing until the next day. All that fretting would have been for nothing.

The urge to scratch that itch was strong, but every time I stamp it down it gets a little easier.

Rewiring your mind

Another example: several months ago I got a letter from the owner/landlord of the neighbouring property. They wanted to put up a new fence … and their estimate was over $6,000, or $3,000 for my half.

Now, a new fence is on the roadmap for us, and it’s something we wanted to get done as soon as possible. But not just yet (the kitchen comes first) and certainly not at that price. $3k for a fence was not in the budget any time soon.

I stressed out majorly about this. Raged, worried, spent ages researching the law and our obligations. Wrote back outlining my viewpoint and countering their proposal (which boiled down to, we do not currently have the funds or desire to do this right now).

Then it was just a matter of waiting. Time enough for me to review the situation with a clearer mind and reassure myself that even if this were to go ahead, I could absorb the expense. Sure, it would make a massive dent in my savings and postpone our kitchen project for who knows how long … but it wouldn’t ruin me.

Time passed and no response came, so: crisis averted. We can tackle the fence later  when we’re in a position to do so.

And that was a huge exercise in resetting my emotional reactions, and a big leap forward for me. In fact, I think it was my biggest breakthrough in terms of stopping the spiral before it went too far.

Breaking the cycle

Since then, I’ve taught myself to allow less and less time to freak the fuck out, and more quickly move on to considering the options, and accepting the possible outcomes. Stop panicking. Stop spiralling. Stop freaking out about money.

Overwriting that thought pattern takes time, just like building any muscle or habit. Developing the self awareness and self control so that you can catch yourself before the worrying stops being productive and crosses over into self flagellation.

You’ve got to be able to recognise when you’re heading down that path, and make the choice to break the cycle right there.

It’ll do wonders for your happiness. Seriously, learning to not let my scarcity mindset drag me down is probably my favourite life hack ever.

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5 thoughts on “Productive worrying vs pointless spiralling: How I stop myself from freaking out about money

  • Reply Sarah | Smile & Conquer January 17, 2018 at 17:17

    Eeek, that’s totally stressful and would have me in panic mode pretty quick too! I leave hardly anything in my chequing account so would have to do some rearranging if an expected payment didn’t come through before my bills started coming out.

    I guess that’s the thing about automation…its super great until it doesn’t work!

    I’m glad you were able to get some positive lessons out of a not so great situation.

  • Reply Yet Another PF Blog January 18, 2018 at 03:10

    I’ve found that I have a constant level of random what-if-this-happens anxiety, it just tends to be directed toward more or less important things in accordance with how full and busy my life is.

    It generally helps me to address what I’m anxious about head on and make a protocol to avoid and respond to problems, minimize damage, etc. So, for example, having a buffer in my checking account and monthly money check-in helps me feel secure that even if I don’t get paid, the impact will be minimal and I’ll catch it within 30 days. Another thing that helps: breaking mindless internet feedback loops. I’ve found I’m a lot more prone to anxiety if I’m doing the open-the-same-tabs-over-and-over-to-see-if-anything-changed-on-my-blog-or-mint dance.

  • Reply Mrs. ETT January 19, 2018 at 06:29

    I was in that position a few months ago, but thanks to our emergency fund, I didn’t have a single moment of stress. Of course I went to payroll to sort it out. It also made their life easier because it wasn’t urgent.

    You might want to consider adding a fence category to your budget, and at least starting to save small amounts towards it from now. You said it’s on your future roadmap anyway, and you have no idea when your neighbours might re-approach you. I’m lucky I haven’t had to deal with this yet; that is a lot of money to have to come up with!

    • Reply eemusings January 19, 2018 at 08:56

      We had already had a fence fund set up, we just didn’t have much in it back in June/July. It’s about $2k now. But we might need to draw a bit from it for the kitchen…

  • Reply Amanda February 8, 2018 at 08:18

    Yeah, so I’m going to bookmark this and re-read this every time I start to worry about money, my career, my life… (which right now feels like it’s least daily!). I’m a worrier, I know that. But I need to get that under control or else it’s going to continue to control me.

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