In the previous post I went over some of the ways that uncertainty and scarcity can wreak havoc on your financial sobriety. Responding out of fear, anxiety or fatigue, you can lose sight of your long term goals, making purchases that are out of line with your values. In this post I will go over some strategies to build up your resilience to these potential downfalls when your financial life is uncertain whether that be due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other life emergencies.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS
I would expect nothing less than an emotional roller coaster when times are as tough as they are as I am writing this post. Aside from the obvious anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and grief, you may also experience moments of gratitude, love, hope, optimism and awe. Whatever you are feeling, allow it to be present. If you resist emotions, particularly difficult emotions, they are only going to linger causing more suffering.
Acknowledging your emotions is not the same as willing them to grow, feeding them or wallowing in a pity party. One healthy way to honor your emotions is through a self-compassion exercise such as the one outlined in the instructions below:
- Close your eyes and scan your body for any uncomfortable sensations.
- Notice where the suffering is in your body. Common locations may be a tightness or heaviness in your chest or stomach.
- Bring your awareness to the sensation. Watch it as a curious observer. You might notice changes in intensity or location of the sensation. Just watch.
- Next, offer some gentle words of validation to yourself, just as you would for a dear friend. You might say something as simple as, “This is really hard right now. It’s difficult to be in so much pain.”
- Continue to observe and let whatever happens happen in that point of sensation in your body. It may respond by lightening up a little, or sometimes it can seem to intensify, releasing a flood of emotions, which can be cathartic. There is no right or wrong here.
- You may wish to continue to offer phrases of self-compassion or if you are ready to finish, you can shift your focus to sounds in the room, letting the environment guide you out of the exercise, slowly opening your eyes.
If you want to learn more about self-compassion, I would recommend checking out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website, a well known researcher of self-compassion.
CHECK YOUR STRESS
You must do something to calm down your nervous system. If you are facing significant financial loss then there is a good chance the fight or flight mode has been activated in your body. Your nervous system can respond to a money problem the same way it would respond to a zombie/werewolf/vampire/ghost holding you at gunpoint. Yikes.
As a clinician who works with trauma, I could go on ad nauseum about the nervous system. But there isn’t room here to go into all the mechanisms. Just know that you can actively calm down your anxiety which in turn will help you to think more clearly about whatever calamity you are facing. In addition to the self-compassion exercise mentioned above, another effective way to create calm is through the breath. One technique I recommend is called the Square Breath Exercise. Here is a link to a video with a simple explanation and description of Square Breath. Other ways to calm your nervous system will be recommended in each of the points down below.
BURN IT OFF
Find a way to burn off the excess stress in your body. This can be as simple as taking a walk. Any form of exercise that you enjoy and is appropriate for your body is fair game. Move your body and see how you feel afterwards.
If you need guidance to get started, there are many online platforms that offer free trials. Just remember to cancel by the deadline if you don’t intend to continue to avoid being charged. Some that I personally enjoy include the alomoves, be.come project, and BUTI YOGA. There are many great free options on YouTube for exercise. I enjoy Yoga With Adriene and Gentle Yoga for Bigger Bodies.* Don’t forget to check your local studios and gyms because many have gone online with classes; this is a great way to support small businesses in your community.
TOURNIQUET THE NEWS
You have probably heard this one already and that is because it is really solid advice which bears repeating. Limit your news consumption. I think of news and media as similar to food. Whatever you take into your body is going to impact how you feel. If you take in lots of junk, you are going to feel like junk.
I personally don’t think news should be a form of entertainment. The purpose of the news is to inform your behavior. Once you have enough information to inform your decisions, turn it off and focus on other things of direct value in your life. Pick a few trusted news sources and a time to check during the day and stick to that. Preferably not checking the news first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
TUNE INTO THE MOMENT
Mindfulness. It’s all the rage. It’s the old, new thing and it has staying power for good reason. What are you doing right now, right this second? You are reading this post. If you are reading this post then there is most likely nothing imminently life threatening. You could imagine that something is going to come along and pose a danger, but that would be in your imagination and not in the moment.
There may very well be a distressing circumstance unfolding such as a loved one with COVID-19 or a recent job loss. Without minimizing the very real pain that surrounds these situations, you are most likely to find if you can pause and be present with the moment, things are tolerable and manageable.
KNOW THAT ALL IS IMPERMANENT
This is not forever, everything changes. This too shall pass. It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass (can’t take nor give credit for this clever statement, saw it someplace random on the internet). Just as good times do not last forever, bad times also do not last forever.
It can be helpful to take a quick inventory of how many stunningly difficult challenges you have faced in your life and managed to get through. During those times you probably thought the situation was unbearable or saw no way for it to end, yet you made it through. Is there at least the possibility you can make it through this too?
CHECK YOUR THOUGHTS
This ties into the previous point. What exactly is your mind telling you about all this? Is your mind telling you it’s the end of the world? That you need to sell all your stocks RIGHT NOW!? That this whole coronavirus thing is silly and being blown way out of proportion?
A tactic used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to identify thoughts that are known as cognitive distortions. These are twisted ways of thinking that trap us into feeling bad or justifying poor behavior. For example when emotions run high you may run the risk of falling into the trap of the cognitive distortion called “emotional reasoning.” Essentially, because you feel something is true, then it must be true, e.g., “I feel like I probably have coronavirus…O.M.G! I HAVE CORONAVIRUS!” Check out this article from PsychCentral to sharpen your skills at identifying common cognitive distortions in your thinking.
While you are waiting for the eventual change that impermanence promises us, find a healthy distraction. Books can be hard to engage in when you’re highly distressed. I recommend podcasts if you just can’t focus right now or if you’re just not into reading. Pick a podcast on a subject matter of high interest and enjoyment to you. Chances are if you are reading this post, you are already familiar with the ChooseFI Podcast which I personally always find uplifting and helps to orient me back towards my FITE values.** You could also color, create art, work on a project around the house. There are countless healthy ways to distract one’s attention.
I probably don’t even have to tell you this, especially if you live in a climate like I do where spring is making its presence known. Go outside. Changing your environment can shift your perspective and mood. I realize not everyone has safe access to the outdoors or green spaces. If you don’t, improvise as best you can. Even taking some moments to sit out on your doorstep or looking out a window, maybe cracking it open for some fresh air. Get out into nature if you have the ability.
TALK IT OUT
I know we’re social distancing and all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to a trusted friend via phone or video chat. Even in the best of times we can forget that we don’t have to solve all our problems in isolation. It is especially difficult now to remember to reach out to social supports and happenstance interactions with others just are not occurring with social distancing. So, pick up your preferred mode of communication and initiate contact, preferably with someone who has a track record of helping you find perspective, rather than flaming the fires of panic.
REVIEW YOUR PLAN
Remind yourself of your “why.” Why do you want to practice financial sobriety? What are your short term, mid range and long term goals? If you have not already, I would encourage you to start by working the financial sobriety plan I have outlined starting here with this post or following any other plan or 12-Step Program you have already identified as effective for you.
COVID-19 has challenged so many of us on multiple levels, one of those levels being financial. No matter what your motivation and plan is to keep yourself on track, I hope that you, dear reader, are healthy and safe.
* I am a Registered Yoga Teacher, so I tend to gravitate towards yoga based workouts.
** I will admit, one of my ambitions is to be a guest on the ChooseFI Podcast one day. Brad and Jonathan, if you’re reading and need someone for an upcoming episode, I’m your person!