Dear Dr. Chani,
I read your recent column about worrying with great interest. One sentence really resonated with me. You wrote, “there are many possible alternative worries that may be masked by your main focus.” I have been wondering if that applies to my life. For as long as I can remember, I have had something to worry about. Right now, my main reason for worrying is my financial stability. It drives my husband crazy and creates a lot of tension between us.
My husband and I have four children, and we both work. Even though we both have jobs with a decent income, there never seems to be enough money to put anything away for savings. I know that I generally tend to be a worrier, so it makes sense that I am always worried about saving for a rainy day.
The issue is that my worrying makes me doubt my husband’s abilities and his decisions. He complains that I do not trust him. There is truth to that. I wonder if my husband is making good decisions with his business and if he is in the right profession for his personality. Even though my fears may be based on reality, I sense that, deep down, my anxiety makes them bigger than they need to be. I would love to be able to calm down. After I read your article, I wondered if my main focus on worrying about finances is really a diversion from another worry that I have. I have no idea what that could be. If I am honest with myself, I am a little nervous to find it out too!
How can I figure out what my worry about finances is really about? Is this necessary for me to be able to calm down my anxiety?
Thanks in advance,
It is really difficult to live with a constant undercurrent of anxiety. You must have considerable determination and perseverance to accomplish all that you have done so far. You are married, with four children, and you are employed. Each one of these aspects of your life requires a lot of patience, effort, and faith.
You are currently overwhelmed by a persistent concern about having enough money. Part of your worry is factual. You have a family to support, and it can be difficult to subsist even when you and your spouse both work. At the same time, you are wondering if your worry about finances is related to a larger issue. You have an intuition that you have always “had something to worry about.” This is an important and fundamental insight about yourself that you need to understand to achieve the inner calm that you crave.
It sounds like you have always felt anxiety about something in your life. Anxiety on some level is universal and normal. There are some aspects of anxiety that benefit you. Anxiety about keeping your job, for example, can propel you to invest more effort and to strengthen your relationships at work. Anxiety about your children’s health can motivate you to make sure they get good nutrition, exercise, and preventative medicine. At the same time, when you experience overwhelming anxiety, it can be very detrimental. Persistent and intense anxiety can negatively affect your health, your relationships, and your ability to function.
You can see this with your ongoing anxiety about financial stability. Your anxiety is threatening your relationship with your husband. When you express your concerns about finances, your husband feels threatened. He views your doubts about having enough money as an expression of your lack of faith in him. They make him feel undermined and attacked.
You also mention that you wonder about your husband’s abilities and decisions. Whether you verbally express the specific doubts on your mind or not, your husband is likely to feel your sentiments towards him through your nonverbal communication such as your body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. He may also sense your doubts about him through your lack of supportive comments and encouragement – in other words, through your silence.
An important step you can take to reduce your anxiety and strengthen your relationship with your husband is to share your insight about yourself with your husband. Explain to your husband that you have a tendency to feel worried about certain things, one of which is currently finances. Let him understand where your emotions are coming from when you express your concerns about finances or are unable to be hopeful and supportive.
You can say something like, “I want you to know that I tend to feel anxious. It can be difficult for me to deal with my intense emotions that bubble up inside me sometimes. I would love for us to face our financial challenges together as a team.” Ask him to empathize with you, rather than to become defensive or frustrated with you. A couples therapist can be helpful to facilitate this kind of conversation between you and your husband. Conversations like these can help you draw closer to your husband so that you can cope with your struggles together, which can help lower your anxiety.
You ask if it is necessary to figure out if your financial worries are a symptom of another anxiety or a broader issue in order to calm down your anxiety. It may not be necessary, but it is definitely in your long-term interest to consult with a therapist who will help you explore your anxiety about finances within the context of your general anxiety. As you pointed out, this area of concern is just one example of a string of worries you have experienced in your life. It can be liberating to talk about several of your past experiences and to discover patterns that can explain what tends to trigger your anxiety and why. This can help you deal with your sources of anxiety. It can also help you to prepare for potential triggers and to reframe the way you think so that you can avert anxious thoughts. Hopefully, you will learn how to manage your anxiety so that you will no longer feel overwhelmed.
It is great that you have chosen to face your anxiety and to explore ways that you can improve your mindset and well-being. Your awareness of the issue is the first and most important step to dealing with your anxiety.
Wishing you much success,