Turn the dial from "survive" to "thrive"
People come to psychotherapy to tackle tough topics. They tell me their secrets and lies. As people sit with me and their stories unfold, money often is part of the picture in some shape or form. It's no surprise, really. Money is an emotional lightning rod. It's a significant source of stress. Unfortunately, there's a paucity of spaces where people can candidly unpack their feelings and struggles with the topic. When my patients sit with me and talk about money, they aren't discussing balance sheets. They're talking about trust, security, identity, control, power, and freedom—issues at the core of our humanity.
People don't go to therapy because they are broken. They walk through my door because they want to be better. As humans, if we want to thrive, we must identify the steps to promote growth and take action accordingly. Conversely, it's crucial to understand what keeps us from tapping our full potential to flourish.
When people think about wellbeing, they often silo different aspects of their lives: physical health, emotional functioning, spiritual identity, and financial success. We do this to our detriment. Powerful synergistic effects exist between these aspects of who we are. If we fail to understand how our physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial wellbeing map onto one another, we miss opportunities to get unstuck. We're better positioned to start an upward spiral of positive change when we see how they interconnect. Neglecting one area may exacerbate challenges in other places. Whatever is happening in one aspect of your life is likely amplifying, either positively or negatively, what you’re experiencing in other domains.
What is financial wellbeing?
When people think about wellbeing, money often isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, this aspect of life has a far-reaching impact on our overall functioning. Money touches nearly everything in some way–work, love, and play. Concerning health, we need to stop treating money as something tangential in our lives. It's a core element of flourishing. Prosperity is not something to apologize for. A stable financial life is an engine for contribution and impact. How do you set yourself up for financial success? The answer may not be quite what you think. Take care of your physical health, establish emotional equilibrium, and do some soul searching.
Financial wellbeing isn't a numeric calculation. It's a sense of safety and freedom, now and later. It's the ability to pay the bills, cover emergencies, achieve clearly articulated goals and flexibly pursue a meaningful life. Financial wellbeing is a behavioral endeavor with an emotional overlay as much as it is an economic pursuit.
What is the relationship between financial and emotional wellbeing?
The hallmarks of emotional wellbeing are self-awareness, mental agility, and responding resiliently in the face of challenge and change. Our emotional life greatly influences what happens in our bank accounts. Financial problems can be a cause or consequence of psychological distress.
Money stress can derail a person's mental state. Financial concerns can result in symptoms of anxiety. Worrying about money can hijack a person's attention. Their thinking may take on a ruminative, obsessional quality. Some people turn to impulsive, preoccupied, or avoidant financial behaviors to manage anxiety about money. Unfortunately, these coping strategies can exacerbate financial problems. The pressure of financial hardship can lead to depressed mood and, in some cases, feelings of hopelessness and despair. Financial problems are a risk factor for suicide. For some people, money stress is a matter of life and death.
Our mental state impacts financial productivity. People who are emotionally fit have more energy, healthy strategies to regulate their emotions, and exhibit decreased impulsivity. They approach the world with greater confidence, demonstrate better judgment and decision-making, and have an easier time holding healthy boundaries. Together, these things affect an individual's professional life and financial behavior, ultimately helping or hurting their bottom line.
What is the relationship between financial and physical wellbeing?
At our physical peak, we have strength, stamina, energy, and vitality. When it comes to financial stress, the body keeps the score. The physiological consequences of carrying chronic stress are grave. Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but not for prolonged periods. For many people, financial stress isn't limited to infrequent spikes--it's a concern they carry around most of the time.
People with money can become caught in a problematic financial-physical health feedback loop. Financial challenges lead to poor health via unhealthy behaviors (e.g.overeating, alcohol/substance misuse) to cope with the stress. Poor health intensifies financial stress by increasing medical expenses, reducing productivity at work, and making it more difficult to make sound financial and medical decisions. Concerns about money can delay someone seeking medical care, which can exacerbate physical maladies.
What is the relationship between financial and spiritual wellbeing?
Spiritual wellbeing is about pursuing purpose, making meaning, and connecting to something beyond yourself. This dimension of our identity tethers us to our values and beliefs. It clarifies our priorities. Spirituality can provide people with a framework for thinking about the future. It shapes attitudes about wealth, work, greed, stewardship, and charity. Spiritual wellbeing can contribute to contentment—which sits at the heart of financial wellbeing.
Money is an existential issue. It's related to freedom, connection, meaning, security, and legacy.
At the core of many people's financial plans are the questions:
Am I going to be okay?
Am I going to have enough?
Am I going to leave enough?
These questions tap into something more profound than math or economics—they reach into a person's soul.
Health is holistic
To flourish and thrive, we must exercise agency. Identifying the many aspects of our lives where we have choice and control can help us take practical steps to be the best versions of ourselves. Examining wellbeing through a holistic lens is a powerful way to promote growth. Recognizing the relationship between each facet of wellbeing helps us identify more opportunities to improve our lives. If we desire to make strides in one domain, we can accelerate progress by bringing increased intention to a different sphere. Understanding wellbeing intersections can help us avoid inhibiting our progress in one area with our choices in another.
Who are the helpers?
As a psychologist, I am part of a team. I recognize the value of a multidisciplinary approach. In my clinical work, I frequently collaborate with experts in other fields (GPs, psychiatrists, dieticians, etc.) who share my commitment to my clients' welfare. Ideally, all people would have access to a personal multidisciplinary wellbeing team: a physical trainer, a psychotherapist, a spiritual leader, and a financial advisor. While this isn’t possible, the good news is that everyone can make positive changes independently in their physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial lives; however, optimizing success often requires help. If you want to take things to the next level, work with a third-party expert. Professionals are situated in a unique position. Our training helps us see things differently. Our role allows us to say things that other people may not be able or willing to. We can refract a perspective that helps you to recognize blindspots. We can help you recognize how you may have unwittingly getting in your own way.
Survive or Thrive
The human experience of money is complicated, but you don't have to settle for a status quo of stress. You deserve more than struggling to survive. Decide what you will do to strengthen your body, heart, mind, and wallet. Take action. Then, get ready to thrive.