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The truth about financial stress and your relationship with money

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Can we let you in on a little secret? You’re believing a lie.

In fact, most of us are. We’ve all been conditioned to have a certain (usually negative) response to money—and for the majority of people that response is stress.

But why?

We reached out to Dr. Trudi Chalmers—ATB’s resident behavioural neuroscientist—to try to get a better understanding of this money-stress epidemic, and how we can find a cure.

The epidemic

Our relationship with money starts with our earliest relationship: with our parents.

“Interestingly, although most people will say they were never ‘formally’ taught money management from their parents,” Dr. Chalmers explains, “most will say how they think about money (their relationship with money) has been most heavily influenced by their parents and what they experienced and observed growing up.”

We bring this relationship with money—for better or worse—into new relationships, including those with romantic partners. If we aren’t aware of our money relationship, it can wreak havoc when we join with someone whose view of money is different—which it most likely will be.

The symptoms

The thing is, no matter what kind of stress your body perceives (even if the stressor isn’t real), it reacts the same way. Dr. Chalmer lists the symptoms of stress: “increased heart rate, narrowed focus, feelings of fear with a fight or flight response, defensiveness, anxiety and loss of sleep,” to name a few.

Any of these sound familiar?

No one likes these experiences. The good news is that our experience can change—but it’s going to take some personal investment. Are you up for it?

The challenge

“Money is an object. As such, it’s not the actual money that creates stress—it’s what the money represents [for each of us].”

From our upbringing and our parents ideas, money has grown up with us to become a symbol of something. This is where the hard work comes in for each of us—we need to dare to unpack exactly what money has come to represent in our lives, beyond the stress we experience.

The cure

“We can be stressed because we don’t feel we have enough money, but is the real issue the lifestyle you feel you need to have in order to keep up with some ideal? Or, is the stress behind it resulting from a need to upskill so that you can get a different job with a higher income? These are difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions to sit with and explore.”

But they’re necessary ones if we want to conquer our personal myths surrounding money. Once we’ve taken the time to understand our relationship with money, we can do more than just avoid stress in the moment—we can start to understand what triggers our response and recreate our mindset entirely.

Dr. Chalmers offers a few more practical steps you can take to invest in a healthy relationship with money.

“To combat stress symptoms in the moment, take time to recognize your specific stress response—maybe your heart beats incredibly fast, or your chest feels tight—and choose to step away from the financial decision until you’ve calmed down.”

“Talk about money with those who you are close with and trust. We need to hear and see others’ perceptions and relationships with money in order to understand our own.”

“Get serious about your budget. Take an honest look at money coming in and money going out. What are your natural tendencies with spending and saving? Be honest and create a system that works for you, not against you.”

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Is money stress getting you down? We’re here to listen. Call us anytime at 1-800-332-8383 to share what’s going on with one of our experts. Or if talking on the phone isn’t your thing, you can connect with a specialist in your area who’d be happy to help you out.​

ATB Financial

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