Navigating Anxiety in Financial Insecurity

Gusto Editors

Are you prepared to handle the stress of financial anxiety? 

Nothing in life is guaranteed, but anxiety can quickly work its way into your life when you dwell on that thought. Finances is one of the primary areas of life where stress can be overwhelming. You can plan, make wise financial decisions, save effectively, and still feel anxiety pulling you into its grasp. If you or a client are dealing with economic pressure, you’ll want to keep reading. 

We were pleased to partner with our good friends at CPA Academy to bring you “Peak Performance: How to Care for You and Your Team’s Mental Health at Work.” In this webinar, Amber Setter and Jamie Greene addressed the pressing issues surrounding anxiety and how to overcome them.

Amber Setter is an accountant-turned-professional coach who utilizes her passion for inspiring others to become the best possible versions of themselves, inside and out. During her time in accounting, she realized her greatest strengths lay within the development of people rather than the technical side of accounting. She shifted her focus from the numbers of accounting to the people in the profession, and always has great insights to share. 

Jamie Greene is the president and CEO at Off the Couch Consulting in Los Angeles and an expert in personal coaching and psychotherapy. He teaches others how to better understand the world around them, so they can live a life that thrives in the face of the fear and anxiety surrounding them. 

In this article, we will shed light on types of burnout, the myths surrounding anxiety and financial stress, and how to deal with financial anxiety. 

Man sitting in office area in front of lap top holding face in stress

Three types of burnout: Is burnout inevitable? 

One of the most prevalent terms surrounding mental health is burnout—overwhelming stress in work and personal lives creates enough pressure to produce a lack of desire to continue. Those experiencing burnout become overwhelmed by stress, which results in a lack of passion needed to move them forward in life. 

I see a lot of burnout in the accounting profession. We tend to have people that are type A, choose the hardest business major, get a credential, and work really hard in the service to their clients. … So burnout is normal in our profession.

– Jamie Greene

What many do not know is that burnout happens in a variety of ways. Most think of physical burnout, which demonstrates itself through exhaustion from overwork. In addition to physical burnout, emotional and existential burnout can cause significant problems in other ways. 

Physical burnout

Life presents many opportunities to push people beyond their limits, and many of us have experienced physical burnout. It becomes easy to ignore the warning signs of stress, work long hours, and stretch further than you should for many reasons. At first, you may be able to cope with it, but the stress can quickly get out of hand:

The most understood [type of burnout] is physical burnout. We just get exhausted. I know all CPAs work ridiculous hours, [especially in the busy season]. [You have] unrealistic expectations put on you by unruly and entitled clients. … [You are] so overloaded and stressed out, that’s obvious.

– Jamie Greene

When physical burnout starts to set in, people try to work harder and longer to overcome it. Consequently, they lose precious time and sleep that only creates more tiredness and counteracts their efforts. The resulting stress of overwork pushes people past their breaking point. 

Emotional burnout

The second type of burnout plaguing many is emotional burnout. Rather than manifesting itself physically, emotional burnout shows itself through the way you feel toward others. Many times, emotional burnout drives a wedge between the person experiencing it and their relationships with others. 

It gets very draining depending on your career, but it can be very draining [in other parts of life]. Just being a parent stuck at home with kids or with a challenging partner sometimes [can cause emotional burnout].

– Jamie Greene

People experiencing emotional burnout tend to detach themselves from the world around them. Instead of actively participating in life, they allow life to continue around them while only reacting when necessary. The lack of emotional engagement creates difficulty when interacting with others and an overwhelming sense of being distanced. 

Existential burnout

The third-way burnout creeps into our lives is existential burnout. Existential burnout stems from the difficulty of answering big questions in life. When you struggle to answer complex questions in life, it can become overwhelming. The burdensome feeling from the unknown has the potential of becoming too much.

Existential burnout [grows from] deep purpose and spiritual questions like, ‘What is happening to the world? What is going on? What do we even do with it?’ People don’t talk about existential burnout.

– Jamie Greene

Because people tend to ignore existential burnout, it holds the potential to become overpowering without realizing it. Falling into existential burnout builds even more stress because many of the questions that cause the pressure remain unknown. 

When someone experiences burnout of any kind, they risk allowing the resulting feeling to grow into something more: anxiety. The anxiety stemming from burnout has the possibility of devastating the lives of people experiencing it. However, you can overcome burnout and stress regardless of its origin.

Man squeezing a stress ball and then using a calculator with the other

The myths surrounding anxiety and financial stress

To overcome the anxiety created by burnout, you first need to understand the roots of the stress itself. One of the most common misconceptions about anxiety is the idea of anxiety being a purely mental experience. In reality, anxiety stems from physiological responses rather than psychological tension.

One of the big myths of anxiety is that it’s not actually emotional or psychological. Anxiety, by nature, is purely physiological. All the symptoms of anxiety are physical. They are not psychological.

– Jamie Greene

When anxiety creeps into daily life, your body physically responds to that stress. As your body tries to fight off fear, your fight or flight response is triggered:

Everyone, I’m sure has [heard of] ‘fight or flight.’ We were taught this in biology class in junior high. What happens is part of our brain function called the autonomic nervous system operates unconsciously without us having to do anything about it. There’s some trigger [that causes] a massive rush of adrenaline and cortisol. It happens automatically and causes us to either get the hell out of [where we are] or to turn and confront [the problem].

– Jamie Greene

The side effects of the fight or flight response cause your body to react, sometimes in extreme ways. The physiological manifestation of anxiety poses the possibility to become what many refer to as an anxiety attack: 

You get an accelerated heartbeat and breathing with rapid breath. [Anxiety also gives you] muscle tightness, high blood pressure, and whiteness of the skin because the blood is leaving the skin’s surface. … All of the focus comes away from the functional organs into the limbs so you can run or fight.

– Jamie Greene

Even though anxiety is very present in many people’s everyday lives, victory over anxiety is possible. In many severe cases, doctors prescribe tranquilizers such as Xanax or Klonopin. One prominent strategy for coping with stress outside of traditional medication is breath control. When you can identify a potential attack and regulate your breathing, the chances of the attack enveloping you decline significantly.

We all have anxiety; the question is how to manage it. Breath is the most effective way to slow everything down, and [it works] faster than Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium. … Slow down the breath, and take some time to get grounded and solid. Sometimes it [also helps] to have someone there that can guide you to look you in the eye and track [what is going on] to help slow everything down.

– Jamie Greene

Taking the time to apply breathing techniques into daily life provides an incredibly effective way to lower our responses to the threats surrounding us, especially when thinking about finances. Money is one of the key stressors in people’s lives due to the possibility of financial insecurity. Rather than focusing on the unknowns within your finances, stop, take a step back, and slow down your breathing. 

Learn more about how to deal with financial anxiety 

The most important thing to remember when dealing with financial anxiety is that you can control your reaction to the problem. At first, the difficulty of financial insecurity may appear to be overwhelming. However, you gain the ability to command power over your finances when you take the time to control your response to the stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in anxiety; you just have to know that you [have control]. … You have to recognize the situation, be present, and direct where you want to go. What’s happening unconsciously is the system giving you the fuel and energy to handle the situation. [The stress] is actually your friend—the fight or flight is actually your ally and is trying to support you to win.

– Jamie Greene

If you would like to dive deeper into the topic of anxiety and how to use it to be victorious over your financial stress, check out the entire webinar here. Also, be sure to look out for Part Two and Part Three of this webinar article series for more tips on channeling your anxiety into a tool to overcome stress.

Our mission at Gusto is to help accountants and their clients gain peace of mind while on their financial journey. We currently partner with over 4,500 firms nationwide to promote financial security and cultivate a mindset that overcomes the obstacles of financial anxiety. Be sure to look into our People Advisory Program to learn how to connect with your clients beyond their finances. We also provide a partner blog full of resources for all your advising needs. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on utilizing people-based accounting within your firm.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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