How Anxiety Can Affect Your Finances and Limit Your Life

Jay Gershman |

Jay Gershman, Retirement Visions LLC, West Hartford

After a summer of high profile suicides and watching Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers talk about his anxiety issues, I decided it was high time to discuss the effect anxiety and depression can have on your finances and your ability to live a fulfilled life.

Let’s start with my usual disclaimer. I am not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on television. Instead, I am someone who, through the course of working with clients to accomplish financial and life goals, can recognize when something is blocking their progress. In many cases, the issues are the normal suspects - lack of time, fear of investing, procrastination, disorganization, and my favorite, the inability for two people to compromise.

In some cases, the problems are of a different nature. When stock markets are down, many clients are concerned but some become overwhelmed with thoughts of negative outcomes. Their fears drive them to act, resulting in a sale near or at the very worst moment. Their great sense of relief is replaced with regret after the markets recover.

Over my twenty-seven years in the business of financial planning, the most difficult problem I’ve faced is helping individuals with spending problems. For most people, the occasional splurge on clothes, furnishings or vacations is completely normal and can be paid for in time. Unfortunately, in some cases, it is evident in our first meeting that the existence of as many as ten credit cards with substantial balances is a sign of bigger issues.

Generally, I will get the first call when the bill payer of the family has tried everything reign in the problem created by the spender. In most cases, a line of credit has been taken out on the home and the mortgage has been refinanced on several occasions. The spender insists that there are reasonable explanations for all of the purchases and agrees to curb any further unnecessary expenses. In many cases the problem ends in bankruptcy or even divorce, but the underlying cause isn’t just financial misuse. By working with a psychiatric professional, clients can determine if the root cause is a form of depression or in some cases a simple fear they have of not living long enough to enjoy any savings.

Take a fear of flying as a different example. People who are afraid to fly often develop the issue early on, and the longer they go without confronting the issue, the more impossible it is to overcome. Just like stock market crashes, plane crashes on the news only exacerbate the fear. Thus, a person misses out of some of the best experiences in life due to a psychological barrier that becomes too big to overcome. When I was 24, I told my uncle about my personal fear of flying and I’ll never forget his response. “Fears are words we repeat over and over like a tape in our heads. Take the tape out and smash it with a hammer.”

So much has been reported about celebrity suicides this summer, yet so little has been written to give context to the anxiety and depression that affects our daily lives. Luckily, we live in a society today where people like Kevin Love have courageously spoken out to give mental illness the platform it deserves. I hope those conversations will continue both on TV and inside our family homes.

Whether the first step is heeding my uncle’s advice or seeking out a professional, the reward is greater insight and the start of a truly fulfilled life.