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Financial therapist and Prudential financial wellness advocate Amanda Clayman offers her thoughts.

March 18, 2020

Amanda Clayman, a licensed psychotherapist and financial wellness advocate for Prudential, helps people explore and improve their relationship with money by decoding how thoughts and feelings shape their financial choices and identifying how those patterns serve and limit them.

From the concerns surrounding COVID-19 to the market volatility, Clayman offers some guidance on managing financial decision-making and maintaining well-being in the current climate.

Embrace uncertainty as part of the plan
Concentrate on the here and now, and don’t think too far in the future. For people who tend to manage anxiety by making a plan, remember that’s going to be tough right now because the future is so uncertain. Try telling yourself, “I’m going to make the best plan I can. Then I’m going to have to trust that I will figure out problems as they come up and ask for help where I need it.” Try to avoid getting stuck in a ruminating rut, as in, “I have to figure it out, I have to figure it out.” That kind of nonproductive activity really just runs down our batteries.

Prioritize decision-making
When it comes to money, take care of survival and safety needs first. On-hand resources should be prioritized for food, medication and housing.

Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation
Connect, connect, connect. We are social animals who feel safer in a community, and that’s one of the reasons this current isolation is so painful. Ignoring our social needs can increase depression and anxiety and may in turn even weaken our immune system. So reach out—take care of each other and be taken care of in return. Right now, we have to do this virtually and digitally.

Keep this advice in mind, too, when it comes to your finances. Be in touch with creditors, landlords, and service providers to see if they can offer a payment holiday, partial payment, or interest-only payment. Even if they can’t and you’re unable to pay, stay in touch. Being in reliable contact can help delay a creditor deciding to move an account into collections.

Respond, don’t just react

When we experience anxiety, it’s common to notice physiological signals like shortened breath or a racing heart. Psychologically, we may also notice that these anxious feelings come attached to certain thoughts. These thoughts might be particular fears that something is going to happen or ruminating over distressing news. Reacting means those thoughts go right past our reality-testing filter, we accept and believe them, and we behave as if we can only feel better once the external problem is resolved. Responding, on the other hand, gives us a bit more space for perspective on the thoughts attached to the stress. We can differentiate between our internal feelings and the external reality. We do everything that’s in our control, and then after those activities are exhausted, we put them away and focus on staying grounded emotionally. Step away from the computer, talk to friends, go for a walk and remind yourself that you are safe right here, right now. Sometimes we cause more financial difficulty when we react impulsively and take actions that aren’t fully thought through.

Speak openly with your kids, don’t assume
First, follow your child’s lead on this, and don’t assume they’re as worried as you may be. If they are tolerating your rules around social distancing without too much pushback, it’s not important that they understand the enormity of the situation. If they are worried, start by asking questions about their specific concerns and provide appropriate information. Much of what is causing anxiety right now is the fact that so much is unknown. Keep them—and yourself—focused on the here and now: Right now we are healthy, we are safe, we have what we need to get through this. We will take care of each other. Then redirect to some other activity or interest.

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