The news drones on about the latest on the predicted recession, the job losses, the increase in the homeless, bankruptcies and the ballooning debt pandemic, and instead of letting it pass through your thoughts, you lock on.
Your heart starts to race, your palms are sweaty, and your stomach drops as you feel panic set in.
You know you have been distancing yourself from your friends and those closest to you. You are quick to be riled and swing from emotional tears to raging anger at the slightest provocation snapping at those around you. It feels like your nerves are exposed and a constantly being triggered.
You feel drained and exhausted and wish you could stop this constant fear of impending doom that wakes you up at night stoking your money fears, but you cannot stop the ongoing negative intrusive thoughts around money that keep running through your head.
If any of this resonates with you, you may be suffering from financial PTSD.
Dr Galen Buckwalter, a research psychologist with over 25 years of experience, discovered similarities between the conventional PTSD that he had researched and the symptoms of those suffering from financial trauma, defines it as the physical and emotional responses people develop in reaction to an abrupt financial loss, such as losing a job, a bankruptcy a divorce or ongoing exposure to inadequate financial resources, for example living with insufficient money to meet one’s needs for at least 3 months.
He also cautions that there are some cases where people with financial PTSD had not been exposed to these extremes but had developed unhealthy responses to financial stress nonetheless.
Dr Buckwalter estimates that at least 20% of the US population is suffering from extreme financial PTSD. I couldn’t find similar stats on the UK but suspect it has to be at least that given the two extreme financial crises the country has had and is currently exposed too.
He highlights the following symptoms indicative of financial PTSD:
- Nervous energy
- Physical overreaction to triggers that may remind you of the event. Refusal to answer the telephone to avoid debt collectors, failure to open mail and emails
- Unjustifiable panic at misplacement of credit cards and bank details.
- Hyper vigilance around colleagues, with a constant feeling of distrust
- Inability to concentrate on tasks
- Unexplained migraines, tummy upsets and constant feeling of exhaustion
- A tendency to try and numb the feelings through over eating or substance abuse
- Inability to open up to friends and loved ones, and an avoidance of intimacy
- A constant fear of impending doom and a sense there is no future
- Irritability and a tendency to angry outburst
- Distancing from people
- Guilt, shame and self-blame
- Depression and helplessness
- Suicidal thoughts
How does PTSD differ from normal stress
Normal stress can be good. It is a motivator and helps us to get things done and operate at high capacity. It generates a sharp spike in stress hormones which then settles once the cause of the stress has passed.
PTSD is different.
It turns us on to constant alert mode. Our stress hormones, which are meant to ignite the body momentarily, are turned on constantly.
Our bodies are not built to sustain the constant stimulation of these hormones and a plethora of stress related diseases can set in.
The constant rundown of our resources opens us up to chronic health conditions, diabetes, heart disease as well as mental health issues.
Next steps if you have financial PTSD
If your Financial PTSD is impacting your health and ability to operate effectively on a day to day basis, it is important that you get help, reach out to your GP, counsellor and those closest to you.
If the cause of your PTSD is seemingly insurmountable debt there are charitable organisations, such as Step Change, that can help you set action steps to get on top of your debt.
The overriding objective of tackling your PTSD is to reshape your relationship with money. This includes addressing your money mindset and taking control of your personal finances. Wealth coaches, counsellors and therapists can give you the support you need.
With treatment, help and support you can manage your PTSD and start to live a health and stable emotional and financial life.