How DBT Skills Help With Economic Anxiety

Many people will argue that we are actively in a recession, while others say the worst of it is just around the corner. Rising gas and cost of goods cost, supply chain constraints, thousands of businesses going under, peak reports of bankruptcies and foreclosures… it's normal to feel stressed and anxious during these trying economic times. 

If you’re wondering if you’re dealing with economic anxiety, consider these important symptoms: 

  • Overspending: Oddly enough, for many people struggling with economic anxiety, shopping can provide a short-term feeling of relief, possibly perpetuating a sense of denial about the reality of financial concerns. 
  • Fear of spending: On the opposite side of the spectrum, a sudden and overly pessimistic view of spending habits (avoiding spending on critical things like health care or home repairs) leading to excessive hoarding is another symptom of economic anxiety. 
  • Depression: Obsessively reading financial news headline stories and dwelling on negative news in addition to classic depression symptoms is a good reason to take a step back. 
  • Insomnia: Lying awake at night worrying about your finances and obsessively checking your bank account or other assets is another symptom of economic anxiety. 

The good news is, while much of the economy and its trajectory are far out of your control, your reactions to financial anxiety are not. If you’re struggling with ongoing economic anxiety, you might want to consider a special form of treatment that can diminish your symptoms and help you reclaim your sense of peace and ability to enjoy the present, as well as your ability to respond to stress, conflict, bad news and other situational challenges in a way that doesn’t involve emotionally spinning out of control. This type of therapy is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. 

DBT helps many individuals to cope in crisis situations or time periods through the use of the skills and tools taught throughout its modules. Applying DBT skills training in your day to day life can help minimize stress and reduce emotional suffering. 

Here are a few DBT skills that can help you cope with economic anxiety.

Distress Tolerance 

One of the primary modules of DBT, Distress Tolerance incorporates a unique ability to non-judgmentally accept yourself and the world around you. Distress tolerance reminds us that stress and pain are a natural part of life, and recognizes that one of the first steps toward peace is acceptance. When you fight your reality you prolong your symptoms and emotional suffering. When you focus on tolerating the crisis rather than avoiding or denying it, you can move through emotional distress much faster. 

Self-soothing is an important tool to utilize when practicing distress tolerance. Learning to self-soothe and calm your emotions when anxiety is on the rise is a critical tool to avoid panic attacks and other crippling symptoms of anxiety. 

Here’s one self-soothing exercise that can help with your distress tolerance: 

  • Sit still, and quietly. Think about your physical body. 
  • Avoid letting your thoughts race, instead bringing them back to your five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste. 
  • One at a time, work through each of the senses and think about them thoroughly, doing so with your feet firmly planted on the floor or lying flat somewhere you feel is comfortable. 
  • After working through your sense, try and close your eyes to visualize a favorite memory, place, or person that helps you feel safe. 

Shifting focus from crisis and our spinning emotions toward physical attributes can help to slow down worrisome thought patterns and head off panic attacks before it’s too late. This is extremely important when new bad financial news is looming, when your finances take a hit, or when you’re obsessing over future unknowns. 

Radical Acceptance

One major tenant of DBT is the concept of Radical Acceptance, which refers back to the distress tolerance module in its acknowledgment that denial of reality simply prolongs suffering. Acknowledging the pain of our situation and accepting it, by contrast, can decrease our vulnerability to negative emotions and thoughts. The core idea behind Radical Acceptance is that all suffering can be tied back to our “attachment” to the situation at hand, and our desire to fight against it rather than acknowledge and embrace it. 

Your willingness to work to accept the current state of economic affairs - if you have no control over them - can reduce your sense of suffering, and help you recognize when your emotions are reaching a reactive point. With Radical Acceptance you can focus instead on what you CAN control, take care of your basic needs, and use self-soothing to stay grounded. 

Next time you find yourself obsessing or stressing over the economy, take some time to step away, breathe, reset, and approach the situation aware that some things are out of your control, and that’s okay. 

Practice Mindfulness

Economic anxiety is often accompanied by excessive worrying, planning, problem solving, and dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions. In times like these it becomes critical to stay rooted in the present, rather than focusing on the unknowns of the future. This is where DBT’s core mindfulness comes in. 

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can bring you back to the present when you’re spending too much time ruminating or obsessing over things you can’t control. Mindfulness begins with choosing not to judge yourself, and instead focusing on the present moment. 

Mindfulness utilizes some of the components of self-soothing and radical acceptance through breathing. meditation, or other grounding techniques to help you relax your mind and body in order to better regulate stress. There are many types of mindfulness practice, including the self-soothing we reviewed under the Distress Tolerance module of DBT. 

In addition to these few concepts, DBT covers a variety of other skills trainings that fall into four specific “buckets”: 

  • Mindfulness: how to be aware of yourself and your emotions and stay present in the moment
  • Distress Tolerance: learning to cope with difficult or uncomfortable experiences and communication 
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: being able to ask for what you want and need and learning to say no in healthy ways to establish boundaries and self-respect
  • Emotional Regulation: discovering how to manage highs and lows and adjust emotional experiences that don’t serve you

If you’re struggling with economic anxiety, DBT can help. 


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