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Defining Financial Eustress: A Literature Search

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Did The Lady in the Black just spell “stress” wrong? Nope. Does she expect you to know what “eustress” is? Hell, no, she just discovered the term herself (although she’s been experiencing it for over 2 years.) Maybe you have, too?

Let me start with a blogger confession. I was all set to write my journal entry for the week. I was excited to write again. I had my top 3 “profitable” things lined up in my head and was good to go.

Then, I realized that each of my profitable things all shared a common theme. The problem was I couldn’t put my finger on what to call it.

I would have named it “fear” or maybe “financial anxiety” but that seemed too severe.

It’s was more like the two faces of the LEGO movie’s “Good Cop, Bad Cop” character. One personality with two faces. No, more like dual-personalities in a shared body. Or maybe 1 creepy and mean and the other nice and polite.

Shit. This metaphor isn’t working out. Let me try to explain another way.

Giving a Name to The Anxiety I Now Feel

Prior to 2 years ago, I was constantly emotionally drained by the thought of money and finances. I was overwhelmed and ashamed of my ineptitude paying monthly bills. I was defeated with my inability to save a dime. I regretted past financial decisions, grieved my debt, and beat myself up on a daily basis. I ate financial anxiety for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Now, just over 2 years later, my financial anxiety is still present but with different reasons, intensity and, most importantly, different outcomes. The reasons for my current financial anxiety are now centered around saving for the future. The intensity is mild, and occurrences of panic are far and few between.

But the biggest differences is in how this new brand of financial anxiety now impacts my behavior. Before, it was defeatist and paralyzing. Now, I’d classify my anxiety as spurring or motivating–maybe even exciting.

Being a writer, I wanted to name this feeling, to search out if others experience it as well. So, I did what any normal human would do. I Googled it. I searched for the closest phrase that I could come up with on my own; “positive anxiety.”

187,000,000 results!?!

I guess positive anxiety is a thing.

Here are a few interesting snippets I found in doing a cursory online literature search.

Positive Anxiety Has A Name: Eustress

This article from VeryWellMind.com, stated:

Scientists have learned that some degree of stress or anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good stress, something now referred to now as eustress, keeps us motivated and excited about life. It appears that some degree of anxiety may have similar “silver linings.”

Eustress Has a Purpose

Linking over to its sister article entitled “Why Eustress Is Your Friend“, we learn that:

Eustress is a type of stress that is actually important for us to have in our lives. Without it, we would become bored at best and, in more serious cases, depressed. We would begin to feel a lack of motivation to accomplish goals and a lack of meaning in life without enough eustress. Not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning would be damaging to us, so eustress is considered ‘good’ stress. It keeps us healthy and happy.

There Are Useful Benefits of Anxiety

There are several articles that point out some interesting takes on how and why anxiety can actually be beneficial.

A Psychology Today article lists 6 Hidden Benefits to Anxiety. I particularly liked #3 and #5.

3. Having a Plan B and C can save you stress, heartache, and money.

5. Worrying can occasionally help you avoid problems.

Anxiety May Even Save The Human Race

One online article entitled “The 8 Most Unexpected Advantages of Anxiety” even goes so far to claim that the “human race needs anxious people.” It goes on to say:

Not only are there some personal upside to anxiety, but anxious people may also benefit the human race.

Some scientists think that worry and intelligence co-evolved as beneficial traits. Dr. Jeremy Coplan, co-author of a paper published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, explains:

“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.

In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates.

Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”

What About Positive Anxiety and Personal Finances?

So, this is all very interesting and, for me, slightly encouraging given my biological propensity toward depression and anxiety. But how does this positive anxiety, this eustress, play out within the realm of personal finances?

Good question. I went back to Google and entered “positive financial anxiety.”

52,500,000 results. (Only 1/4 of previous results). Additionally, with a quick scroll, I noticed that most of the top results are about “dealing with financial anxiety” as opposed to the positive consequences or benefits of financial anxiety.

So, I tried searching “financial eustress.”

Down to 50,200 results. But, yet again, most of top results didn’t mention “financial” in the title. In my subsequent scroll onto secondary pages, I didn’t come up with anything dealing directly on the correlation between positive anxiety and personal finances. (Seriously, if you know of articles, please send them my way.)

Have I just coined a new phrase? Huh. That’d be cool.

However, without an exhaustive search, I’ll just assume that it’s a poorly published subset of personal finances.

The Lady’s Hypothesis on The Benefits of Financial Eustress

With the void of available literature on the topic of “financial eustress”, I guess I’ll offer my own personal experiences as anecdotal proof to my hypothesis that:

Financial eustress, as opposed to traditional financial anxiety, can be a positive, transformative force that can motivate and encourage financially sound behaviors.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #1

In response to my anxiety over the possibility of losing my current freelance gig, I am re-prioritizing my emergency fund. One of my personal finance goals for 2018 included a tactic to “Triple my current emergency fund (aim for $3,000).”

However, I knew all along that this amount is woefully insufficient. Based on my current monthly expenses, my financial advisor has suggested something more in line with 3 months expenses, or about $30,000.

How will I achieve that? Well, by re-allocating some budget lines items tagged for vacations and investments into a cash management account and sticking with it.

Will I stop taking vacations? No. Will I stop investing? Maybe, for the time being. I’m a bit sad about slowing my investment activity but since I don’t really know what I’m doing anyway, it’s probably best I focus on the emergency fund.

So, in short, my nervousness (read “anxiety”) about the security of my employment spurred additional savings to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

I’ll chalk that up to eustress.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #2

Due to my ex-husband’s catastrophic inability to manage his own finance, my daughter’s college education will likely fall to me. Since I only started saving last year at a modest $120/month, her college fund will not be where I’d like it to be in 8 short years.

That anxiety led me to recently open a custodial investment account for her. Sure, I can only afford $50/month contribution but I see this as a start. While the $120 is saved, and then transferred into a high-interest yielding CD at the end of each year (with interest rolled back in), the investment account is an S&P aggressive allocation ETF. I know it’s not going to constitute the whole of college tuition but, again, it’s another step in the right direction.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #3

Taxes. If you know me at all, you know this is the source of the large majority of my financial stress. It’s my personal finance nemesis. In short, paying past and estimated taxes freaks me the fuck out.

By acknowledging this, to myself and my financial advisor, I have a new strategy in place. In short, I’ll finally start doing what almost every financial expert advises–max out your tax-sheltered contributions. My ROTH IRA and private HSA will soon be seeing double the monthly contributions. This will help reduce my taxable income.

Additionally, I’m delegating. They say to foucs on the things you do well and delegate the rest. I’m transferring the responsibility of quarterly payments over to my financial team. I’ll continue to deposit the funds (that I’m currently doing) but now they will go into an account that I don’t control. Additionally, the team will alert me when estimated taxes are due and schedule appropriate disbursements.

Will this new method help? I honestly don’t know. I do know that if something’s not working, it needs to be fixed.

The eustress I feel over taxes has encouraged me to try multiple things. Not all have worked but all have come from a place of genuine intent and sincere effort.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #4

The entire insurance industry seems to be based on eustress.

According to Statistica, the gross premiums generated by the industry worldwide in 2016 was just over $5 trillion US dollars. That’s a lot of eustress right there!

Millions of people, including myself, insure against the rainy days, the what ifs, the worst-case scenarios, the never knows. Hell, I currently insure my health, my teeth, my car, my life (or more accurately, my death), and my household possessions.

I’m sure finance experts debate the wisdom of insurance but it’s an undeniable appeal for most to help relieve the anxiety of an unknown future.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #5

My own financial journey began out of sheer frustration and a promise never to be at rock bottom ever again.

Over the last two and a half years, I’ve educated myself about personal finances, joined a personal finance community, held myself accountable, developed financial theories, created a life philosophy, and experimented with various savings strategies and investments. I’ve maintained a financial advisor and continued to publish posts (although not as frequently) about my financial adventures.

The stress I had over my past failures and incompetence has transformed into a more future-focused worry. Instead of being paralyzed by my past, I am now empowered to help my future self by cleaning up my act and being proactive. For those familiar with my Traffic Light Model, I’m focused far more on the “green” than the “red.”

In short, I’ve been able to convert my stress into eustress–and I gotta say it feels way better. Sure, it’s still stress but it seems more tolerable and more actionable.

Summary

Surely, The Lady in the Black isn’t the only one on the planet to experience financial stress. In fact, all of my readers can relate. Millions of articles speak to it (just ask Google).

This article isn’t about tactical financial tips and tricks. It’s about opening your eyes to the fact that not all stress is bad.

If you are doing something to improve your financial picture then perhaps what you are feeling is eustress. And, by it’s very definition, it’s a beneficial thing.

Managing your finances can be boiled down to a shift in attitude, an attitude that exists in real life. And, as we all know, real life can be stressful. Let’s give ourselves a break and try to view stress as an opportunity to change and grow–both personally and financially.

So eustressing about finances? I am and it feels great.

 

 

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4 comments

  1. “Based on my current monthly expenses, my financial advisor has suggested something more in line with 3 months expenses, or about $30,000.”

    Holy Moly, if your monthly expenses are 10k, no wonder you’re stressed!

    🙂

  2. Financial Eustress is an interesting concept. It rings true though – if you’re not feeling uncomfortable about where you are, you’ll never get up off the couch and put things in place to improve your position.

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