Fight or flight is no way to think about money

I recently attended a seminar by Dr. Kristen Race called Creating Peaceful Homes. Ms. Race discussed how hidden environmental factors affect brain development, cognitive functioning, sleep, and stress. One thing I learned from the seminar is that different parts of your brain handle different functions. For example, the part of your brain that is responsible for your rational thought and learning is different from the part that controls your stress or “fight or flight” reactions.

Unfortunately, more and more of our days are being managed by the part of our brain that is in fight or flight mode. We’re overbooked, overworked, and overstressed. And even our “relaxation” activities aren’t what they used to be. For example, studies have shown that watching television is not necessarily the relaxing activity we think it is. The music, movement, and bright colors we see on TV can stimulate our fight or flight mode, and this is especially true for children’s shows.

This information made me think about money (doesn’t everything!?). If watching television can trigger our brain to go into stress-mode, just imagine what our brains are doing when we go to pay the bills, answer a collection call, or bounce a check. I’m certain that many, if not most, people operate in fight or flight mode when dealing with their finances. This is evidenced by the thousands of letters people send to us describing their intense worry, fear, and sleepless nights.

Obviously, properly managing money requires rational, calm thought. So how can we stop our brains from reacting as though our lives were on the line? Here are some ideas:

  • Take a proactive approach. Instead of waiting for things to happen to you, consider taking a proactive approach. Money management doesn’t have to be difficult—most people know what they should be doing, but still fail to do it. Stop being one of those people.
  • Set up your environment. Clear the clutter! A messy environment can make things seem chaotic even when they’re not.  Not sure where to start? Download the free New Beginnings eBook for a comprehensive guide to clearing clutter.
  • Simplify. Consider setting up a system where you are doing less work. For example, arrange for bills to be paid automatically, have savings automatically withdrawn from your paycheck, and ask your financial institution to alert you when balances become low. In other words, take steps to make your financial life a little easier.
  • Schedule your time. Children and adults both benefit from the comfort of a routine. Schedule time each week to deal with your finances. Ask family members to respect your time and support your efforts. Some families also benefit from setting up regularly scheduled family financial meetings.
  • Get help. There’s no need to go it alone. Ask a trusted friend or family member to be a financial mentor, seek counseling from a nonprofit agency, or hire a financial planner.

Finally, recognize the signs of stress and avoid making rash decisions. Instead, take some time to calm your mind by meditating, doing yoga, getting needed sleep, drinking tea, or lighting a candle. The benefits of reducing stress will add value to all areas of you life.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

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  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

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  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.