Money as life energy: A mindful approach to money.

psychologist for women financial stress

Money. The topic of much stress, avoidance, conflict, and sleep loss. Sound familiar? We spend far too little time talking about the role of money in our lives and creating a healthy relationship with our finances. As parents, we often spend too little time educating our children on the value of money. As educators, we fail to teach basic financial skills that are critical to our well-being as adults. Money is considered a taboo topic in our society, which further adds to avoidance and distress. And to some extent, after our survival needs and some comforts are met, it doesn't matter how much money we have or make. 

All of this means that there is an opportunity to do things differently. To become aware of what money means to you personally. To know what you've been taught about money, both directly and indirectly. To make choices about money that are based on your values, not on fear. To develop a healthier relationship with money. 


Overcoming Avoidance

Would you rather talk about anything else except money? Does thinking about money bring up fear or discomfort? As with anything in life that we try to avoid thinking about, the more we try to push thoughts of money away, the more distress we tend to experience. Check in with your own experience about this...

If avoiding the topic of money and reminders of your finances doesn't seem to work, are you ready for an alternative approach? - Being open and honest with yourself about money and being willing to expose yourself to your finances. Exposure therapy is excellent for many fears! And the same behavioral principles apply to fear and anxiety that can come from how we relate to money. Generally, distress is mostly caused by avoidance, or not wanting to "go there" - which makes whatever is there - in this case money - much scarier than it needs to be. 

The first step is choosing to take a different approach. Then it is putting it into action. In this case, it is exposing yourself to your history with money and current financial situation and relationship. What were you taught or told about money throughout your life? Did you grow up in a family where money, or lack of it, posed a real threat and subsequent panic? Was there never enough and no one talked about it? Or was money something that mysteriously flowed and met all of your needs and provided some luxuries? Perhaps your parents spent time educating you on how to balance a checkbook, or how to get a job, but didn't talk to you about their own philosophy and relationship with money. See if you can identify themes in your experience around scarcity or abundance, or around money as a taboo topic of conversation.

After your've identified some patterns around your history with money, take some time to reflect on your current relationship with money. What old patterns do you carry with you? Do these patterns seem to fit with the rest of your approach to life? And are these patterns working for you? What are the benefits of your current relationship with money? And what are some of the downfalls? 

Now, are you willing to to a complete look at your current financial situation? Things you might look at include how much money you have coming in, how much is going out, what you are spending your money on on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, what you are saving or investing, how much debt you have, what your actual budget is - not just what your budget is in theory. Try to do this in a mindful way - being present to the current situation without judgement. This is about first allowing what is there to be there without changing anything. 


Identifying your Values

This is where the idea of "money as life energy" comes in. This concept is courtesy of a book that I highly recommend called "Your Money or Your Life" by Dominguez & Robin. It's simple: you trade your life energy for money. You can figure out what you make per hour minus all of the expenses related to your job and calculate what your life energy is currently worth. Then you can ask yourself two main questions:

  1. Is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? 
  2. Am I using my life energy in a way that is consistent with my values?

I'll focus mostly on question #2 for the rest of this post...

Take some time to orient yourself to how your values influence your relationship with money. You may want to do some values identification and clarification work and can check out my previous post on values for more information and resources on how to do this. Some questions you can ask yourself to get started include:

  1. What are the top 3 things that are important to me in life?
  2. Is the way I am using money consistent with how I want to live life and who I want to be?
  3. Are there certain areas where I am spending money or using my life energy in a way that is not consistent with what is important to me?



Once you've sorted through some basics of how your values relate to your relationship with money, you can make a plan and perhaps set some goals to "live out" these values. It's all about choices - each day, or even each moment, choosing to live out your values or perhaps choosing to do what you've always done or what is comfortable. No matter what your values, it's helpful to take a mindful approach to your finances - meaning slowing down and noticing - so that in each moment you can make a choice. Often times we make choices while on autopilot, which takes away the intention and consideration in making choices. See if you can empower yourself by bringing intention and consideration back! Here's some steps you can take:

  1. Track your financial situation - all incoming and outgoing funds - on a daily basis. You can use an App on your phone or computer to sync all of your accounts. Then all you have to do is click "refresh" to bring awareness and empowerment to your choices.
  2. Set one small financial goal based on your values. There is no right or wrong goal - the most important thing is that it is consistent with your personal values. For example, you may notice that you enjoy the experience of eating out when it's dinner with your partner, but also realize that you spend more money than you'd like on convenient (but not very enjoyable) fast food lunches while at work. A goal may be to bring a lunch to work most days and put the money that you save toward eating out with your partner. 
  3. Try to set one goal at a time and integrate it into your life before adding more goals. Remember that changing habits works best when goals are specific, intentional adjustments to your life done gradually over time. 
  4. You may also think in terms of question #1 - is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? This may prompt you to think more about goals you can set to get more for your life energy!

Sticking to it

Change is difficult. Even when it is an intentional change that will better your life. It's normal to feel some resistance or ambivalence. See if you can make some room for whatever thoughts and feelings arise. And continue to stick with your values-consistent plan. If you're a woman in the Chicagoland area and would like assistance in sticking to your goals and learning some more ways to respond to your emotions around money, contact me or schedule an appointment


How does exercise fit with your values? The first step to committing to fitness.

exercise andersonville chicago


If you are striving to make exercise and fitness a part of your lifestyle, you will certainly want to read this post about values and exercise! Connecting to your values and how they are intertwined with your fitness routine or goals will make it much easier to stick with fitness and all that fitness means in your life.  


Values are directions that you want to go in life. They are unique to the person, so your values are likely a bit or maybe a lot different from my values or from your loved ones' values. As humans, we can easily get on autopilot and fail to take the time to ask ourselves "am I living a valued life?" And by that I mean a life consistent with your values! We often feel the most at peace with ourselves and with our lives when we are living according to our values. 

Values - both identification of your values and living out your values - guide the type of psychotherapy I do which is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It's all about helping you get on the path that you want to be on and working with you to perhaps learn new skills and ways of approaching the "stuff" that gets in the way of being or staying on that path. That "stuff" could be unwanted and distressing thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, and/or destructive behaviors. Staying connected to your values helps you to feel empowered and motivated. And that includes feeling empowered and motivated for fitness!


It's not always easy, though, to determine what your values are. And they likely change a bit over time as you also evolve and grow. It can be difficult to identify your personal values from the values that you have been told over time that you "should" have. A note on that: it's also important to separate values from morals. Values are chosen life directions and morals are more like codes or principles that come from outside of you (think other people, society, religion).

So, what are some of your values that connect with exercise and fitness? If you would like specific worksheets to use that can facilitate your values discovery, you can visit my previous blog post on values.

Let me give you some examples about how exercise might fit with values. Perhaps you engage in a regular exercise routine because you value self-care. You know that your relationship with yourself is important and when you don’t attend to it, your relationships with others suffer. Perhaps you exercise as a way to be healthier longer in your body and live longer. This could be motivated by a value around family (perhaps you want to be able to be present and active with grandchildren). Or perhaps you value exercise as a way to facilitate a healthy sex life with your partner whom you care a lot about. There are no “right” or “wrong” values that motivate exercise; the key is that you are connected to what brings you fulfillment!

Grief: An experience more common than you may think.

Usually when we think of grief, we think of death. And we tend to think narrowly and consider grief only in cases when a human that we love dies. But grief can be an experience, a process, that happens in a broad range of circumstances. For example, death or loss of a pet, an identity, a job, an idea or a vision are all experiences where grief may surface. When coming into our own identity and following our values, we may experience grief around how our needs were not met in the past. We may even feel the most grief when life is good and we feel loved - grief over what we missed out on before in our lives. 

Values: Why they are important and how to identify them.

Life can feel confusing when you are unsure of what's important to you. Perhaps you've taken on values of your family, society, or religion without realizing it and are feeling stuck. Values are directions that you want to go in life. They are unique to the person, so your values are likely a bit or maybe a lot different from my values or from your loved ones' values. As humans, we can easily get on autopilot and fail to take the time to ask ourselves "am I living a valued life?" And by that I mean a life consistent with your values! We often feel the most at peace with ourselves and with our lives when we are living according to our values. 

Are you concerned about your anger? Learn how ACT can help.

Anger is a commonly experienced human emotion that can cause significant suffering and requires compassion on the healing journey. Sometimes anger presents differently for women - it may be internalized more and taken out on oneself. In my work as a psychologist, I’ve found that “ACT on life not on anger: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Guide to Problem Anger” provides a fantastic framework for understanding and healing anger. The book is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which, in a nutshell, guides healing through 1) acceptance of thoughts and feelings, 2) valued life directions, and 3) taking actions based on values. 

Quitting smoking when you've had a trauma or suffer from PTSD: New research!

My colleagues and I just published a new pilot study on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Smoking Cessation in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you've been trying to quit smoking and you experience some symptoms related to trauma, you may be having a more difficult time quitting. In the Veteran population, Veterans with PTSD are 2-3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes or tobacco products than the general population. This tends to be true, as well, for the non-Veteran population among those who have PTSD or some trauma symptoms.

Authenticity. What does it mean to live authentically?

Living authentically is my top priority as a human being and as a psychologist. It's also one of the most difficult things to do. When I think about living authentically, I consider the importance of being honest and truthful with ourselves and extending that to others. I think about standing up for oneself and one's needs. I think about connecting with others in a balanced way that complements instead of mutes our uniqueness. Authentic living is also guided by one's values - and living authentically is a chosen life direction or path. We always have a choice whether to take steps toward authentic living. So let's take a moment to look at what goes into living authentically.