Leverage Your Anxious Brain to Save More

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If your mental health isn't a mess right now, you've got a very helpful secret to share. As the COVID-19 outbreak stretches out longer and longer, more and more people are struggling with fear, anger, depression, and other huge emotions. There isn't some silver lining to living with anxiety, for example, but there are ways to work with the way your brain operates now, rather than constantly fighting it.

That's according to Rice University researcher Utpal Dholakia, who writes a popular column for Psychology Today called The Science Behind Behavior. In a recent post, he lays out what we're facing when we go up against our anxious brains: "For our financial wellbeing, saving money consistently is just as important as managing how we buy products and services. … Yet anxiety undermines saving behavior and makes it more difficult to perform the very behavior that will reduce anxiety."

In other words, if you live with anxiety, you aren't imagining your savings struggles. But you can pull some mental judo moves to succeed anyway. It comes down to a simple matter of framing: Anxious people tend to create goals that are based in avoidance — "I don't want X" — rather than "I do want Y." Dholakia adds that keeping your goals specific and positive is important, but keeping them abstract is just as helpful: "Instead of thinking about saving for a specific, well-defined purpose (e.g., saving for a summer vacation to Florida), it may be more effective for an anxious person to frame the goal in more general terms (saving for a vacation)."

It may not seem like much, but if you try it, you might just surprise yourself when it's time to cash out.