When Budgeting Anxiety Causes You to Dissociate

I'm writing this post right now in an altered state of mind. No, I'm not high or drunk, but right now, my head feels like its wrapped in cotton wool, and my vision is blurring and I hear a ringing in my ears, and my body is shaking. And my head feels like a helium balloon that is only slightly tethered to my body, and the slightest movement will send it soaring into the atmosphere.

This is not because I'm ill. (Though I do have to get to the doctor to deal with my sore throat.)

This altered state of mind is called dissociating.

And I'm in this state of mind because I just worked on my budget.

I talk about finances.

And I talk about mental health.

And I talk about how it is worth spending money on your mental health, and about self care, and therapy. But this is something that I haven't written much about.

Budgeting anxiety.

I don't even have an answer for this. To be honest, I'm somewhat turning to you for advice, because I am not quite sure what to do. I can ask for advice on any of my budgeting groups I'm part of, but I have no idea if people will be nice or not, or if people will just be critical.

Oh, and that altered state of mind I was writing about? At this point in time it feels like my head is a million miles away from my computer, and yet somehow my hands are still typing.

Dissociation is something that has happened to me for years and years, though I never knew what it was. I just thought it was "brain fog" or that "my brain shuts down" when I'm stressed out, and in my first year of therapy, the therapist never once gave it a name. But once I switched to my current therapist, she gave me this word and it's been so helpful to know what my brain is doing, and why, even if it doesn't always help solve the problem.

Dissociation is a trauma response. When you have been through so much trauma, your brain knows that these feelings you're having are too intense to handle, and it tries to protect you from them. The most extreme forms of dissociation is dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, where your brain literally creates other personas, to hold all these hard feelings, so that "you" don't have to feel them. I don't dissociate that badly. I am all one persona, but at the same time, I do dissociate regularly. Especially when I have really, really, really intense negative feelings. And sometimes its good, because better feel "numb" than absolute horror or misery, but sometimes its a complete "overreaction" on the part of your mind, and you need to try to find a way to "get back to earth".

The reason my brain is dissociating, having such an extreme reaction right now, is because I tried to update my budget.

The first time I recalled this happening to me was when I was given a free trial of YNAB to try out and write a post about, but I was scared so much, because I knew we had more expenses than income at the time, and I was so scared to actually face those facts. But once I actually sat down to do it, I saw that it wasn't quite as bad as I thought, and it was very reassuring for me.

But even once I did that, I wasn't able to use it monthly for various reasons, but once I separated my finances from my ex's I started using YNAB regularly, and it was really helpful and super reassuring. I kept track of every penny that came in and every penny that went out, and all was fine until about 3 months ago. For the last 3 months, the thought of inputting my income and expenses into YNAB has filled me with absolute dread. I don't know why. I mean I have some ideas but nothing really has changed.

Throughout that time, I kept saying "I'll get around to it later" but at least made sure to put in all my cash income and expenses so that way I wouldn't lose anything that didn't have a paper trail that I could put in later.

About a month and a half ago I forced myself to put in my expenses and income, and then today I just did the same. Each time I was filled with such dread before I did it. I knew I had to do it, I knew that was part of being an adult, but I could barely bring myself to do it. 

Today, after many days of telling myself that I must must must do my budget, I actually did it, and yes, I was shaking the whole time, and the more I did it, the more I started dissociating. And now, I finished doing it already 20 or 30 minutes ago but I can't get calm. I'm just sitting here with my brain feeling like its floating away and I don't even know why.

I'm not sure why I am dissociating so badly from this. If anything, knowing actual numbers is far less stressful than not knowing. The unknown is scarier than the known.

I do know that I have trauma regarding money, from being extremely poor and not being able to pay for my expenses, but things have improved a lot for me. However, I do have a big court case coming up that affects my finances and scares the bejeebus out of me, and it could be that that is why budgeting is so ridiculously hard for me at the moment.

I don't have an answer. I wish I did. This post is more to share what I'm going through than to teach you anything. But I guess I did teach you what dissociation is? And now I can try to do some grounding techniques/mindfulness exercises that I learned in therapy to help me come out of a dissociative episode.

But I want to know- how do I stop being so scared of budgeting? Anyone else have trauma related to finances, and managed to solve this issue? Anyone have some advice for me as to how I can get back to actually putting in my income and expenses every day on YNAB instead of it building up to be this monolith I'm petrified to tackle, when daily input is so scary for me as well and also makes me panicky?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Maybe try a weekly instead of a daily input? I can relate in the putting off with the budget when I used to live off credit cards. I found that if I was at work I could just do it quickly just once a week when I had a lull in my work, not an actual break or lunch. It filled the time and I was able to hurry through it and it made me feel better since I felt I'd used my time well even though it was/is my job's time. I guess that sounds bad but if there is no work I like to keep myself busy anyway.

    And maybe rewarding yourself would help. A little treat, splurge to look forward to after the dreaded chore is done. I don't know if a glass of wine would be considered a reward to you or if it could help clear the fog or if it would add to the dissociative episode or even if you would want a glass to wind down but I know many people like a drink at the end of a stressful day.

    Daydreaming helps me wind down. I write fan fiction and that makes me happy when I'm stressed. Ideas pop into my head and I start typing or if I can't work on a story I jot them down or do a voice memo where ever I am including at work when I'm not busy. So maybe thinking of something you enjoy will help the panic subside and fill you with a little happiness?

    Maybe finding a nice little spot to do your finances in, out in the garden or a special little nook with pretty pillows, flowers, your favorite scented candle if you use them or a favorite scent, a little classical music or what ever type that you enjoy and relaxes you. They're playing Xmas music on the radio in the Ohio so I sometimes listen to that instead and that makes me happy. It's early but it's been surprisingly relaxing.

    I just splurged on silk pj's and an inexpensive floral kimono and bedroom slippers with a little fluff on top, all in pink to match my pink and green bedroom and when I put them on and I'm in my room I feel so comfy and relaxed as if I were in a five star hotel. I'll have tea or lunch on a tray in bed by myself and it's just a treat for me. I'll also read my Bible and pray which always helps me and lifts my spirits. Prayer does wonders I truly believe.

    I don't usually go on about myself but it was hard for me as a single parent and I feel I can understand a little of what you're going through. The good thing is that it always works out and always gets better. I do wish I'd trusted God more. Not sure if you're at all religious but God always helped me when I was down, car wrecked and needing a new one but scared to get out there and even try to look and needing a better job, more money, helping me get strong enough to get out of a bad relationship then remain happily single. I know I can always trust Him so that gets me through a lot.

    Well, I don't know if any of these ideas will help but maybe some of the ideas might be food for thought. You're a strong woman and a good mother.
    I love that you're not afraid to put it all out there and I'm glad you're smart enough to budget in therapy! I hope you feel better soon.

  2. When I'm struggling to understand an odd reaction to something, I often find it helpful to start "nibbling around the edges" by considering various things that I could be afraid about. Am I anxious about sitting down to write this email because maybe I... will mess up my words and look stupid? ...might hurt the recipient's feelings? ...could have misunderstood something and be criticized? Then I evaluate my emotional reaction to each idea: I don't feel worried at the thought of proofreading it and I am pretty confident that I understood it correctly - but I wince when I think about the person reading it. Because what I need to say is probably going to be painful for them to hear. So then I can acknowledge that what I am actually feeling is sympathy & a reluctance to hurt them, but can remind myself that not sending this email would hurt them even more.

  3. This sounds very uncomfortable. I wonder what has changed? Could it be a delayed reaction to your divorce and suddenly being responsible for the whole budget/life equation? Whatever it is, pushing through it is brave and I agree that it deserves a little reward when you do it. I also agree with the above idea to move towards doing it at an interval somewhere between monthly and daily. But if you can't do that, then give yourself ample praise and love whenever you do manage to do it.
    Today someone asked me what I thought courage was, and the first thing that came into my mind was 'persistence'. That's what you're doing now, and it really is a nitty-gritty form of courage.

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