Feelings of powerlessness contribute strongly to money anxiety, forcing many people into what I refer to as their primitive survival mode. Consider suggesting these tools and tactics to help clients deal with their stress:
1. Keep market news at arm's length. Remind clients that it's your job to keep tabs on the big picture of their finances. If they get too involved in Wall Street's daily ups and downs, they're likely not to see the forest for the trees.
2. Have regular, respectful money talks with their spouse. In weekly or monthly meetings, a couple can discuss their worries over money, review their options or brainstorm solutions, and develop a plan that helps reduce both partners' stress. Remind them that empathetic playback is critical to create a safe, courteous communication climate.
3. Do Money Dialogues. This powerful exercise calls for writing down an imagined dialogue between you and Money, then envisioning what various important money influences in your life (including your parents) would say about the dialogue you generated. End the exercise with the voice of God, your Higher Power, or your inner wisdom commenting on what you wrote. In many cases, Money Dialogues can be transformative. After doing several of them recently, a client of mine had an epiphany: she realized that her money anxiety is highest when she's afraid to face a financial activity she needs to tackle.
4. Look for opportunities to make lemonade. You've heard the old saying, "When life hands you lemons..."? Involving the kids in saving money could bring the family closer together. Job insecurity could be the impetus for turning a hobby into a long-considered sideline business.
5. Use ideas from your "advisor's stress relief toolkit." In my article "Power Couples" in the March 2009 Investment Advisor, I suggested preparing a toolkit of ideas to help clients (especially those in or near retirement) cope with acute or chronic stress. To review these ideas, go here.