Worried you don't have enough? 3 experts on how to move past scarcity mindset
The start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused millions of people across the globe to hoard resources as a way to cope with their fear of the unknown. First, it started with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and food. Then it involved money, for those who’ve been impacted by the unprecedented unemployment numbers. In many ways, the pandemic, like a traumatic experience, has instilled a scarcity mindset in some people, a draining loop of consciousness that tells us that there will never be enough.
But as states slowly start to open up, it’s time to prepare ourselves for the new normal—and that means shifting our mindsets from a place of scarcity to one of abundance. Our survival instincts over the last few months have been kicked into high gear, and it’s going to take time not just to survive but to live again. Here’s how to move past the scarcity mindset once quarantine is over.
What is a scarcity mindset?
“The scarcity mindset is one in which individuals believe there is a finite number of a particular resource (or resources)," says Matt Glowiak, Ph.D., LCPC. “As we have witnessed with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the idea that [we would run out of] essential home goods (e.g. toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, wipes) and other items led to many individuals panic-shopping for such items until they were left with an overabundance while others were left without,” he says. For some, this panicked mindset has yet to go away, making it even harder to transition to a place where they feel more secure and less on-edge.
“Regarding coronavirus, I see a lot of people struggling with the scarcity mindset in terms of not having enough control or safety,” Nicole Arzt, LMFT, tells HelloGiggles. “They operate from this great place of fear that they're doomed.” Of course, this mentality isn't entirely irrational—we are in a pandemic. However, Arzt makes it clear that the constant negative thinking and actions can take a significant toll on one's mental health.
Here are some signs you may be experiencing a scarcity mindset, according to our experts:
- Using language that indicates a fear of not having enough. For example, you may say, “I don’t have enough money,” “I can’t do this,” or “There will never be enough.”
- Not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel; experiencing dread or doom that things will never change.
- Not being generous with resources (i.e. time, money, relationships, etc.) because you think that you don’t have enough to go around.
- Comparing yourself with others by idealizing the other and devaluing yourself. Feeling envious of others’ successes and not recognizing your own.
Where does a scarcity mindset come from?
Brian Norton, LMHC, a psychotherapist and executive coach, explains that a scarcity mindset doesn’t have to come from a specific event or traumatic experience, though this can certainly exacerbate it. “Those who experience scarcity mindsets are operating from a place of deficit,” he says. “Sometimes these people can be so overwhelmed by trauma or the shock of a certain experience that they don’t allow themselves to move beyond that, and this impacts how they live their lives.” It’s not dissimilar from developing a form of PTSD. Plus, he points out that if you are prone to worrying, a scarcity mindset may creep in more easily. And since the pandemic has been so overwhelming, even the most well-adjusted person may be struggling to get back into reality at this time.
For many, the pandemic took away any sense of stability, making it especially difficult to move on and slowly start getting back into real life again. But remember: Scarcity mindset is exactly that—a mindset. We can work to change our thoughts and actions to get to a more positive, productive, and secure place. It just may take a bit of effort.
What are some steps to overcome the scarcity mindset?
“Abundance mindset is the antidote to the scarcity mindset,” Norton tells us. He says that in order for people to move on from feeling doomed by the current circumstances, they must slowly build up to the belief that things will get better.
In the process, it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re worthy of a safe, secure, and fulfilling life. He says, “Abundance mindset is not rejecting reality. It is simply the belief that we can have uncertainty but also still have security. And, above all, that we deserve to have that security.”
Here are some steps to get there:
1. Reframe your thoughts.
Allow yourself to realize how traumatic experiences are entirely out of your control. “There’s a lot of self-blame that happens,” says Norton, “but it can be powerful to recognize that certain situations are out of our hands.” When life gets difficult, try to stop and think about the positives that may come from this change. Reframing the thoughts that often make us spiral will provide greater space to accept that our perception that there is not enough is a myth.
2. Make gratitude a daily practice.
Choose to consciously recognize the areas in life where you are abundant (maybe it’s not money right now, but it could be friends, skills, or time). Studies have proven that there are ample benefits to writing your thoughts and feelings down, whether through regular journaling or writing a designated gratitude journal—especially if you choose to see the positive. “[These feelings] are all unconscious until we start seeing them in front of us in black and white,” says Norton. Embrace the feelings of uncertainty but also start to transition to a place of gratitude, and you will start to feel less anxious about what you can not control.
Meditation is one of Norton’s most-recommended tools for healing, but he says the key is to make it a legitimate part of our routines and our lives. Studies have shown that when we practice meditation there are huge mental and physical benefits. Norton suggests aiming for 20 minutes of meditation two times a day. It may seem like a lot, but it retrains your brain to stop, slow down, and let go. “Both anxiety and scarcity are deeply cognitive,” Norton explains. Meditation can help us manage those thoughts and recognize that our worrying won’t get us anywhere.
4. Connect with your community.
Despite the fact that we might be practicing social distancing for a while, it’s still important to connect with your people. Loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of depression, suicide, alcohol use, and more, while a good social support system can make you more resilient to stress. When it comes to shifting out of a scarcity mindset, find a group of people who you can rely on to catch you from spiraling—they’ll hold you accountable for your negative thoughts.
Check in and talk to your loved ones. By having conversations that articulate how you feel about your situation, you'll gain much-needed support. This is also helpful in adjusting the competitive, individualistic mindset that scarcity can bring on to a more community-based way of thinking where you feel less alone.
5. Talk to a therapist.
For many people, this scarcity mindset is very prevalent in their lives—and they may not even realize it. Norton points out that this may have been passed down from the way you were raised or experiences your ancestors had to go through, a phenomenon known as transgenerational trauma. Working with a professional to unpack these deeply-entrenched behaviors can help make more sense of them. There’s no shame in asking for professional help. These people are trained in providing ways that can help you cope, reframe your thinking, and, ultimately, feel less fearful about the unknown.