Dr. Galen Buckwalter explains how he and his team discovered Financial PTSD.

Dr. Galen Buckwalter, Chief Science Officer at Payoff, has identified a problem that affects nearly 1/4 of Americans. “Our studies led us to astonishing findings: 23% of adults and 36% of Millennials experience Acute Financial Stress,” says Dr. Buckwalter. “That’s more than 56,000,000 adult Americans and nearly 30,000,000 Millennials.”

But what’s Acute Financial Stress?

“Out of left field one day, the answer jumped out and hit me in full force: It’s PTSD, dammit,” he exclaimed when it hit him like a ton of bricks. “… A majority of us don’t have the natural cognitive and organizational styles of those who excel at the kind of thinking that financial planning requires.”

Dr. Buckwalter already understood that while not all people handle stress or their finances in similar ways, we still have some predictable reactions when it comes to money. So he and his team created a study to validate that very concept. “We developed a set of over 50 questions based on OCEAN to uncover truths about financial personality, but found a great deal more than we were expecting,” he explains.

That’s when they saw that the symptoms of financial stress were matching up surprisingly well with a diagnosis of PTSD. “A diagnosis of PTSD requires someone to meet a number of criteria. Often reliving the event through nightmares or flashbacks, the disorder brings on avoidance of any situation that reminds someone of the trauma,” Dr. Buckwalter explains.

Just like the PTSD you’re more familiar with — the type commonly associated with combat or traumatic experiences — there are ways to combat these symptoms. “There’s no personal failure here, just circumstances that are troubling and can, in fact, be managed,” Dr. Buckwalter says.

He continues, “We don’t think this place of stress is where people have to stay. We are proposing a journey of self-understanding combined with developing a sense of financial security that is going to give us all a renewed sense of individuality as well as a sense of support that comes from taking this stress out of the shadows.”

Learn more about Acute Financial Stress, PTSD and the connections between the two by reading Dr. Buckwalter’s post “From Personality to PTSD: My Research Journey Into Financial Behavior” over on Medium.

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