14 Signs You’re Stuck in a Scarcity Mindset
DO YOU FEEL like there’s never enough time, money, opportunities, or fill in the blank? Are you always scrambling to wrap up your to-do list or struggling to make decisions? Do you rarely say “no” when someone asks you to do something?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you could be stuck in a scarcity mindset. Learning to manage it can help you live better and have better relationships, more motivation, and more self-worth.
“The scarcity mindset doesn’t allow much grace for oneself,” says Jordan Bierbrauer, LCSW, a therapist with Thriveworks in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who specializes in anxiety, stress, and conflict.
A scarcity mindset may affect people a little differently, but someone with this way of thinking will have a basic thought process that centers on a lack of something, or a feeling that they’re generally not enough—despite what the reality is.
“Someone with a scarcity mindset may be thinking that everything that is needed for a bright and secure future is becoming scarce,” Bierbrauer explains. “This could fill an individual with guilt, anger, and envy. They could also be thinking that there is not enough time in one day and could become annoyed with the fact that they need sleep.”
Having a scarcity mindset is sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy: You’re so fixated on feeling like you don’t have enough of what you need that you can’t move forward in life. This belief system is often linked to growing up in poverty and experiencing true scarcity, which can affect your mental and behavioral functioning.
It’s often easy to get stuck in a cycle of scarcity thinking. But, doing so can take a toll on your mental health and relationships.
“It could cause an individual to have unfulfilling interpersonal relationships, a lack of motivation, feelings of worthlessness, and an overall negative view of the world,” Bierbrauer says.
Finding your way out of a scarcity mindset requires you to shift your thinking, which isn’t always easy. Here are some tips for changing your mindset and signs you should talk to a therapist about your way of thinking.
What Is a Scarcity Mindset?
You’re in a scarcity mindset when you become obsessed with a lack of something—usually time, money, or ability. The obsession is so strong that you can’t focus on anything else, Bierbrauer explains.
The term “scarcity mindset” originated as a way to describe a certain type of anxiety and cognitive stress that people often experience when they have below-poverty-level incomes, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Research published in 2013 found that distress over not having enough money to live affected people’s mental state. People were so fixated on money worries that it led to poor decision-making and higher stress levels.
But having a scarcity mindset isn’t always about money. It could be triggered by events like losing your job, being overloaded with debt, trying to lose weight, ending a relationship, having a never-ending to-do list, or reliving trauma from the past.
For instance, you may be so overwhelmed with getting your work tasks done that you have little time for your favorite activities. You might fixate on how quickly time is passing and how little fun you have.
It’s understandable to want things in life and get upset when things don’t go your way, but when the lack of something consumes your thoughts, it’s not good for you.
What Are Some Signs You’re Stuck in a Scarcity Mindset?
Besides centering your thoughts on what you’re lacking, here are some signs that you might have a scarcity mindset include:
- Thinking you always lose and others always win
- Viewing others as competitors
- Being overly controlling
- Being pessimistic
- Feeling like you’re always behind
- Being impatient
- Overscheduling yourself
- Feeling depressed or paralyzed
- Saying yes to opportunities that aren’t right for you because you fear you won’t receive other opportunities
- Struggling with concentration
- Feeling dissatisfied
- Experiencing low self-esteem
- Believing you’re not enough
- Comparing yourself to others
How a Scarcity Mindset Affects Your Mental Health
Scarcity “consumes cognitive resources,” like memory, attention, and behavior control, research shows.
It creates a “difficult-to-achieve mindset,” which could lead to depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and regret, Bierbrauer says. “It could also cause emotional dysregulation in an individual, as feeling incapable of completing tasks could leave someone questioning their own emotional experiences.”
A scarcity mindset often keeps you on alert and too focused on a lack of something, which leads to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline, says Tamara Castelo, a traditional Chinese medicine specialist and natural therapist.
“This type of pessimistic mentality always brings instability and a significant disconnect between our reality and our mind of scarcity,” she says. “Our reality can be bright, with a good relationship and a good home, but if our mind is not positive and stable, we will be profoundly unhappy.”
You might feel irritable, struggle to solve problems and make decisions, lack creativity, stop thinking about the future, and self-isolate, Castelo adds.
How a Scarcity Mindset Affects Relationships
In relationships, you might be physically present but emotionally absent when you have a scarcity mindset, Castelo says. “The mind controls everything, not allowing relationships to flow, bringing insecurity and heaviness.”
People with a scarcity mindset might have high standards and grass-is-greener beliefs, Bierbrauer says. All of these thoughts and feelings might lead to relationship dissatisfaction—for everyone involved—and make separation likely.
How to Shift Out of a Scarcity Mindset
It’s easy to get stuck on autopilot and stay in a cycle of scarcity thinking. Working on changing your thinking, and shifting to a growth or abundance mindset can help you find your way out of your scarcity ways. Here are some tips:
Acknowledge How You Feel
Validating your feelings first enables you to stop being so hard on yourself, Bierbrauer says. Don’t avoid or ignore your feelings. Allow yourself to feel depressed and overwhelmed, and don’t criticize yourself for feeling that way. Accept that you feel the way you feel, but tell yourself that it doesn’t have to preoccupy your thoughts.
Take time to observe your surroundings and ground yourself in the moment—that is, listen to your five senses to become aware of what you’re experiencing at that second, Bierbrauer says. Then, start to change your thinking: “recognizing the possibilities, not the limits, focusing on learning, having a collectivistic mindset, and focusing on creating something new,” he says.
Focus on what’s positive in your life—maybe it’s your significant other, your job, or your talents. And, think about the joy and fulfillment these bring to your life. “Believe that you deserve all the good that happens to you,” Castelo says. “Train your mind to be open to all possibilities.”
When to Seek Mental Health Treatment
It’s not easy to go from one mindset to another, and sometimes you might need extra help. If that’s the case, seek out care from a mental health professional.
You should especially seek treatment when your scarcity mindset is causing daily stress, interfering with your relationships, or triggering thoughts of depression, hopelessness, or self-harm, Bierbrauer says. Or if you just want a more positive outlook on life, therapy can help.
“Professional help always exists when a mental pattern upsets our life balance with ourselves and others,” Castelo says. “When you become aware of the pattern, be ready to take action.”
Erica Sweeney is a writer who mostly covers health, wellness and careers. She has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Parade, Money, Business Insider and many more.