It’s a common malady in this economic climate: not having enough money to pay the bills. The majority of the U.S. population is struggling, and things aren’t looking to lighten up any time soon. Most families today are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and it’s ripping apart national morale bit by bit.
There’s a much bigger issue at hand, however. Money can cause more stress in a person than just about any other external factor, and for good reason. The weight of providing for a family is almost unbearable when you can’t seem to bring enough income home each month. Breadwinners aren’t the only causalities, however—financial insecurity can even affect the health of children in a household. It’s a serious issue, and one that merits national attention.
Studies confirm the money-health connection
The American Psychological Association releases an annual Stress in America study, and in 2011, the findings of the money-stress connection were nothing short of alarming. Although the percentages varied by generation, the primary stressor for adults of all ages was—you guessed it—money. 80% of Millennials listed money as their biggest stressor, while 77% of Baby Boomers and those in Generation X ranked it #1. Moreover, the most recent Study of Consumer Finances published by the Federal Reserve shows that more than three out of four American families are struggling with debt. It’s abundantly clear that we have a national crisis on our hands.
Debt and stress-related illnesses
When you’re in debt, you’re understandably stressed out. Stress is a real drain on your body in many ways because it’s your internal alarm system – it helps you recognize threats to your survival. The constant nag of debt woes essentially kicks this biological response into overdrive, so your body’s stress response is always turned on. This means your body is constantly manufacturing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which jack up your heart rate, skyrocket your blood pressure, and dump fats and glucose into your blood supply to fuel your nervous energy.
In the short-term, extended stress responses can lead to ulcers, headaches, and muscle tension, among countless other issues. You can also develop digestive problems and anxiety disorders. Chronic back pain is another common complaint of people who suffer from stress brought on by money issues.
So what happens when your body elicits these stress responses in reaction to your money woes over the long term? Well, the news ain’t good. You are looking at a dramatically increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and serious conditions such as heart disease. If you have any preexisting conditions, extended periods of stress can exacerbate them by blocking your body’s ability to heal itself.
How to deal with money stress
None of this is good news, obviously. Chronic stress resulting from money worries is an issue that affects all class levels—not just the poor or middle class. Fortunately, there are ways to manage stress and keep your health in check.
First, therapy is a great way to get your feelings under control. If your stress level is severe enough, a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist may be a better option and antidepressants may be in order. If therapy isn’t an option for you, talking to someone you trust is a simple way to relieve some of the guilt, shame, and worry related to your debt problems.
Second, getting a handle on the debt itself is vital to reducing your stress. Speak to a representative from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to discover your options for debt relief. Don’t suffer in silence – you need to stay healthy for your family, and getting your debt under control is a step in the right direction.