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Money Stress Is Killing Me

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My bills are piling up. My phone is ringing off the hook from creditors. All of this stress and anxiety is going to kill me.

Is it an overreaction to say money stress is killing me? You are not overreacting. Stress over your money problems can kill you: long term stress can cause death due to heart attack, stroke, or even suicide.

Wait, what? According to an article in The American Institute of Stress, 42% of US adults cite personal debt as a source of significant stress. And, if debt is stressing you out, it could be killing you. 

Are you listening? Your financial problems could literally be killing you!

Wow, that is a bit dramatic for a start. Let’s bring it down a notch and look at this a bit closer. First thing – I want to set the tone by discussing why money causes stress.

From there we will look at what financial anxiety does to the body and move into how much is too much debt.

Does that mean you have to be debt free? It might. I will cover if there is such a thing as good debt. 

I can feel you start to stress again. Relax, take a minute to do some breathing exercises. In with the good air, out with the bad air. Feel better?

Good, because my last point will discuss how to stop stressing over your financial situation. Let’s dive in.

Why Does Money Cause Stress?

Now you are thinking, seriously, this writer has to explain why money causes stress? No, I probably don’t, but I will. 

I know you have seen this. You are in a store and a child is crying because his mom or dad won’t buy him the candy or toy he really wants. Yes, maybe the child is spoiled, but they REALLY want that candy or toy and don’t have the means to get it.

Now fast forward 20 years and that same kid is sitting at the kitchen table with 15 bills to pay and only enough money in their bank account to pay 5. They REALLY do want to pay those bills but don’t have the means to do it.

When some people have financial difficulties, they can start to feel the societal stress of not being successful. They may start to feel like a failure or like they are worthless.

When faced with money worries, they may start trying to pay bills with credit cards which causes more debt and stress. I will admit, I understand this because I have paid credit card bills with other credit cards in the past.

You’re cold-hearted side might say that they just need to get a better job. Well, not so fast…

People with plenty of money to pay their bills can also get stressed, just for a little different reason. A person may have financial stability, but not feel like they do. 

These people may worry in a different way. They may work long hours and face high job demands to fund their financial goals. They might engage in some catastrophic thinking (imagining a worst-case scenario and feeling like it is actually coming true).

They also might obsess about their retirement, their financial future and about what will happen in their daily life when there are economic downturns, or a job loss, or if they got sick. This is a “scarcity mindset” and it can affect anyone regardless of how much extra money they have .

When in the scarcity mindset, their cognitive ability can decrease. The stress is a risk factor for starting to eat poorly, begin drinking, or start smoking. These habits can then cause more stress.

And of course, money can cause relationship stress. It could be a lack of money, a scarcity mindset, or just different opinions of handling money that causes relationship issues. Regardless of the reason, relationship stress just piles onto the already present stress over money.

If the stress is more than just a short lived problem, it can start to cause issues with your physical health.

What Financial Stress Does To The Body

When I talk about financial stress, I mean prolonged financial stress, not something that only lasts a day or even a week. 

When we get stressed, the human body jumps into a fight or flight response. This causes a surge of adrenaline and can raise our blood pressure. When the stressful situation passes, our bodies are supposed to return to normal.

Unfortunately, money issues are often not something we can quickly fight or retreat from. What our bodies use as a quick fix becomes a long term situation. 

…when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, it could put your health at serious risk.

The American Institute of Stress

Chronic stress can prevent our blood pressure from returning to normal. Having high blood pressure all the time increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Also, remember the part in the prior section that said stress can lead to poor eating habits, drinking, and smoking? Any one of those can have a devastating impact on your health if used continuously. Add them together and you are messing with a disaster.

But wait, there’s more! It is not just the physical aspects that are affected. Stress from financial pressures can have a significant effects on our mental health, too.

When dealing with a lot of stress, people can become anxious and even depressed. Depression can lead people into some pretty dark places. This can even lead to suicidal thoughts, or worse – actions.

Worrying about money can cause the mind to race and prevent adequate sleep, as well. I think we all know what it is like to go just a few nights without good sleep. Imagine this as a permanent status.

If you start stressing now, your body might throw in headaches and stomach pains along the way. As an added bonus, diabetes may also come your way. 

Do you have rheumatoid arthritis? Stress can make it worse along with affecting your immune system, too. When your immune system is down, you can get sick much easier.

You could have all this or even more if you have too much debt or worry about not having enough money. 

How Much Debt Is Too Much?

The most obvious answer is that if you cannot afford to pay your bills, you have too much debt. A not-so-obvious answer may be that if you are worried about your debt, it is too much. I know, not really helpful yet, right?

If you really don’t know if you have too much debt, here are some things to look for: 

  • You’ve depleted your savings
  • You only make the minimum payment on your credit card
  • You don’t know what you owe
  • You rely on credit to make it through the month
  • You’ve maxed out or are close to maxing out your credit cards or line of credit
  • You skip certain bills in order to pay others
  • You’re going into more debt to pay off your current debt
  • Some of your debt has been sent to collection agencies and/or you have derogatory marks on your credit score
  • You’re dodging calls from collectors

That should get you thinking about your debt. Still not sure if you have too much debt? Then I have some simple homework for you.

The first step is to add up all of your monthly debt including student loans, mortgages, medical, etc. Then divide that by your total monthly gross income. Now multiply that by 100.

That number is known as your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI. If your number is 36 or less, you get an “A” because your DTI is good. 

If you fall above 36 but below 42, you get a “C+”, you are not in trouble yet, but you probably want to start looking for a better way of managing your money.

If you are between 43 and 49, you get a “D-”, what is that you hear in the background? Those are alarms warning you that you are in trouble. You haven’t failed yet, but you need to jump on it now and may need to seek help.

If I have not mentioned your number yet, you are failing. You should be really concerned, but don’t start stressing yet. This is just where you are at right now – but you have options to improve.

But, you DO need to take it seriously and make some difficult decisions about your plan of action. It’s time to consult outside help like the National Foundation For Credit Counseling or a financial coach, such as My Online Debt Coach.

Is There Such Thing As Good Debt?

I say “yes”. Unless you have enough money to buy everything in your everyday life with cash, responsible debt is perfectly fine and even helps build your credit score. 

By the way, credit scores are used for more than just getting loans. Insurance, apartment rentals, and even some jobs will look at your credit scores.

Also, certain types of debt are acceptable. Getting a loan for a house that you can afford is an example of a good debt. You have to provide for a place to live, anyway, and typically, home values go up.

On the other hand, getting a loan for a house that’s more than you can really afford, regardless of what the bank is willing to loan you, is a bad debt.  

Also, student loans can be good, although some will argue the point. A reasonable and responsible amount is key, though. Education should help you increase your future pay.

Getting a $200,000 student loan for a job that will still only pay minimum wage is not a reasonable or responsible use of debt.

Let me go against a lot of traditional thinking on something. When used responsibly, I do not consider credit cards a bad debt. 

Credit cards can help establish, or improve, credit scores and their rewards can help you reduce the price of gas, flights, and vacations.

Entering into some debt throughout our lives is completely acceptable. However, sometimes we let our debt get out of control. 

Be responsible with your money and your debt. Yes, you are allowed to splurge on yourself sometimes. How much you splurge depends on how much you can afford at the time.

For a fun, easy way to save money, try the $5 Challenge.

How To Reduce Money Stress

First, you have to have some self awareness, or be told by someone that you are stressed. But becoming self-aware or hearing someone tell you this is not always easy. 

Once you have accepted the fact that you are stressing over financial issues, there are several things you can do. Some may work for you and some may not, so keep trying until you find one that fits you.

You can try exercising. Exercising can help take your mind off of money, clear your thoughts, and increase your mood. Schedule time regularly. Try to shoot for about 30 minutes a day. It doesn’t really matter the type of exercise. Pick what you enjoy. You can join a gym or workout at home. 

Walking is good and doesn’t require any special equipment or memberships. It can be done alone, with family or friends, or you can join a walking group in your neighborhood. 

I also think a support network of some type can be of great help. There are numerous sources of support. It can be from family, friends, your community, or a religious organization. 

The support does not have to be local or even in person. Social media can be a great place to talk to people with the same issues, ask questions, and even provide support for others.

Personally, I have used social media for support numerous times and found it very helpful. Posting your feelings and concerns in a support network can help you to identify things that can help. It also helps to know you are not alone or the only one with the problem.

Confiding in a loved one or taking time to do activities you enjoy may also make your problems feel more manageable.

Learning a new hobby or sport can serve as a healthy distraction for your mind. Try cooking, meditating or other relaxing activities. Find interesting ways to distract yourself from your money thoughts.

These actions may not solve your current situation, but they will help boost your cognitive function, which will help you tackle your problems.

How Do I Stop Stressing Over Money?

If the above actions do not seem to help, you may have to step it up a notch. 

Try contacting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. They can set you up with a reputable credit counselor that can help. They are a nonprofit organization with little to no cost. 

Credit counselors can help you create a plan for getting your finances back on track. Check out the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find help near you.

You could also think about attending therapy. If your finances are causing emotional stress and affecting your mental health, search for mental health professionals who can serve as a sounding board and recommend treatment. 

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, listen to your mind and body when they are signaling “my money stress is killing me”. It means you are stressing over the amount of your debt, even if it is good debt.

That chronic stress is using you as a punching bag from the inside. But the good news is that you can fight back. Look for healthy ways to cope and seek professional help and debt coaching if you need to. 

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