Stress and worry about escalating debt can be overwhelming. Debt stress can affect important health behaviors like eating and sleeping. If you've experienced a loss of sleep, fluctuations in your appetite, and changes in your mood, you are not alone.
However, there are ways to combat debt stress and get your health and finances back on track. But before we get into how to defeat your money stressors, we're going to cover the stats on how common debt stress is.
Debt stress statistics
Debt in America is extremely common. In the American Psychological Association report “Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis,” 64% of adults stated that money is a major source of stress in their life.
According to the Center for Microeconomic Data, household debt rose by $117 billion, auto loan debt increased by $8 billion, and student loan balances ballooned to $29 billion in the first quarter of 2021.
Americans now have $770 billion in credit card debt compared to 20+ years ago where the number was $478 billion.
Whether your debt stems from a job loss, medical debt, unexpected expenses, overspending, or a combination of factors, money worry is a leading cause of stress and you are not alone.
The good news is that, regardless of your current situation, you can overcome debt stress with a plan.
Struggling with debt stress?
You might be feeling a ton of stress, but it is possible that some of your stress could be stemming from your finances and debt. Having debt stress can actually cause health ailments and negative emotions.
Particularly for communities of color, threats to financial security are highest among racial and ethnic minorities. A recent Men's Health article even stated, “Financial stress is right up there on the list of things that can predispose a person to heart disease.”
That being said, below is a list of symptoms to help you determine if stress about debt is impacting you.
Physical changes and unhealthy coping behaviors
Trouble sleeping, a decrease in appetite, migraines, sudden weight gain, social withdrawal, or an increased level of anxiety can all be caused by debt stress.
Another symptom of debt stress can be developing unhealthy coping behaviors, such as alcohol misuse, gambling, and overeating. Researchers found a relationship between personal unsecured debt and mental and physical health.
Overspending is also a common sign that you might be stressed about your debt. Financial anxiety can amplify the very behavior that has led you to your difficult financial position.
Feeling waves of emotions
If you're suffering from waves of emotions, it can be related to your financial woes. Here are some common emotions that are associated with debt stress:
Shock and denial
Learning to understand your emotions will help you in identifying your debt stress. It’s not unusual to pretend as though the debt doesn’t exist.
Denying the amount of debt you have allows you additional time to absorb and process it. However, unlike most types of denials, it’s important to remember that denying the debt is costing you money.
Feeling anger is normal. Perhaps you're angry at the company that laid you off, or you're angry that the medical care system in the United States is the most expensive health care system in the world. But anger can be masking some of the resentment and bitterness you might feel about the very situation you are in.
Debt stress can lead to irritability, and your anger might be redirected to other people. Anger can also be a symptom of feeling sadness or fear.
Guilt and shame
Guilt and shame can lead to avoiding seeking help and having money conversations. Often people feeling guilt or shame will become increasingly secretive and might avoid social interactions. If you feel withdrawn when the subject of money comes up, you might be experiencing guilt or shame.
"Debt stress" related depression
This emotion can feel and sound like, “I’ll always be in debt. I’ll never be debt-free.” Depression can often make us feel like we are alone in this journey, and debt stress will last forever.
Feelings of hopelessness
The feeling of hopelessness is described as feeling as though you are “running on empty.” The feeling will creep in when the amount of debt feels overwhelming.
It might feel as though it will take centuries to get out of debt. The key here is to remind yourself that with a plan, debt freedom is possible.
8 Tips to manage debt stress
Do you identify with some of the symptoms listed above? If so, don't feel helpless; there are many ways to manage debt stress. Here are some steps to ease stress and regain control of your finances.
1. Shift your focus
Shifting your focus from all of the things that you have done to the things you can do, starts the journey to reducing your debt stress. Exploring a healthy money mindset and focusing on the things you can control will help you feel more in control.
Be realistic with what you can and cannot achieve right away. Take small steps and find the balance between taking care of your essential expenses while tackling the debt from past decisions.
2. Gain control
Conversations about money can be difficult. But It’s important to talk to someone about your debt stress. Find a loved one or a trusted friend or family member. They may not be able to offer advice but often, simply laying it out all on the table can feel like you are not carrying the burden alone.
Gaining control will also require accepting responsibility and identifying the money habits and behaviors that lead you to the debt.
Don’t be afraid to seek help from a financial coach, get an accountability partner, work with a debt counselor, or hire a certified financial planner. Getting professional advice can help you when it comes to how to communicate with creditors, creating and implementing a budget.
3. Understand your current financial situation
It’s time to get real and face the reality of your financial circumstances. Get to know your real numbers, including your total income, monthly expenses, and the balances on your debt. Get familiar with minimum monthly payments, interest rates, penalties, and fees.
Take time to reflect on what are the triggers to your debt stress and the leading causes of your debt. As you work on understanding the debt, you’ll slowly begin to feel less lost and in control.
4. Reduce debt stress with the right budget
It’s easy to become frustrated trying to follow prescriptive budgeting advice. Personal finance is personal. You’ll need to think about what has and has not worked for you in the past. What may work for your best friend may feel tedious to you. However, don’t be discouraged.
A budget is simply creating a plan for your income. Creating a spending plan ensures that every dollar you earn has a job. You won’t be able to eliminate your debt in a single day.
Creating a plan that will work for you is a crucial step. Understanding how much you can spend and when will give you clarity about your spending each month.
5. Decrease expenses
As you make a list of all of your monthly expenses, you may discover that you might have recurring expenses, like subscriptions, that you might need to put on pause or need to cancel. Review where your income has been going for the last month or two.
It can be tempting to skip this part but reviewing your bank statements to understand your spending habits are key. You'll be able to identify areas in your spending that are causing money leaks you may not have been aware of.
Prioritize items in your budget that are necessary, like your housing and utility costs, while decreasing areas like entertainment and dining out. Be honest with yourself about where your money is going.
6. Increase your income
Tracking your finances and taking inventory of where you stand will help you identify some areas that you may need to improve. When considering your income, don’t forget to include things like bonuses, tax refunds, child support, and alimony.
As you decrease your expenses, you may notice that one issue is that you have more month than paycheck. If your income is barely enough to cover your monthly bills, consider ways of increasing your income along with decreasing your expenses.
7. Prioritize debt and bills to pay first
Make a list of all your debts and include minimum payments due, late fees, and interest rates. Become familiar with the different ways to tackle your debt and understand the different debt repayment strategies.
8. Determine the debt payoff plan right for you
As you become familiar with strategies like the debt snowball or debt avalanche, remember that the best strategy is the one that you can stick to.
Don’t be afraid to seek the assistance of a financial expert, particularly if you have accounts in debt collections. They can offer you guidance on dealing with debt collectors, debt and loan consolidation options, and loan refinancing practices.
There’s power in simply having an accountability partner. Finding someone who can hold you accountable for the plan you create is a valid tool because you will feel the need to deliver on your promises. Seeking help can help you define your financial priorities.
While there are other plans of action like balance transfers, keep things as simple as possible in order to combat your debt stress.
You can get relief from debt stress
So, having a debt repayment plan will give you a proactive approach to combat debt stress. Finding hope in the middle of your financial stress and learning to cope can help you feel more in control. Addressing your financial worries is important both for your mental and physical health.
Remember to talk to a professional, trusted friend, or relative as you navigate through debt. Discussing money matters can be difficult. However, the emotional support they offer you could be the bit of hope you need to get started.
It might feel like the debt cycle will last forever, but making changes and taking a few steps can help reduce your stress levels related to debt. Get help with your debt stress by taking our completely free financial courses to get back on track!