Debt: Everyone has it, so how bad could it be for you? It may be affecting both your physical and mental health, including causing anxiety and stress.
Indeed, our nation is in the red. At the end of 2019, credit card debt alone reached a record high, increasing by $193 billion to $14.15 trillion. It is a staggering number that does not account for the severe economic consequences and fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is bad news for our long-term health.
Science indicates that being in debt can affect your physical and mental health, regardless of who you are or why you owe money. Here are some of the reasons to return to profitability.
Debt Can Raise Your Blood Pressure
Adults between the ages of 24 and 32 who had high debt-to-asset ratios (i.e., if they sold all of their possessions, they would still be unable to repay their debts) also reported poorer overall health, according to a Northwestern University study. They also had significantly elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke risk factor.
The study’s author, Elizabeth Sweet, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, tells Health: “We were somewhat surprised to find these effects in people so young and otherwise healthy.” This demonstrates how important debt is as a health concern in modern society.
It May Cause Anxiety
You probably didn’t need a study to tell you this, but Sweet’s research revealed that those with greater debt reported 11.7% higher levels of perceived stress than average. (And yes, she believes that the increased stress level is associated with elevated blood pressure.)
According to Sweet, “We’re seeing that debt has serious effects on psychological health.” It creates a sense of being trapped underwater and unable to escape, which can last for a very long time and cause significant harm.
A licensed psychotherapist, author of four books about mental strength, and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, Amy Morin, tells Health that debt can lead to anxious thoughts and catastrophic predictions about becoming homeless or unable to afford food.
Morin states, “These thoughts can be anxiety-inducing, and for some people, they can lead to an anxiety disorder.”
Depression Has Been Linked To Debt
Not only do young people feel the burden of debt, but everyone does. Financial difficulties can have a negative impact on the mental health of senior citizens. A study from Rutgers University found that adults aged 51 and older were more likely to report depressive symptoms if they owed a substantial amount of unsecured debt (such as credit card balances and medical bills) and did not feel in control of their financial situation.
“Indebted individuals may have difficulty sleeping, eat an unhealthy diet, and have limited leisure time, all of which can contribute to depression,” explains Morin. Depression may also sap a person’s motivation, making it more difficult to pay off debt.
It Could Reduce Your Immunity
Although no large-scale studies have been conducted on the relationship between debt and immunity, it is not difficult to draw a connection between the two.
When a person is stressed, such as when dealing with debt, the immune system releases major hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, at elevated levels, according to Jessica Shepherd, MD, chief medical officer of Verywell Health, as reported by Health. “Elevated levels of these chemicals can cause significant physical damage to immune functioning, which can result in a suppressed immune system and an increase in diseases.”
Dr. Shepherd states, “We know that chronic stress can suppress the immune system and that debt is a major source of chronic stress.”
She adds that financial concerns may keep you awake at night, which can impair your body’s ability to fight infection.
It Can Affect Doctor Visits
According to a study from the University of Michigan, people with high levels of credit card or medical debt are less likely to visit a doctor or dentist for regular checkups or even when they are sick. (However, mortgages, auto loans, and student loans did not appear to affect medical care.)
“These people cannot afford to accrue more debt, particularly if they lack adequate health insurance,” says Sweet. “This is an additional extremely important mechanism we must consider: not only does debt affect your health, but it can also prevent you from receiving necessary treatment.”
Debt can be a literal pain in the neck.
Have persistent aches and pains? A survey conducted by the Associated Press and AOL Health suggests that your credit card statements may be related to your physical symptoms. The survey revealed that 44% of those with high levels of “debt stress” suffered from migraines or other headaches on a regular basis, compared to just 15% of those with lower levels. In addition, they were more likely to experience muscle tension, back pain, ulcers or digestive issues, and heart attacks.
It Might Destroy Your Relationship
Debt need not drive a couple apart, but if you and your significant other frequently argue about it, it’s not a good sign. According to a study published in Family Relations, newlywed couples who argued about money at least once per week were more likely to divorce within five years than those who argued about chores, in-laws, time spent together, or sex.
Both failed and unhappy marriages have been linked to a variety of health issues, such as depression, high blood pressure and cholesterol, high blood sugar, and obesity. And they appear to affect females more than males.
According to Morin, debt can wreak havoc on all types of relationships. “Couples may disagree about how to spend or save money. Individuals who are in debt may feel resentment toward those who appear to be wealthier, which may affect their interactions. Many people conceal their debt, which can cause them to feel isolated from their friends and family.
According to one survey, if there is any silver lining to be found, it may be that for some couples, financial difficulties appear to strengthen their relationship.
Resolving our Debt-related Health Difficulties
Happy Money, a platform designed to reframe our relationship with money and promote happiness, discovered that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, income disruption has been a significant factor in the rise in stress levels. The research revealed that those who lost their jobs experienced a 20% increase in overall stress and a 49% increase in financial stress compared to those whose employment was unaffected.
“Importantly, your mental health and happiness depend less on your income and more on your ability to cover all of your expenses,” Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., chief science officer at Happy Money, tells Health. Therefore, the feeling of not being able to pay your bills, make next month’s rent, or pay off your debt appears to have a significant negative impact on mental health.
Additionally, Happy Money’s research revealed that people in debt are interested in hearing from others in similar situations about topics such as how they paid off their debt and the obstacles they overcame. In other words, one of the best ways to combat the anxiety, stress, and other negative health effects associated with debt may be to begin speaking more openly about money problems.
“It is crucial that we all begin sharing our financial highs and lows in order to normalize discussing money and remove the stigma surrounding it,” says Dunn. “We encourage people to discuss and consider what a rich life means to them. Rich is not defined by the amount of money in your bank account, but by what makes you happy and fulfilled in significant and enduring ways.
- How does debt impact your overall stress levels and emotional well-being?
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