Graphic designer Joshua Lurie-Terrell of Sacramento, Calif., described himself as an easy-going person. That is, he did until the market started tanking and he and his wife lost half of their retirement savings.
"I never let stress run my life before. But ever since money got tight, I've found that I'm a prisoner to it," he says. He worries that if he fills up the gas tank, he won't be able to afford the movies on the weekend, or if he keeps paying for health insurance, he won't be able to get his wife the birthday present she wants. With a baby on the way, he has seriously considered taking a second job on the night shift.
By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
But then this past spring, the 37-year-old suffered a heart attack, even though he had no warning signs or risks. His doctors point to stress as a major contributing factor.
"I feel like I'm a completely different person than I was," he tells WebMD. "I would attribute more than 90% to worrying about my finances. I've tried to do everything that Suze Orman says to do, but we still have problems."
Lurie-Terrell is certainly not alone. Money is a leading source of stress for Americans, according to a 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association. In the survey, 73% of the respondents cited money as a significant source of stress in their lives. Today, more than three out of every four American families are in debt, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances.
An AP-AOL study reveals that debt-related stress is 14% higher in 2008 than in 2004. Those who report high levels of debt stress suffer from a range of stress-related illnesses including ulcers, migraines, back pain, anxiety, depression, and heart attacks.
With fuel and food prices on the rise and the economic crunch targeting more Americans, this is a critical time to examine these serious health concerns and stress management.
The debt-stress connection: Fighting the saber-tooth tiger
There's a general reaction to stress that's been a part of our genetic makeup from the time we were cavemen, says Jay Winner, MD. Winner is author of Take the Stress Out of Your Life. Back then, when a saber-tooth tiger appeared, your heart would race, your pupils would dilate, and your body would release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. That way, you'd be able to fight the saber-tooth tiger -- or run.