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Health & Balance

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The Debt-Stress Connection

Gas and food prices are sky-high, the stock market is down, and the housing market is in the doldrums. But can worrying about the health of your bank account really make you sick?

The debt-stress connection: Fighting the saber-tooth tiger continued...

Our "fight-or-flight" system evolved as a way to physically deal with a physical danger.The problem is now that same response gets activated by everyday encounters. For example, getting stuck in a traffic jam or arguing with your spouse can bring it on.

"One of the bigger things that activates it is when people see trouble in their finances," Winner tells WebMD. "If people don't know how to deal with this higher adrenaline level, then the levels of stress can build and build. This can cause real physical and physiologic changes in the body that can account for people feeling poorly."

The stress may be correlated with physical symptoms like heartburn, headaches, and abdominal pains. "If you have a knot in your stomach all the time, or if you're feeling anxious and worried a lot of the time, that would be an area of concern," he says. "These are signs that stress is starting to take a toll and you should give it more attention than the average person."

Former financial reporter and author of Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom Lynette Khalfani-Cox knows firsthand the havoc debt can wreak on your life. "I was living above my means," she says. "It's a tremendous burden. The true cost of debt and financial problems isn't just the interest rate you're paying to Mastercard or Visa. The true cost is the toll that it's taking on your life and your relationships."

By making a series of important changes, Khalfani-Cox was able to pay off $100,000 in credit-card debt in three years and now coaches others struggling with the same issues.

Is debt making you tired?

"I am a big ball of stress," admits Chris, a 30-something blogger who writes about dealing with $75,000 in credit card debt and a possible foreclosure at MyDebtJourney.com. "Our mountain of debt is constantly on my mind," he says, "but I don't feel as stressed about it since I started blogging." Before, he would often stay up until 3 a.m. worrying about how he would take care of his wife and two young kids.

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