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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?

Is debt making you tired? continued...

The stressors do invade the bedroom. Frustrated designer Lurie-Terrell lies staring at the ceiling for hours or wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about his savings. "It's a vicious cycle," he says. "If you're aware that you're stressed out, that makes you even more stressed out because you don't have any control over it."

There's so much information on how bad the economy is that it heightens people's anxiety, says WebMD sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD. And that anxiety prevents people from being able to fall asleep.

"You may be working really hard throughout the day and by the time you get into bed, it's the first chance you've had to think about the day," he says. "And your brain starts going and going. People basically amp themselves up because they're so worried about paying the mortgage and bills. While they may be physically tired and sleep deprived, the constant worry actually prevents them from being able to sleep."

Once you start worrying about something that is emotionally charged, it causes autonomic arousal, which can affect everything from muscle tension to anxiety. Studies have shown that it takes longer to heal when you're sleep deprived, Breus says. Your reaction time, thinking, and creativity are slowed, so everything can be affected by sleep deprivation.

"We're going to see a slight increase until we see better economic news coming down the pipe," Breus says. "People who were worriers before are certainly going to continue to worry. And then we'll have a new group who are going to have situational-related insomnia. We saw the same thing happen after 9/11 where lots of people were having nightmares about terrorist attacks. Obviously, that's a far graver situation than something like finances."

Calming your money worries: Take action and seize control of your future

Debt or money is such a pervasive and difficult kind of stress because it's so interconnected with other areas of our lives, says Kelly McGonigal, PhD. McGonigal is a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University. "Basically, it invades your home, your work, what you're able to provide for your family, and your fantasies for the future. There are studies that show it's not how much money you owe that predicts depression and health problems. It's how much you worry about it."

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