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?
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."
Seek social support, advises McGonigal, because you're not the only person
going through this. Talk to people you care about to take away the sense of
stigma and shame. "When people are in debt or worried about losing their
home or job, often they will try to hide it for a long time," McGonigal
says. "A huge thing with money is the stigma. In this culture, that's a
huge part of identity -- what we own, where we live, what we do."
There's a huge difference between active coping and comfort coping, says
McGonigal. "Don't fall into the trap of feeling better immediately instead
of doing something that's a little bit uncomfortable now. Sit down, get the
information, and make a plan. And be an active coper. That way, you'll feel
you're in control of the situation -- and a sense of control shuts down the
whole stress process."
Here's advice from the experts on how to actively cope with your
- Put things into perspective by asking yourself: What's the worst
that would happen? Yes, you may have to move or shelve your credit cards for
the time being. "You may have to make a significant lifestyle change,"
says Winner. "But it's not life-threatening. Sometimes we act like there is
a saber-tooth tiger with his jaws right around our heads."
- Keep a worry journal. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the
middle, recommends Breus. On the left side, write down all the things you're
worried about. On the right side, write down one solution. The solution could
be, think about this tomorrow at 11 o'clock or make a phone call tomorrow that
could lead to a new opportunity. Do it for 10 minutes and when you fold the
paper in half, close it in your mind.
- Take the necessary steps for smart financial planning. Opt out of
new credit cards by calling 888-5OPTOUT. Organize your financial records, pull
your annual credit report, and make a plan with an advisor or your partner to
transform your financial life. "The number one benefit to having zero debt
is your financial piece of mind," says Khalfani-Cox. "It diminishes the
stress, worry, and anxiety. You will have the freedom to do other things in