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Debt: How money stress hurts your health, and ways to beat it

Short-term stress can actually save your life. Say you're a zebra on the plains of Africa, far away from the Capital Region. A lion is charging at you. As the zebra, activation of the fight-or-flight response, just for a short burst of energy to get away from the threat, will save your life.

Debt stress can severe physical stress
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

However, as adults, we tend to activate the stress response, and keep it activated. And long-term stress damages nearly every part of our bodies. Money is a growing instigator of our chronic stress response.

Migraines, heart problems, obesity, asthma, stroke, depression...all are connected to chronic, long-term stress associated with money worries. A survey conducted earlier this year by the AOL/The Associated Press found that too much stress is linked to illness. And not just general stress, either. They found that money stress, in particular, may lead to physical illness.

What’s so bad about money stress?
Even if you’ve paid off mountains of debt, annually max out your IRA and diligently stick to the budget you establish, there’s a good chance you’ve felt it: Money is a pretty common source of stress.

The 2011 APA Stress in America report found that out of the eight top sources of stress in America, five were financial: money, work, the economy, job stability and housing costs. The Associated Press and AOL examined debt stress, the pressure a person feels when she owes money, in a recent survey. Respondents with high debt stress suffered more:

  • Headaches and migraines (44% with high debt stress versus 4% with low)
  • Depression (23% versus 4%)
  • Heart attacks (6% versus 3%)
  • Muscle tension and lower back pain (51% versus 31%)
  • Ulcers and digestive problems (27% versus 8%)

We can fight back
This doesn’t mean that if you’re stressed about money, you’re bound to get sick. Here’s how you can rehab your body and mind:

  1. Get to the root of the problem. “Money stress” is pretty vague. What exactly are you stressed about? An intimidating amount of debt? Worried that your income doesn’t cover your costs? Scared that there might be an emergency you can’t afford? Once you identify the problem, you can start taking steps (baby steps!) to fix it. If you’re stressing over debt, sound information will start you down the right path.
  2. Reach out. It’s important to talk with others, to not let the shame of the situation or the self-criticism stop you from getting support. Talking with others not only helps us to problem-solve, but also to feel not so alone and isolated in handling the situation. That’s huge. To go through this problem with other people absolutely brings a better outcome.

A consumer-oriented, non-judgmental series of workshops in Rotterdam will help local residents in the Capital Region start their recover from money-stress. Come to the Rotterdam Town Library, 1100 N. Westcott Road, Wednesday, July 16, 6:00 pm. Refreshments will be served. That night's topic: Debt worries and solutions. Get more information here and join your neighbors.

Dave Balog teaches financial essentials to middle-class families. 952-1257.

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