Money, stress, and your health

A 2009 AP/AOL survey, Debt Stress in the United States, found that American adults are experiencing significantly more debt-related stress than reported four years ago when a similar survey was conducted.

The survey also found that those with high stress levels were likely to experience health problems, including headaches, back pain, muscle tension, depression, anxiety, ulcers, and heart problems.

It seems that a high level of debt-related stress can damage more than your credit score; it also poses serious threats to your health.

The Health Costs of Debt Stress

According to the survey findings, one in five respondents with moderately high or high levels of debt stress experienced incidents of mental and physical health deterioration. The survey also found that highly debt-stressed people were:

  • More than 13 times as likely than low- to no-stress people to lose sleep at night
  • More than seven times as likely to have severe anxiety
  • Almost seven times as likely to take stress out on others
  • Nearly six times as likely to experience severe depression
  • Four times as likely to have ulcers or other digestive problems
  • Twice as likely to have heart problems and migraines

Money doesn't necessarily lead to happiness, but managing it poorly can certainly lead to unhappiness. Although this study focused on debt stress, a 2009 poll found that money in general is the world's greatest source of stress. Respondents cited the state of the world as their second biggest cause of stress. Health was last on the list of concerns in almost every country.

Reducing Financial Stress

So money-related stress can cause physical and mental health problems, and health is the least of our worries, according to the 2009 poll. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it's understandably difficult to see the big picture when there are schedules to keep and bills to pay. What can we do?

  1. Get a plan. If your money stress is related to debt, the first step is to get increase your emergency fund. When you start to worry, reassure yourself that you've got a plan in place.
  2. Identify the negative ways you cope with financial stress. Often these are the same ways you cope with any other kind of stress, and many times the ways we deal are damaging to our health and well-being: alcohol, smoking, a bag of potato chips and a date with the remote control, gambling, becoming aggressive, avoiding social interaction, compulsive spending, chewing your fingernails, criticizing yourself for being such a hopeless idiot, etc.
  3. Look for alternative, healthy ways to decompress. If there's a specific bad habit you turn to when stressed, 13 steps to a better life for ways to encourage happiness and reduce stress.

I can identify with debt and money stress. I used to ignore my overall amount of debt, afraid to even add it up. Once I paid it off, I would stress out about spending money. Eventually I found a balance, but even today — debt-free and emergency fund in place — money can still cause me anxiety, like when I found out the warranty on my laptop didn't cover everything I thought it did. A few deep breaths later, I reminded myself that it was only Stuff, and I save money every month for occasions such as these.

It's a vicious cycle, as financial stress turns into health issues, possibly costly health issues, that in turn increase our money stress. Relationships and job performance also can suffer, creating a bigger pit of despair. It seems that no matter what stage we reach, we have to be careful to not let money stress take over our lives.

What are your biggest sources of stress? How do you deal with them?

J.D.'s note: Debt used to be my biggest source of money stress. Then it became an obsession with frugality, which led me to cross the line to cheap bastard. Now my biggest problem seems to be an obsession with income: I want more money all the time. I'm beginning to see, however, that if I relax on my drive for a higher income, I can have more of other stuff, like time with friends — and travel.

More about...Psychology, Health & Fitness

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basicmoneytips
basicmoneytips
10 years ago

Stress over money can be hard on anyone. Plus money issues can cause other problems that also lead to more stress. The number 2 cause of divorce in the US is money issues. It is easy to see that problems surrounding money can easily snowball into bigger things.

E West @GuidetoGrowingUp
E West @GuidetoGrowingUp
10 years ago

My future and figuring out what I want to do in life. As soon as anything is accomplished I feel like, “what’s next?” I worry I will never truly be satisfied. I stress myself about planning for the future (career, home, family…). I get very excited about one thing, jump into it, and then it either fizzles out or I find a roadblock. Then I stress myself out again about the fact I don’t finish what I start…. My husband used to get stressed over my stress about ridiculous things. Now (bless him) he just laughs it off. I also… Read more »

Mike
Mike
10 years ago

JD, I appreciate the honesty of your notes.

I bet that spousal/marital issues is up there at the top of people’s list for stress inducers.

Money issues are probably more pervasive but only because not everyone has a spouse. Haha.

Kris
Kris
10 years ago

The most stressful thing for me is the busy schedule of our family. I have 3 kids, all very involved with school and sports. Figuring out how to get everyone where they need to be can drive me insane. I have found though if I just sit down and make a plan, I can handle it much easier. (As opposed to just worrying about it.) That is true for everything in my life. If I just find a solution to the problem, I can handle the steps it takes to get to the solution.

Chett
Chett
10 years ago

It seems in most cases stress is self-created. The messes we put ourselves in, desires to be more self-important then working longer hours, the insatiable for stuff, or as J.D. wrote on a personal note, the aimless desire to have more simply to have more. It seems like every time I reach some type of homeostasis, I create some other desire. I think studies of the “happiest” countries have proven. If you’re willing to settle and be content, you’ll be more satisfied with life and potentially have less stress. I doubt anybody is marketing that idea.

Jessica Bosari
Jessica Bosari
10 years ago

This article is very well timed. Any kind of change is stressful, but when it comes to worrying about how you’ll feed your kids or if you’ll have a home next month, it’s even worse. It’s especially important to manage stress to help your kids. They respond to how you react and if you are miserable and anxious all the time, your kids will blame themselves, feeling like just another burden. Take things lightly and remember that as long as you have your family, where you live is not such a big deal. Make the kids feel safe by focusing… Read more »

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
10 years ago

For me, arming myself with the critical details of my debt instead of mindlessly servicing it has made me more comfortable and aware. With me graduating from graduate school next month, as a household, we literally have a mountain of debt to assail in student loans. My husband and I have discussed incentive rewards at each stage of debt repayment. I made saving a priority, I automated it, with a weekly withdrawal from my checking to savings account. I added up the amount of money it takes to run my household and one of my first goals is to save… Read more »

JKC
JKC
10 years ago

“I grew up on the upper east side, and when I was ten years old I was rich! I was an aristocrat, riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I’m thirty-six, and all I think about is money!”

– Opening Lines of “My Dinner With Andre”

ChefAMW
ChefAMW
10 years ago

My biggest stress would seem to be money but when you look deeper is the inability to control outside forces that made money a stressor. My husband and I did all the right things and were prosperous. Then when the perfect storm hit- we lost 60% of our income, wiped out our saving, and put us in a position where money is now a stressor and we could not control it- we did not choose it, we did not set it up to happen. And I do believe that money doesn’t buy happiness but it does buy peace of mind!

Joe D.
Joe D.
10 years ago

I spent last night with my family in a bad mood, wasting a perfectly good evening in my life, and for what? Over job stress, which leads eventually to financial stress. Although I find myself more and more being able to live without the thought of additional accumulation of material things, I still have some anxieties about supporting my family “properly”.

Thanks for the post, April. It is a timely reminder that my job, and therefore my finances, is not my identity. I will eventually learn to not waste time being moody over the “small stuff”.

ebyt
ebyt
10 years ago

Of course debt is a huge stressor. Without money you’re completely screwed and won’t have a roof over your head. I know through stupidity in my younger years (yeah I’m almost 25 so not old yet… but I was STUPID with money when I was younger) that it caused me years of worry. Ah debt. Glad I’ll soon be completely out of it! My ex boyfriend and I would constantly fight about money. His finances were even worse than mine. We couldn’t do anything because we were in debt. Anything we would buy would increase the debt. For the longest… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I love not being stressed about money anymore. I love having a nice cushion in the bank so that money problems are an annoyance, not a source of stress.

Another interesting link between money and health is that money inequality (having less than the Joneses) leads to worse health (according to a series of influential studies called the Whitehall studies). Maybe that can be moderated by stopping trying to keep up with the Joneses, but we really don’t know.

JD– Maybe time to reread Your Money or Your Life for a refresher?

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

My biggest source of stress over the past six months has been my wife’s health and uncertainty over whether or not we’ll be able to have children. Financial reasons don’t even register. Of course, I no longer have debts to worry about, but even if I did they’d come second.

partgypsy
partgypsy
10 years ago

Ignorance is bliss sometimes. When in graduate school I had no money, yet didn’t worry about money at all. I could and did live happily on 12K a year. Ironically now that I am middleaged and make more money (5x how much I made in grad school, 2.5x as much as a postdoc), I worry much more about money. In part it’s because I have dependents and am the primary breadwinner, but I know part of it is psychological as well. Once you have something you can be afraid of losing it, but if you don’t have anything at all,… Read more »

Christine (The Raw Project)
Christine (The Raw Project)
10 years ago

Debt is a huge stress factor for me, I don’t even like having >$1,000 sitting on a card. Having a healthy emergency fund in the back definitely helps. Great post, thanks.

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
10 years ago

Tyler –

I hope everything works out for you and your wife. Your brief but profound response puts everything in perspective – there are so many more things more precious and valuable than money.

kaitlyn
kaitlyn
10 years ago

In about a month, I’m moving from my beloved Los Angeles to just outside of NYC. I realized yesterday that I only have three steady paychecks left. No job in NY yet. I have two months of expenses in savings, but still…

Oh yeah, you better believe I’m stressed.

Mich @ BTI
Mich @ BTI
10 years ago

Taking control of your investments can also become a source of stress, if you’re not cut to handle the ups and downs, consider passive investing!

KarenJ
KarenJ
10 years ago

I work in sales, and so does my husband, so our biggest source of stress is whether we will bring in enough this month to cover our expenses. Although we were lucky enough to have some savings to cover the transition while we “ramp up,” the fear that we might run through our savings like a hot knife through butter, sometimes causes a feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not a lot of time to work out, unfortunately, but long walks on the weekend, talking and other weekend activities give us time to unwind and get ready for another… Read more »

Nick
Nick
10 years ago

I recently read (and blogged about) a recent interview with Dave Ramsey in Success magazine regarding debt and a simple method to climb out of it. People are already stressed about enough as it is, money should not be another thing to worry about.

Tammy
Tammy
10 years ago

Debts to pay and a new baby in the house pressured my husband to take a corporate job he didn’t want, resulting in more money but horrible stress. The stress led to anxiety, the anxiety led to depression, and the depression led to complete mental fallout, culminating in eight weeks of disability and severe panic attacks if he tried to go back to work.

Now self-employed, we are earning less, chipping away at our debt, and are much happier with the state of things. We’re reaching our goals a little more slowly, but our priorities are a lot different now.

Adam
Adam
10 years ago

Wow…I’m way more stressed about work deadlines and presentations at work and getting a promotion or a raise and in general, work, than anything else. Money I don’t stress about because like many here I’ve no debt and a healthy emergency fund and am actually investing on top of that along with a good retirement savings. Money is fine as long as I have a job (job stress). Health at the moment knock on wood is fine but if I did have a health scare this would take over my stress. I think the only reason health is so low… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
10 years ago

But wouldn’t high debt correlate with lower incomes/poverty, which already correlates with poor health? Or did this study control for income?

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

I’ve overcome much of my own stress, now I’m trying to extract some from DH! My goal is to get him to stop working 6 days a week!

Tyler K., best wishes to you and your wife. Hope everything works out.

R.D.L.
R.D.L.
10 years ago

Having expensive things go wrong with the house and worrying about what will break next has been my greatest source of stress for most of the past three years since I bought the house. Now that has settled down and relationships are causing me the most stress. Before I got on a budget and repaid debt repayment and saved an emergency fund I was terribly stressed about money. I think some of us just feel stressed more than others due to our physiology and ways of thinking.

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

I appreciate articles like these. I have been under some stress lately and i realize that i can regain financial control with better planning.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

Unplanned costs tick me off and stress me out, but like April, I try to remind myself that’s what we save for and move on.

Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin
10 years ago

I don’t get too stressed at all. I believe this is because: a) I don’t watch television (no watching stressful news or ads telling me to buy stuff) b) I’m very conscious of my health (I admit often when I need to go for a walk or watch my diet) c) I realize, at least in North America, that “making a living” is a lot easier than we’re let on d) I know I still have much to learn Of course I can still get stressed, but when I do, I try to stop. And get perspective. This helps a… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

Money stress sucks. The study you mentioned only showed correlation, not causation. I really think money problems are more intertwined with depression, anxiety, and health problems than a simple cause/effect relationship can show. A person who is depressed is likely to develop money problems because when you’re depressed it all seems pointless. And if you’re having a lot of physical health problems, that can lead to money problems too because health care is so expensive. And another option is that instead of one causing the other (money problems cause stress OR stress/health problems causes money problems) it could be that… Read more »

D
D
10 years ago

Boy can I relate! My husband and I are 40K+ in CC debt, and I am the only one working full time…he has done a few things to put us in a precarious position in the last few years, but last year he only earned 7K, whereas I earned just over 6 figures…this has been going on for years. So frustrated, depressed and feel hopeless, tired of fighting about money. Finally facing the fact that I will have to move out…no kids. Any advice?

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
10 years ago

@Poster 21 (Tammy) – your post reminds me that not everything should have a price tag, and peace of mind is certainly one of those things. some jobs actually have a hostile work environment and can drain you of your sense of well-being. I will never forget when this one woman plumped down next to me at the train station and let out a sigh – I asked her, “stressful day?!” and she said her boss called her a piece of crap (insert cuss word here) no one deserves that no should take that – not to oversimplify the situation… Read more »

Project Management Tools That Work
Project Management Tools That Work
10 years ago

I took a sabbatical and during that time the economy tanked and I was told no need to come back to my job. Since then, my health has improved immensely. I no longer have back problems of any significance. I can now run 3-5 miles daily again, something I had not been able to do regularly in over 10 years due to my back. My wrists and forearms no longer ache all day long (that carpal stuff). A family inheritance (genetic in this case) no longer causes me pain in my upper shoulders and back (my siblings still have issues).… Read more »

Stephan
Stephan
10 years ago

I think its natural to worry about worry, but its important that it doesnt impact the rest of your life. Take time each week to review, update, and work on your finances, but besides that, try not to think about it. Exercise every day and stay busy. The less time you have free, the less time you have to freak out. Also, the simplest way to reduce financial stress is a budget! It takes like 30 minutes, and if done on a PC can easily be updated and tweaked. You can track your expenses, see where your messing up, and… Read more »

Kat Eden
Kat Eden
10 years ago

I deviate back and forth between being really stressed about my $15G credit card debt, and thinking ‘stuff it, loads of people just don’t worry about it and it’s only money so maybe I should just take that approach!’ Only catch is, I’m not one of those people. And even though my card actually has so much go through it each month that I never pay interest, it’s still always maxed out. Leaving me in a situation like just now where I increased the limit b/c I’ve just committed to 6-month coaching with the Robbins institute. In part to help… Read more »

Sheila
Sheila
10 years ago

We have no debt (except mortgage, which I’m paying down quickly), my husband has a good job, we have money in the bank, contribute the max to two IRAs and a 401(k), contribute regularly to other investments and still I worry about having enough for retirement. I think it’s the uncertainty of the whole thing–not knowing how much we’ll really need, what healthcare costs will be, what the inflation rate will be, etc., etc. I always wonder if there’s something else we should be doing, but I haven’t been able to figure out what that would be.

WheelDancer
WheelDancer
10 years ago

I have dealt with debt stress in a big way in the last bunch of years after divorcing and ending up with a mortgage sized debt without the house to go along with it. I too have become quite a cheap bastard and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. The good thing is that I have become accustomed to the frugal life style and enjoy it more than I did racking up the debt in the first place. I still have considerable debt I am pounding down but have a positive net worth for the… Read more »

david/yourfinances101
david/yourfinances101
10 years ago

That was one of the biggest reasons I got out of debt.

Being sick and tired of all the stress and worry.

Those of you still in debt have no idea the burden lifted off your shoulders when this day comes…

Casey
Casey
10 years ago

I wanted to make a comment about J.D.’s note about a drive for higher income. J.D. – I have followed your site for almost 3 years now. I have to admit that I wondered if you were starting to focus more on the money. I could sense your passion in many of the articles you wrote in the past – but to be frank, the site has changed. It seems that the site has turned more into a business versus J.D.’s journey that I’ve enjoyed being a part of. You wrote a wonderful piece the other day – probably one… Read more »

Hotrao
Hotrao
10 years ago

I think it’s no simple rule in dealing with debt. Because many are the factors influence the debt and the stress related. My parents generation used debt, at least in my home country, as one big leap for owning an house. This was, in my opinion, one good use for debt. More recent generations used debt to carry on day by day living and we can now see the results. What I mean is: debt is a bad beast in any case. So, being stressed for debt, is natural if you are using it for living beyond your means. And… Read more »

Hazel_nut
Hazel_nut
10 years ago

In my mind I know I don’t need to stress, but my body begs to differ. Lack of sleep, heartburn, etc. I’m reading “Linchpin” and it talks about our “Lizard Brain.” I guess I just need to learn how to tame it and not stress so much about little things such as money.

Erin
Erin
10 years ago

I am so thankful to be out of debt!!! (Except my mortgage.) And this is why! When I was in debt I was always worried, sometimes sick to my stomach, with headaches, panic attacks, about an emergency I wouldn’t be able to pay for or just how I was going to pay them off in general. Then I would worry about how I couldn’t save properly because I was paying the debt. It was a never ending cycle. And don’t even get me started on if you’ve ever been in the posisiton to have bill collectors calling!! Or even worse…sued… Read more »

Dr. Frank Bonkowski
Dr. Frank Bonkowski
10 years ago

Conversely, people can be stressed about having money. A 2009 Princeton University study of women points to a strong connection between attitudes towards financial security and one’s satisfaction with life. The study shows that well being is not necessarily related to the amount of money or assets you have; if you worry all the time about losing them you will be unhappy. Rather a strong sense of satisfaction comes from believing that financial stability is possible in the future. For Third Agers concerned about financial security, I recommend the “Best Possible Selves” exercise described by Sonja Lyubomirsky in “The How… Read more »

Brad
Brad
10 years ago

I wish I could write that my life is low in stress and I live a very balanced life. Alas, that is not the case. I spend too much time at work. This is one reason I started blogging: I can control what I write. I can write the truth and write through my emotions. Writing does help calm my nerves and remind me of what is important in my life.

I just also need to continue to spend time with my family and my God, exercise, eat nutritionally, read, and be nice to people….

CJ
CJ
10 years ago

If you want help dealing with the stress that comes with debt Debtors Anonymous is a 12 Step program for people with problems with money and debt. Together we help each other get out of debt and find serenity and peace. All are welcome.

It is free.

http://bit.ly/aahHcA

Ralph
Ralph
10 years ago

Distress is a very damaging thing. Its not surprising to me that there is a correlation between money problems and health related problems. Usually there are several things in a person’s life that can cause them to become depressed and that tends to make them care less about their physical well-being.

Sandra
Sandra
6 years ago

Glad for my income tax check to come soon as possible,will set up emergency fund,catch up on bills help out my kids much as possible for they have school loans

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