Debt and Your Health
10th August 2017
We all know that money worries can be stressful, but only in recent years has it become clear just how big an impact being in debt can have on your overall health. Below, we detail some of the ways that debt can affect different aspects of your well-being, before giving you a few tips to try if you find yourself struggling with any of these symptoms.
We usually think of anxiety as a mental, rather than physical, health issue, but this symptom can actually have wide-reaching effects on both mind and body. A 2010 study carried out at Northwestern University, USA, found that adults aged 24-32 who had high levels of personal debt reported poorer overall health than their low debt contemporaries, as well as having higher blood pressure. Increased blood pressure is often linked to high levels of stress, which struggling with debt can certainly cause. The blood pressure of this high-debt demographic was found to be 1.3% higher than the national average for their age range. This percentage might not sound like much, but having blood pressure just 2% higher than average increases a person’s risk of experiencing a stroke by around 15%. Heightened blood pressure can also increase your risk of heart attacks and kidney disease. The author of the study, Professor Elizabeth Sweet, further noted that “chronic stress can supress the immune system”. This could explain the poorer general health reported by those struggling with debt-related stress. Struggling with debt can also cause a host of other health problems. In 2008, AOL and the Associated Press carried out a survey in which 44% of people with high levels of “debt stress” reported suffering from frequent migraines or headaches. Respondents in this group also commonly reported symptoms including muscle tension, aches and pains, and digestive discomfort. Citizens’ Advice, similarly, found that over half of those who contacted them with a debt-related issue experienced physical symptoms as a result. The biggest issue among this group seemed to be losing sleep – 79% of people seeking advice reported suffering from poor sleep on a regular basis. Sleep loss is often caused by anxiety – clearly the mental and physical symptoms which debt can cause are intimately tied.
Debt can, and does, make a huge difference to people’s mental health. In a Creditfix survey, 86% of people who had sought help with their debts reported that struggling with debt had had a noticeable impact on their mental health. When asked what types of mental health difficulties they had encountered, the most commonly reported issues were anxiety and depression. The main trigger for these symptoms was harassment from creditors – being bombarded with demands for payment is clearly a highly stressful experience, which can lead to further reaching feelings of anxiety in day-to-day life. Not managing financially could also have a knock-on effect on a person’s sense of personal achievement and value, which might partly explain why depression was also so common among people struggling with debt. Debt itself can cause mental health issues, but, interestingly, people who suffer from mental ill-health are also much more likely to struggle with debt in the first place. The Royal College of Psychiatrists found, in 2010, that half of UK adults living with problem debt also had a mental health issue. The Office for National Statistics have also uncovered connections between mental health and debt. Of people who with mental ill-health, one in four also struggle with personal debt. Being in debt whilst also dealing with mental health issues often creates a vicious cycle. Experiencing mental ill-health can affect your ability to earn and manage money, which often leads to issues with debt. On the other hand, struggling with debt can negatively impact on a person’s mental health.
Looking after your physical and mental health is vital, so if you find yourself struggling with one or more of these symptoms, know that you can always ask for help. Just talking about your problems, although it can be a frightening prospect, is a great start whether you speak to your GP, a helpline, or friends and family. You could also try some of these tips for dealing with the most common debt-related mental health issues.
Coping with Anxiety
- Using a simple breathing technique can help to combat anxiety – simply breathe in for a count of five, hold for three, and breathe out for seven. This prevents hyperventilation, and helps to slow your heart-rate
- Engaging in some aerobic exercise, such as a brisk walk, removes stress-hormones form your system. Simply getting outside can also be a welcome break from the source of your anxiety
- Eating a lot of sugar has been linked to increased anxiety. By cutting back on foods high in refined sugar, such as chocolate and cake, you can maintain more stable blood sugar levels, so a more stable mood
Coping With Depression
- When you feel depressed, days can blur together, so setting a daily schedule can help ease you back into a routine. Going to bed at the same time every night is important, since getting enough sleep can improve depressive symptoms
- Exercising might be the last thing you feel like doing, but it can give you a sense of achievement, as well as releasing plenty of feel-good hormones, endorphins, which can ease your symptoms
- Simply challenging your negative thoughts can also be a simple and helpful way to cope – notice your thoughts, and try to step back and see if they are unreasonable
Debt really can affect your health, and if it does, you are certainly not alone. Difficult as it may be, seeking help, both with your debts and with your health, can help you move forward and feel better. The Mental Health Foundation has loads more information and advice about mental health.