True, there’s more to life than money. But if your money situation is unraveling, it can be difficult to think about anything else. Crushing debt can seriously limit your options in life—and it’s a huge cause of stress.
So let’s just get this out there: it isn’t just you. The average person in the US is approximately $38,000 in debt — and many people have a lot more debt than that.
Worse, we live in a system that fuels it. When you consider stagnating wages, escalating healthcare and education costs, and a continuous rise in the amount of money it takes to stay in the middle class, it’s tough to see debt as just a personal failing.
It’s crucial to take care of yourself if you’re stressed about debt — but when you’ve been marinating in it, it’s not always easy to recognize that your health could be at risk from all the stress. So take a deep breath—and read on for some signs that it might be time to start tackling your finances (and no worries — we'll give you some ideas at the end of the article to help you relieve some of the stress).
1. You're breaking out
One of the most visible signs your stress is wreaking havoc with your mind? Bad skin.
We touch our faces more when we’re stressed. That leads to acne. Stress can also cause hormonal shifts, excess oil production, and a lack of focus on hygiene, which can all contribute to complexion problems.
2. Your headache won't quit
Stress has been linked to chronic headaches in a number of studies.
That’s because it triggers certain chemicals as part of the flight-or-flight response that dilate blood vessels in the brain. In some people, stress can lead to migraines.
Other types of headaches, such as tension headaches, are caused by tightening muscles in the head and neck. These responses can be caused or made worse by ongoing stress.
3. You're sick a lot
Chronic stress has been linked to a variety of health problems, including a persistent, low-level fever, chronic colds, and stomach issues.
If you're constantly worried about making rent, your stress may be weakening your immune system as well as interfering with the body’s ability to regulate its inflammatory response. This can result in increased vulnerability to the germs that cause colds and infectious diseases.
Many of us experience stress as a bad feeling in the pit of our stomachs. So it makes intuitive sense that stress can also wreak havoc with your gastrointestinal system, contributing to issues such as ulcers, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Chronic stress can also lead to more serious health risks over time, from peptic ulcers to cancer and heart disease.
4. You're not sleeping normally
Interruptions in your sleeping patterns are a definite sign of stress.
Often, when we’re stressed out, we get stuck in a feedback loop of not being able to sleep or waking up multiple times a night, only to stumble through the day completely exhausted.
It’s difficult enough to deal with stressful thoughts during the day. But at night, when there are few distractions and you’re trying to sleep, it can be easy to fall into patterns of thinking and obsessing about the money issues that stress you out the most.
This can cause a condition called hyperarousal, in which your body goes into a state of alert at stressful thoughts. Symptoms include a racing heart, quickened breathing, feelings of restlessness or panic, and nightmares—all of which make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
5. Your libido has tanked
Stress can torpedo your sex drive.
When your body is under stress, it increases functions you need to survive right now—like your breathing, heart rate, and blood flow. At the same time, it reduces functions that are not necessary to immediate survival, such as your sex drive.
Over time, stress can reduce your libido on many levels. Ongoing stress causes the body to produce excess cortisol, a hormone that reduces the sex drive. It can mess with women’s menstrual cycles and make it hard to climax.
In addition, when you’re stressed about money, it’s all you can think about. The brain is the most important erogenous zone—and when you’re distracted by money issues, it can be difficult to focus on pleasurable sensations or get in the right mindset for sex.
6. You never go out anymore
We all have periods where we try to scale back on spending—and that can often mean going out less.
But financial stress can be especially socially isolating. It’s common to feel embarrassed about constantly having to be frugal while your friends are spending freely at bars and restaurants.
Sometimes you just don’t want to have the conversation about how you can’t afford that expensive restaurant or trendy new bar. And at its extreme, debt stress can keep us from living our lives—and separate us from our friends.
If that’s happening to you, it can help to suggest cheap or free things to do that will keep you connected. For example, going for a walk is free and the physical activity can help relieve stress. (Other friends of yours may appreciate that, too).
You can get out of debt
Don’t lose hope. You can conquer debt—and there are lots of different ways to do it.
Here’s one: an article on how you can supercharge Dave Ramsey’s “baby steps” process using the Snowball Method—and get out of debt even faster.
If you’re really struggling, don’t ignore the physical or mental signs of stress. Talk to a therapist, a doctor, or a trusted friend—and be sure to take care of yourself. Your mental and physical health are more important than the numbers in your bank account.