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Resolve To Lower Your Debt... And Improve Your Health

With the new year well underway, you may be focusing on your resolutions. For some, focusing on their finances may be at the top of their list—hello, envelope budgeting!

If you have resolved to get your debt under control, you have taken a major step forward in reducing a major stressor. It will be well worth your time and good for your health to stick with this resolution.

Getting out of debt is not always easy, but there are tools to help develop a budget and stick to it. If you need a good place to start, many free websites and mobile apps can help you build a budget that works for you. Remind yourself it’s OK to cut back on amenities, such as cable TV, dining out and high-priced cell phone plans. 

Now, imagine how it would feel getting rid of the constant stress debt brings. That stress can take a toll on your health and getting rid of it can improve your health. While financial institutions can help you get your debt under control, let’s focus how that can help your overall health.

High debt leads to stress

In a 2013 research study, Northwestern Medicine, part of Northwestern University, surveyed 8,400 young adults, ages 24 to 32. Researchers wanted to look at the physical health impact of having a high debt-to-asset ratio, which measures how much you owe versus how much money you bring in and have in savings accounts. The findings are eye-opening.

The study found:

  • People with higher debt tended to have higher blood pressure than people who don’t carry as much debt. In fact, their diastolic was 1.3 percent higher, which is considered clinically significant. As Northwestern points out, someone with an increase of 2 percent in their blood pressure have higher risks of hypertension and stroke.
  • Those with higher debt reported having higher levels of perceived stress over those with less debt—the increase was 11.7 percent to the average reported levels.
  • Those with higher debt reported having more symptoms of depression than those with less debt, showing an increase of 13.2 percent to the average reported levels.

How stress is bad for you

Depending on how you deal with stress, it could significantly impact your health. The American Institute of Stress, for example, lists 50 common signs of stress, and while many of them are psychological or emotional, the way you choose to deal with stress could affect your health.

For example, you may eat more when you’re stressed, or you may not get adequate sleep. Both can affect your health. And, when you constantly worry about how you will be able to pay your credit card bill, your auto loan, rent and still be able to buy groceries, it wears you down.

Take it another step further: What if you must choose between buying food or paying a copay for a doctor’s visit? What if you need to choose between food and medication?

Living with a high amount of debt can, unfortunately, put people into these very real, difficult situations.

Effective stress management

Working through debt and sticking to a budget can be stressful. By learning how to effectively manage stress, you can help minimize its impact on your health. (Not to mention that stress management is just an important skill for everyone to learn).

The American Heart Association has three tips to help reduce stress:

  • Talk yourself up. Change the way you think of a problem. For example, instead of saying you can’t do something, say you’ll do your best.
  • Do something. Take some time to do an activity that makes you happy, such as doing a hobby, reading a book, going for a walk or playing with a pet.
  • Emergency relief. While this tip may not always work when it comes to debt, it brings up some very good ideas, such as the exercise of breaking down the problem into smaller pieces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have some additional tips:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. In the long run, they could add to your problems.
  • Connect with people. Don’t isolate yourself and make sure you spend time with friends and family.
  • Take care of yourself. Be sure to eat well, get good sleep, exercise and maintain a normal routine.
  • Get help. If your stress is becoming unbearable, it’s OK to get help. Talk to a counselor about your problems because they can help find ways to deal with them.

The bottom line is getting your debt under control is a good move for your health. Take the steps necessary to get a major stressor under control and thank yourself later.

Read to talk to someone? Find a behavioral health specialist near you.

Behavioral Health Stress Wellness