Is Debt Hurting Your Health?

How finances can affect your wellness

Is Debt Hurting Your Health?

When people deal with significant debt, research shows they’re much more likely to have health problems—including ulcers, digestive tract problems and anxiety—than people with lower debt levels. In fact, a US study found that credit card debt has more impact on our physical health than our income level. Are you able to identify when money woes may threaten your health?

How do you know?

“The standard question is: ‘Are you having trouble sleeping at night?’” says Brian Betz, a counselor at a nonprofit credit counseling agency. “When it becomes an issue with people’s day-to-day lives, when they can’t sleep or are worrying too much, when it’s affecting relationships— then it really starts to wear mentally.”

The stress effect

Stress causes the body to release adrenaline and cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of these hormones can take a physical and mental toll. Naturopathic doctor Cameron McIntyre says when stress is severe, it affects the digestive system, sleep and immune functioning in particular.

“The immune system is the first system that shuts down under stress,” McIntyre says. “Our ability to stave off infection becomes significantly compromised. And with stress comes a lot of issues with managing anxiety and depression. Stress has a massive impact on the nervous system.”

Seek help

Talking about your concerns with an independent financial adviser, someone at your bank or a credit counselor can make a big difference when it comes to addressing money matters and regaining your health. Think of it as your financial checkup.

“I’ve always believed strongly in the importance of taking a comprehensive, holistic, integrative approach to your future from a financial perspective,” says Cary List, president and CEO of the Financial Planning Standards Council. “People who get a physical every year and deal with things early before they become problems have greater peace of mind. It’s a preventive approach.

“There are so many people out there who have nagging pain or problems and are really very worried, but out of fear don’t act. It’s actually worse because when you’re not getting professional advice or going for a checkup, you have that uncertainty hanging over your head. It’s the same with finances.”

Take action

Know where your money goes

Track your spending for a month or two. That way, you can see just how much you may be wasting on things like lattes.

Aim to cut back by 10 percent

If that seems impossible, reverse your thinking. Ask yourself, “What would happen if the economy were in a downturn and my income was cut by 10 percent?”

Pay off high-interest debt first

Write down all the debts you have and the interest rate each carries, including credit cards, lines of credit, retail loans, car loans and the like. Conquer high-interest debts first, like department store cards and other credit cards. Consider consolidating debt for a lower overall interest rate.