How Money Stress Hurts Your Health, Plus 6 Ways to Beat It

Libby Kane

Stress is pretty personal.

What stresses you out (say, negotiating down the price of a car) might be downright fun for your neighbor (who gets a rush from fighting for bargains).

It’s okay that we all get stressed out by different things; some scientists actually find that a little stress is a good thing.

But a survey conducted earlier this year by the AOL/The Associated Press found that too much stress is linked to illness. And not just general stress, either. They found that money stress, in particular, may lead to physical illness.

What’s So Bad About Money Stress?

Even if you’ve paid off mountains of debt, annually max out your IRA and diligently stick to the budget you establish in the My Money Center, there’s a good chance you’ve felt it: Money is a pretty common source of stress.

The 2011 APA Stress In America report found that out of the eight top sources of stress in America, five were financial: money, work, the economy, job stability and housing costs. The Associated Press and AOL examined debt stress, the pressure a person feels when she owes money, in a recent survey. Respondents with high debt stress suffered more:

  1. Headaches and migraines (44% with high debt stress versus 4% with low)
  2. Depression (23% versus 4%)
  3. Heart attacks (6% versus 3%)
  4. Muscle tension and lower back pain (51% versus 31%)
  5. Ulcers and digestive problems (27% versus 8%)

We Can Fight Back

This doesn’t mean that if you’re stressed about money, you’re bound to get sick. Here’s how you can rehab your body and mind:

1. Get to the Root of the Problem

“Money stress” is pretty vague. What exactly are you stressed about? An intimidating amount of debt? Worried that your income doesn’t cover your costs? Scared that there might be an emergency you can’t afford?

Once you identify the problem, you can start taking steps (baby steps!) to fix it. If you’re stressing over debt, our free Get Out of Debt Bootcamp will start you down the right path. If you’re worried about your income, we have a whole section of our brand-new Knowledge Center devoted to earning. If you want guidance on how to be a better saver, we have a section for that, too.

And if you’re finding your source of money stress hard to pin down, Take Control Bootcamp is a good place to start. Often the most overwhelming part of money stress is that we don’t know where to begin.

2. Reach Out

Dr. Kate Levinson, psychotherapist and author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money,” says: “It’s important to talk with others, to not let the shame of the situation or the self-criticism stop you from getting support. Talking with others not only helps us to problem-solve, but also to feel not so alone and isolated in handling the situation. That’s huge. To go through this problem with other people absolutely brings a better outcome.”

If you can’t think of a partner, friend or family member you want to confide in, head to our LearnVest Facebook page, where we hold daily conversations with community members, or post anonymously and trade advice on our forum, LV Discussions.  

3. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall well-being. It’s been proven to strengthen your relationshipsimprove your finances and it doesn’t have to cost any money at all. (We have the right exercises for every budget here.)

The Mayo Clinic recommends 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. For ideas on how to work in your workouts during your workday (that work!), take advice from these ten readers who manage to exercise without spending an hour at the gym.

It may seem like no big deal, but back pain is actually one of the most common reasons Americans visit their doctors. If you’re one of those visitors, try exercises that strengthen your core, the muscles that support your back. Need ideas? Try these.

4. Give Your Eyes a Rest

We take our eyes for granted, but eye strain is one of the big ways we can give ourselves headaches and migraines (the medical symptom that showed the biggest difference between those who were and weren’t stressed about money).

While the study didn’t address the exact mechanics of why money-stressed people get more headaches, one of those causes may be that they are focused more intensely on their computers, on “getting things done.” Even if you’re feeling harried, force yourself to take mini breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 rule by focusing on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.

You might work at a high-stress job, but you can make your cubicle more comfortable, ergonomic and, ultimately, more productive and free from stress by following these four tweaks.

5. Revamp Your Eating Habits

We know it can be hard to find time to cook, especially when you’ve got a lot of other things on your plate. But, as our mothers have been telling us since elementary school, eating healthy food is a key way to stay healthy.

A few ideas for that: We have healthy, affordable recipes (and a Cheap and Yummy Pinterest board), many of which can be whipped up in hardly any time at all. If you really don’t have the time, it’s okay get that packaged meal, to save time and sanity. We made a chart to show you which packaged foods are actually healthy, so you can make your choice with peace of mind.

6. Sleep Better

As for getting enough sleep, following our earlier point about exercise should help–the more activity you have during the day, the more your body should be ready to sleep at night, as long as you don’t exercise too soon before going to sleep.

If you have trouble falling asleep, try that classic glass of warm milk. The jury’s out on whether it really helps biologically, but even if it’s just a placebo, the comforting feeling it gives you might be enough to calm your nerves and help you sleep.

But if you are swamped, stressed and simply don’t have the time to sleep for eight and a half hours tonight to catch up, try not just to sleep more but to sleep better. Here are some ideas for that.

  • nik

    lately i’ve been feeling really stressed out about my finances. i’m a college student and a few months back, i moved back with my dad in order to try to save up money. because of my dads unemployment, i haven’t really been able to save up much money because i pretty much have to pay for everything including the rent, food, utilities, etc and i’m running out of money. i feel like he’s failing to realize that i’m not a millionaire. i dont really know the best way to confront him about this but i’ve been really unhappy about the situation for months.

    if you have any advice about the best way to handle this situation, it would be greatly appreciated.

    • Allie

      I would sit down and figure out all the expenses vs income and go over it with him. Explain your situation and come up with a compromise together. If you are honest with eachother about this stuff then you should be able to work it out :)

  • Jeanne

    I like your first suggestion especialy because knowledge is power. So – if you identify exactly what about your finances or financial situation is stressful, it better helps you to dertermine a plan for moving forward. Another tip maybe I can help with is to give yourself a break from thinking, reading and stressing about your stressful financial spot. What I mean is if you think it over, reaqd the bills or demands for payment, think about it and try and come up with a solution in all of your waking moments, your going to drive yourself nuts with this thing. I’m alos not saying ignor the problem either. Give yourself permission to, sometime during each day, say “I’m not going to think about this or worry about this for the next 3 hours.” OR “I’m going to stop figuring for a little while and take a nap” or whatever works for you, just so long as you take a little bit of a break from the situation. You cannot possibly work on somthing 24 / 7 and stay sane! It’s important to get some exercise, eat correctly and get goo sleep (I know this is mentioned) when your stressed – getting ill because your not treating yourself well through the stress is not a good idea. It’s ok to put your financial challange on the back burner for a couple hours or a day, so that you can think clearly and saney! Thanks for a great article!

  • Ramusuri

    Practical suggestions to manage stress.