Debt hurts – literally. A growing body of research suggests that excessive debt affects not only people’s mental health and well-being, but it also makes some people physically ache.
A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that people who are financially insecure due to excessive debt or other money or credit issues, are more likely to report physical problems and pain than people who have plenty of money to cover their expenses.
“Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure,” study co-author Eileen Chou, of the University of Virginia, said in a news release.
The authors studied survey responses taken from nearly 34,000 consumers and found that people who lived in financially strained households in which at least two adults were unemployed were substantially more likely to take prescription painkillers. A series of smaller online studies found that people who had experienced financial setbacks were more likely to report a greater amount of pain.
Just thinking about past financial problems was enough to cause some people to feel achier, the study found.
Financial insecurity causes stress, increases pain
In addition, the authors conducted a lab experiment that found people’s pain tolerance went down when they thought about a soft job market — a key financial indicator that makes many people feel anxious. When the study subjects thought about a strong job market, by contrast, their tolerance for pain stayed the same.
Overall, the results suggest that financial insecurity not only makes people feel more stressed, which makes them more prone to physical illness but it also appears to tamp down people’s ability to withstand physical discomfort and causes them to think they’re experiencing more pain.
The authors theorize that people respond so negatively to financial insecurity, in part, because it causes them to feel as if they have less control over their lives.
Previous research has also shown that people with excessive debt tend to have more problems with mental illness. In addition, other research has suggested people with excessive debt are more likely to suffer from physical health issues, such as higher blood pressure. A 2013 study, for example, revealed that people with greater levels of debt tended to have higher diastolic blood pressure.
Change your perspective, reduce financial stress
How you think about your finances and debt could positively influence how the stress affects you. For example, researchers in the study in Psychological Science found consumers who fretted less over their finances — even when their situations were precarious — were less likely to report being in pain.
“Individuals’ subjective interpretation of their own economic security has crucial consequences above and beyond those of objective economic status,” Chou, Bidhan L. Parmer (University of Virginia) and Adam D. Galinsky (Columbia University) said in a news release about the research.
Rather than let the stress eat away at you, fight back by thinking about specific steps you can take to exert control over your finances. Changing how you think about your financial situation may also help you get out of a rut and come up with fresh ideas for how to you can improve your money picture.
You may not be able to turn your financial situation around quickly, but you can rapidly change the way you think about it.