Money is one of the most common sources of stress in the United States. In fact, it ranks second only to worries about the future of our nation, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual “Stress in America” survey.
There are plenty of sources of financial stress — from debt to everyday costs to job loss. Like all stress, financial problems can lead to a number of serious health issues. But if you’re strapped for cash, you might not get the care you need because you’re afraid you can’t afford it, said Dr. Mary Gresham, a financial psychologist and founder of Atlanta Financial Psychology. As your health problems worsen, they can become more expensive to treat and put you in more of a financial bind. “It’s kind of a vicious cycle that’s hard to break,” she said.
That’s why it’s important to recognize how financial difficulties can affect your well-being. And remember these maladies affect both men’s health and women’s health.
Click through to learn about health issues that money problems can create and what you can do to deal with your financial stress.
One of the most common health issues stemming from money stress is fatigue. “When you make stress hormones in your body for too long, you can begin to have a feeling of exhaustion,” Gresham said. That fatigue can lead to other more serious health problems, so it’s important to find healthy ways to increase your energy.
A good way to combat stress-induced fatigue is to exercise. “Exercise is the best stress reliever we have,” Gresham said. There are plenty of ways to work exercise into your day without having to spend an hour at the gym. Go up and down the stairs in your office during your lunch break. Take short walks throughout the day. “Even 10 minutes makes a difference.”
2. Sleep Disorders
Sometimes money problems can keep you up at night. An occasional restless night might not be much cause for alarm, but if you’re unable to fall asleep most nights, your money stress might be contributing to your insomnia. What’s worse is that sleep deprivation might worsen your financial problems because your job performance might suffer if you’re tired. Plus, inadequate sleep can lead to other health problems such as mood disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
To make it easier to fall asleep, avoid watching TV or using a computer, tablet or smartphone at least an hour before you go to bed, Gresham said. Exposure to the blue light emitted by these devices can affect your body’s biological clock and disrupt your sleep, according to Harvard University researchers.
Meditating in the evening also might help, Gresham said, and it’s a free way to relieve stress. You can download an app such as Calm to guide you through the meditation process. You also might need to meet with your primary-care doctor. However, Gresham cautioned that if you are prescribed medication for a sleep disorder, you should only use it short term.
3. Lack of Concentration
Stress about your money problems could make it difficult to concentrate. If you’re having trouble focusing and are easily distracted, you’re more likely to get into an accident, said Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and associate professor at Creighton University.
To combat poor concentration, focus on being in the moment by slowly breathing in and out, he said. Most of our stress comes from thinking about the future or past. So by focusing on the moment, you can calm your mind and ease some of that stress.
However, “You have to schedule time to worry about finances,” Klontz said. Otherwise, if you don’t devote time to dealing with your money issues, those problems will continue to intrude on your thoughts, he said.
If you frequently get headaches, your money worries could be the cause. Stress is the most common trigger for tension headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your headaches make it difficult to work or focus on financial tasks, your money problems might worsen.
Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water and eating well can help ward off headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. Deep breathing and meditation also can help prevent them.
5. Overeating and Weight Gain
Both Klontz and Gresham said that money stress often can lead to overeating and weight gain. “For a lot of people, their stress management skills are to eat carbs and sugar,” Gresham said. A poor diet and weight gain can lead to a host of health problems — from diabetes to heart attacks. Women’s health issues stemming from excess weight include infertility and breast cancer. Men’s health issues include prostate cancer.
Before you reach for a bag of chips, ask yourself whether you’re hungry or trying to cope with stress. And recognize that eating healthy and being healthy can save you money because you’ll spend less on junk food, health care and even insurance premiums.
6. Increased Alcohol or Tobacco Use
Another way people cope with financial stress is by smoking or drinking more than they normally would, Klontz said. But that can only make problems worse. “In an attempt to deal with the stress, they often create more,” Klontz said.
Using alcohol, tobacco and drugs actually keep your body in a stressed state rather than a relaxed one, according to WebMd. Plus, indulging more often in your vices will cost you a lot of money — which will only add to your financial problems. Rather than reaching for a beer, look for other ways to ease your stress — such as exercising. If necessary, meet with your doctor to get help kicking your bad habits.
7. Teeth Grinding
Do you find yourself grinding your teeth as you pay bills? Is your jaw clenched all day as you toil away at a job you don’t like? Your financial difficulties could be causing this constant teeth gnashing, known as bruxism. According to Mayo Clinic, it’s a stress-related coping mechanism, and it can lead to headaches, severe jaw pain and damage to your teeth.
Visit your dentist if your teeth-clenching is damaging your teeth or causing you head, neck or ear pain. Get treatment before the problem becomes bigger and more expensive.
8. Skin Disorders
Remember back in high school when taking a big test could make you break out? That’s your body’s response to stress. However, if you’re dealing with money stress on a regular basis, your body’s response could be worse than an occasional pimple. Stress can be associated with skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, Gresham said.
So if you’re dealing with financial problems and your skin becomes irritated or conditions such as eczema worsen, don’t dismiss those health issues. “Be aware of when you’re under stress and you’re having a breakout,” Gresham said. “Catch it early. Get into (see) a doctor.”
9. Gastrointestinal Disorders
That acid reflux might be more than just a response to a spicy meal. It could be your body’s response to your financial problems. “Gastrointestinal disorders often have a stress-related component,” Gresham said. Other gastrointestinal disorders include constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Other stress-coping mechanisms you’ve adopted might be contributing to these problems. “A lot of people, when they’re under stress, they might drink — which is very acidic and might cause more reflux,” Gresham said. “They might eat sweets or eat poorly.”
To help eliminate gastrointestinal problems, start by cutting down on foods and drinks high in sugar and acid, Gresham said. Instead, eat foods with good bacteria such as yogurt or take probiotic supplements. You might also need to see your doctor for help.
10. Autoimmune Disorders
Autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia and lupus usually have a stress component, Gresham said. So if you’re constantly stressed by financial problems, you could put yourself at risk of developing one of these disorders, in which your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.
Treating these disorders often requires intervention from a physician, Gresham said. “Stress management is an important part of the treatment,” she said.
11. Increased Pain
Research published in the journal “Psychological Science” found that economic insecurity such as unemployment can produce physical pain. It also can lead to reduced pain tolerance and an increased use of painkillers.
If you’ve lost a job or are struggling to get by, take advantage of safety nets such as unemployment benefits, Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to get help buying food. Call 211 — the number for the community services clearinghouse in most areas — to find programs that can help until you get back on your feet.
You can develop anxiety as a result of the stress caused by financial difficulties, Klontz said. It might show up as a panic attack, which can feel like a heart attack because symptoms include chest pain, sweating and heart palpitations. “That’s your brain saying, ‘I don’t have the capacity to deal with what’s going on,'” Klontz said.
If you have these symptoms, see your doctor to make sure it isn’t a heart issue. To avoid future panic attacks and cope with anxiety, keep your financial woes in perspective. If you tell yourself your problems are catastrophic, your brain will respond to financial stress as a life-or-death matter.
“Depression is a significant health concern that is associated with financial strain,” Klontz said. Your financial problems might lead to a sense of hopelessness or even sometimes suicidal thoughts, he said.
“If you’re finding yourself in that situation, you certainly should get emotional help,” Klontz said, adding that if you have medical insurance, you’re likely to have some mental-health treatment coverage. If not, in some states it’s easy to get therapy if you don’t have the financial means to pay for it, Klontz said.
To avoid letting financial problems lead to depression, don’t tie your self-worth to your net worth, Klontz said. Remind yourself that “you’re more important to people than the paycheck you bring home,” he said.
14. Heart Disease
Chronic stress from extreme poverty, being trapped in a job you hate or other financial issues you feel like you can’t escape can lead to heart disease. “It’s very hard on your heart,” Gresham said.
“People often think the solution to financial problems is to get more money,” Gresham said. “Often times, it’s to manage stress better so you don’t create more financial problems.”
So when you find yourself getting tense or angry when things don’t go your way, calm yourself by taking deep breaths. Look for other ways to reduce your stress, such as exercise. And get medical help to help prevent a heart attack.
15. Early Death
“Financial stress is a strong predictor of early death,” Klontz said. It’s akin to heart disease and smoking. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shame around money and people don’t want to talk about it, which makes it even more stressful, he said.
To overcome that shame, start by looking back at how money was handled in your family. “Your financial stress isn’t the result of you being lazy, crazy or stupid,” Klontz said. “You probably were taught some inaccurate beliefs around money.” If you become aware of them, you can change them.
You can get help changing your financial habits by working with a counselor or a financial planner, Klontz said. You can find a low- or no-cost credit counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s website.
The best ways to relieve stress are often free. Click to find out ways you can relieve stress without spending a dime.