Debt and Your Emotions: How to Cope

By Mike Peterson
In April 29, 2014

If you’ve been in debt – or tried to battle your way out of it – you probably are all too familiar with the feelings of guilt, fear and depression that can come with it.

This situation is so common in the United States that medical professionals have given it a name: “debt-stress syndrome.”

When stress about debt becomes overwhelming, it can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and muscle tensions and – ultimately – lead to increased risk of disease from the common cold to heart disease.

It also can make you miserable.

There’s no reason to let financial debt be such a destructive force in your life.  There are steps you can take to recognize the painful emotions that can come with debt and overcome them. Here are just a few of them.

Be Honest

Above all, you need to admit there’s a problem.

Denial can numb us from the stress of debt, but sometimes we need a little pain to protect us from serious harm.

Ask yourself if you’re demonstrating any of the following behaviors/thought patterns.

·       Delaying bill payments

·       Telling yourself everyone has debt

·       Underestimating or downplaying the size of your debt

·       Making excuses for spending/racking up more debt

At some level, you probably know you have too much debt. Maybe you’ve maxed out your accounts, or you’re struggling to make payments.

You can help yourself by at least acknowledging the truth. It might help to talk to those closest to you about the situation. You’ll have their support, and they won’t unknowingly put you in situations that only pressure you to spend more.

Even more important is taking a good look at the situation. Check out your statements and add up your total balances and payments. This step is necessary so you can develop a plan for reducing and eliminating your debt.

Don’t Panic

Coming to grips with how much you owe is important, but this is where fear and anxiety can take hold. Instead of letting your debt overwhelm you, stay calm.  Take a deep breath, and map out a plan of attack for paying down your debt.

·       Put the credit cards away. Or even better, shred them. You don’t want to close your credit card accounts, because that can harm your credit rating. But do what it takes to eliminate the temptation to use them.

·       Keep making your payments.  Even if you can only afford the minimum.  This will keep creditors off your back and prevent late-payment fees and interest hikes.

·       Create a budget. This is how you’ll find out how much you’re bringing in each month and where the money is going. Look for things you can cut to free up money and pay off more debt.  Need some help getting started?  Check out this post or this one for easy budgeting ideas.

·       Look for creative ways to get more cash. Consider selling unused items, adding hours or even supplementing your work with a part-time job. Any extra money will help you shrink your debt more quickly.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Reducing and eliminating debt, like overcoming other challenges in life, is more of a marathon than a sprint. And there will be setbacks. Sometimes, even when you have strategies in place, a needed car repair or medical expense can come up that will force you to incur more debt.

It’s natural to feel dismayed or helpless when these things happen. But even when you have to take a step or two backwards, you can overcome feelings of depression.

·       Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, acknowledge the progress you’ve made and the steps you’ve been taking to make a difference.

·       Remain diligent about cutting spending. It’s important to continue monitoring income and spending and to keep looking for ways to trim back your monthly costs.

·       Whenever you free up money, use the savings to pay a little extra on your outstanding balance.

·       Try to get a better interest rate. If you have good credit and haven’t missed payments, your creditors might be willing to give you a lower rate. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Taking proactive steps to change your financial situation can go a long way in returning a sense of optimism and hope.

These emotions, the opposites of fear and anxiety, are well within your reach.

Mike Peterson

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.