Are you suffering from Financial Stress?

Financial stress and its impact on life and health

We are living in the most exciting times in the recorded history of mankind. The technological revolution has brought in a deluge of gadgets, household appliances, a sea change in entertainment industry and job opportunities. Consequently, the pressure to maintain the status quo too has gone up tremendously. It is not uncommon bumping into folks, even the well earning families, talking of financial stress these days.

Several years into practicing psychology, the moment a client comes to me complaining of fatigue or a severe headache or backache I almost know intuitively that it’s only the tip of an iceberg. The real problem is often psychological and has to be understood and dealt with. Contributing factors could be financial problems, relationship problems, work pressure, terminal illness or personal grief. It is exhaustive list!

A couple of years ago I woke up to the sad news of the death of a relative I was very fond of. The reasons, I learnt later, were that he was under severe stress with huge debts, a hefty EMI to be paid and the fear of loan recovery agents taking over his house. The prolonged and intense stress lead to cardiac arrest and untimely death. This event suddenly thrust my attention towards the disastrous effects financial stress could cause in human beings.

“Financial Stress” is defined as “A condition that is the result of financial and/or economic events that create anxiety, worry, or a sense of scarcity, and is accompanied by a physiological stress response.” (courtesy: The Financial Health Institute)

Financial Stress

Several studies conducted worldwide indicate a definite relationship between financial stress and its deleterious effects on all aspects of health; psychological, physical and social.

Eileen Chow the lead researcher from University of Virginia says “The results from six studies conducted establish that, economic insecurity produces physical pain, reduces pain tolerance and predicts over-the-counter pain killer consumption.

A study published in the journal “Psychosomatic Medicine” (John et al Feb,2016) concludes: Financial stress predicts a myriad of psychological difficulties, including greater psychological distress and increased difficulties with family members, friends and in the work place, contribute to poorer physical health and also limit exposure to resources important for development throughout life span and destroy protective psychological factors like self-esteem.

Another study reported in Journal of European Social Policy was conducted on Northern Irish low-income house-holds experiencing varying degrees of financial hardships and how debt effects health and health related behaviors. A robust relationship was demonstrated between feeling financially stressed and most aspects of health like, increased consumption of cigarettes and drugs, problems pertaining to self-care, performing daily activities and pain problems

“Financial Stress has a profound effect on the human nervous system” says Neuroscientist Dr. Chris Oswald who has treated more than 12,000 patients in his clinic in Toronto. He observes—problems with sleep and digestion are common. Lower back ache and upper back ache too are reported often.

To summarize, decreased tolerance to pain, lowered immunity to diseases, decreased productivity, absenteeism and in extreme cases depression and suicides are some of consequences of financial worries. Unemployment, fear of losing a job, debts to be paid or medical expenses loss of business, natural calamities and there could be many more reasons for financial worries and stress.

Coping mechanisms

Financial Stress

The Financial Planning Standard Council’s 3-year-long study reveals that a comprehensive financial plan in place prepared by a certified financial planner enables people to overcome financial stress and regain control over their financial future. It was found that such plans contributed to greater levels of financial well-being 85%), emotional well-being (62%) and overall contentment (45%) than those who have engaged in limited planning.

Adjunct therapies like yoga, meditation, exercise, physiotherapy, naturopathy, personal and family counseling could help temporarily alleviate the physical and psychological problems.

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About the author

Dr Anuradha Mangalpalli holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Delhi University and has worked in the public health domain for over 18 years. Her areas of interest include interdisciplinary research, health and psychology and other related areas of applied psychology