Can Financial Stress Make You Ill?
Updated: Feb 8
Adam: I think financial stress could cause illness. Most forms of stress have a negative impact on the psyche and the body. Financial stress is more insidious than other types of stress for a couple of reasons that we outline below.
David: When people are stressed about money, their health declines. In fact, 75–90% of all doctor visits are stress related. Personal financial problems are the number one factor that causes employees to lose focus and become less productive at their jobs. It’s been found that 40% of employee turnover is attributed to stress.
1. It’s a Rollercoaster
Adam: When you are suffering financially, no matter what else is going on in life, there is often a low hum in the background that bills are not getting paid. That hum is often blasted into a shrieking sound when collectors call. You don’t know when they’ll call, but you do know it’s them when you see a toll free number or “anonymous” on the phone. Sure, you can try to ignore the calls but for most people it turns the unpleasant background noise of unpaid bills into an ambulance siren that landed in your living room trying to collect those bills.
David: Financial stress can hurt in more places than just your wallet. It can have a ripple effect on your health and interpersonal relationships. Stress can impact our thoughts and alter our bodily functions very suddenly and powerfully. This is yet another example of the mind-body connection.
Stress starts as soon as your brain senses danger. Your amygdala makes sure that your brain goes into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. This response triggers the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These in turn send reinforcements to different areas of the body to increase blood pressure, heart rate, and energy for you to either fight, flight or freeze with all the might your body can muster. In a crisis, stress moves us into action to save us from the immediate danger or it can absolutely paralyze us.
2. There’s a lot of guilt associated with it.
Adam: Few people seek our help because they were financially unintelligent or simply did not budget correctly. Most people had a major life event cause their financial issues. Common factors include job loss or lower income, sickness or the sickness of a loved one, divorce, etc. It’s very common for someone who is suffering financially to ignore the precipitating events and simply blame themselves.
The Rollercoaster Effect and Guilt work independently AND magnify each other. It creates a type of stress that is always there, seemingly impossible to relieve and constantly getting worse. Being in a constant state of stress can lead to many emotional and physical problems. We’ve seen clients who appear to have significant problems related to anxiety, depression and obsessiveness. We’ve also heard from many clients who end up getting sick because they are not sleeping, or report having a reduced immune system because of their stress level.
David: The truth is that all of us, even the most challenged, have financial choices. Finding those choices may feel impossible: the second you get ahead, you’re defeated by relatives needing loans, kids wanting the latest phone, downsizing, layoffs, unexpected medical expenses and a myriad of other obstacles.
It is easy to understand why someone would feel defeated. The trick to getting rid of a negative attitude is finding a way to believe that somehow, even in the most untenable of circumstances, there is hope. Simple things like finding a support system, asking for help to qualified professionals, making a gratitude list or visualizing yourself free of financial stress can also help you feel more hopeful.
Disclaimer: the following thoughts come from our experiences. We are not doctors and this is not a medical column.