Debt Stress: What Is It And How Do You Cope With It?

desperate woman having loan credit card problems

Debts cause stress and anxiety under normal circumstances. Got late payments? Overdue bills? You could get a hefty penalty if you miss the deadline by just one day.

Yet still, many Singaporeans continue to apply for a personal loan or keep using their credit cards. According to Value Champion Singapore, the country’s average household debt is US$57,637, which is higher than it was in the earlier months.

It’s when debts begin to pile up that you might start feeling worried and stressed. If these negative feelings intensify to the point of losing appetite and sleep, you might be suffering from debt stress.

What Is Debt Stress?

Debt stress syndrome (also financial stress) refers to the emotional response of a person who feels pressured because of their debts. The cause may not be medical, but it is recognised in medical circles because it has a lot of physical and psychological symptoms.

Below are some examples of those symptoms:

  • Overwhelming and constant worrying
  • Difficulty in sleeping or sleeplessness
  • Difficulty in concentrating at work and doing activities that require mental focus
  • Loss of appetite
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Anxiety

Panic and the fear of succumbing to poverty and homelessness are drivers of debt stress. People who experience it are riddled with worry and anxiety whenever they receive a notice for late payments. They experience shortness of breath and increasing heartbeat. They get chills, headaches, and a dry mouth. These episodes can also have other triggers like seeing homeless people or losing a source of income.

frustrated woman in front of a laptop

Debt Stress is Detrimental to Health

Research shows that debt has links to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation among Asians. Sexual dysfunction, burnout, PTSD, and schizophrenia are also possible side effects.

The chronic stress that afflicted individuals experience (chronic, because debts often take a long time to settle) can also lead to health problems like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, weakening the immune system, and gastrointestinal disorders.

This syndrome has clear mental and physical health effects. It’s important for people to recognise when they’re experiencing debt stress and learn how to manage their response to it.

Ways to Cope with Debt Stress

Stress management techniques can ease the burden of debt stress, help manage its symptoms, and eventually free people from it completely.

Commit to eliminating your debt.

The first step to recovering from a mental disorder is admitting the problem and facing it head-on. The same thing applies to debt stress: acknowledging the problem and deciding to solve it is a crucial step in that direction.

Many are embarrassed to admit their dire financial situation. They choose to borrow money or try to slowly and quietly pay back what they owe instead of making noticeable changes to their lifestyles. The problem with denying debts is that debtors become prone to borrowing more; and for those who are more susceptible to anxiety, their situation can swiftly develop to debt stress.

Admitting the problem also lays the first of the practical steps to debt recovery. When it is clear to debtors how much they owe and to whom, they can plan possible solutions like refinancing or loan consolidation.

Seek financial advice.

There’s a silver lining in debt stress: you know the cause, so you know what you need to address.

Although there are other issues that might have to be addressed later (e.g., the resulting trauma, health problems and mental health disorders), getting rid of debt can go a long way in alleviating debt stress and its symptoms.

If the debt is too big, ask for advice from financial advisers. You need a realistic and achievable repayment plan, and finance experts can help with that. They also offer practical methods on how to save and manage money.

Create a budget and stick to it.

A key component of a debt repayment plan is a monthly budget. The next big challenge is to follow that budget. This could mean making lifestyle changes and monitoring buying habits to keep your spending within a budget.  

The need for a budget also underlines the importance of talking to a financial adviser. They can tell you what they did wrong and how to correct it.

Take care of your health.

Care for your mind and body along with your financial health. Pay attention to your body’s needs and be mindful of the things that trigger your anxiety. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals or confide in your family and friends. Debt anxiety can be hard to beat, and you don’t have to be alone when you do it.

Stop debt stress from taking over and keeping you from enjoying life. With these steps, you can take back control not only of your financial health but also your mental and physical welfare.


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