From Experience Life
Americans are wallowing in debt like never before. Counting all types of debt, from mortgages to student loans to credit cards, three out of four of us are in the red, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances. In the first quarter of 2008, average household consumer debt (not including mortgages) amounted to more than $19,000, according to Federal Reserve data. While the current economic crisis has tightened restrictions on lending and led to a slight decrease in average personal debt load, falling home prices, negative net worth and stagnant wages have made existing debts all the more challenging to wrestle into submission. And most experts predict the current recession will be protracted and harsh.
The strain that debt puts on personal finances is significant, but that’s not the whole story. What the headlines rarely mention is the high toll debt exacts on our mental and physical well-being.
Two surveys last year hinted at the breadth of the problem. The first, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), found that 75 percent of Americans are stressed about money. The second, by the Associated Press–AOL, showed that people who were the most stressed about debt were also more likely to be suffering from digestion problems, muscle tension, migraines, severe anxiety and depression.
The good news: If we are willing to take a close look at our debt, understand its underlying causes and secondary effects, and then shift our spending habits, we can minimize not just our excess financial obligations, but also the stress-related physical problems to which they give rise.
Next: How to lower debt stress