Debt is a huge problem for many of us.
The average American has credit card debt in excess of $6,000, and the numbers are climbing year by year (source). Student loan debt in South Carolina alone has increased by 315% in the past ten years, reaching $23 billion today (source). And the PEW Research Center notes that almost half of us spend more money than we’re bringing in each month, which obviously leads to debt (source).
Beyond the economic impact of loans and debt, there is a negative impact on our mental health as well.
One of the biggest ways that debt impacts our health is through the negative impact of stress. When we know that we have bills coming in that we can’t pay, we are going to feel stress. We may try to avoid checking the mail or avoid logging into our bank account so that we don’t see the numbers right in front of us. Stress is linked to insomnia, anxiety, muscle tension and pain. We find ourselves in a bad mood, often feeling a sense that we have no control and things may be hopeless.
You may also find debt impacting your mental health by the strain it puts on your most important relationships. Our relationships can be strained when we are always stressed out because of debt, when we feel like we’re letting down the people we love, or when we have to say no to something that would be good and healthy for the person or the relationship. Taking a family vacation or handling the costs of your child joining a sports team might be beyond the budget thanks to ongoing debt repayment. If you’re working extra hours at work to help pay off debt, this means less time for the people you care the most about.
But it is possible to reduce our debt and improve our mental health.
First, try out a reality check of your financial numbers. Look at all of the actual numbers: what do you owe, to whom, with what interest rates? What is your take-home pay and where is that money actually going?
Then, make sure you are communicating well with those who are involved with your financial decisions. Certainly, this includes your spouse. It may include calling your lenders and trying to negotiate lower interest rates.
Finally, don’t let your debt dictate your personality. You’ll feel better as you come up with a plan to remove your debt, and the worry and stress begins to lift. But in the meantime, continue to invest time and energy into things that are uplifting and encouraging. Plug in at church. Pray and read Scripture. Play with your kids. Take your spouse on a (free activities only) date night.
At iHope, we see the impact of debt on people’s relationships, health, and life satisfaction. God does not want us to be in debt, largely because of the negative impact that it has on our own personal lives. The Proverbs are full of encouragement about our financial health (such as 22:7) and the Psalms and others also speak frequently about our financial health (e.g. Matthew 6:24).
Of course, we are not financial advisors here at iHope. You may find it helpful to contact a professional or peruse a financial blog for deeper advice (this article may be a starting point). But iHope is a mental health counseling agency, and we want to encourage you to address any and every area of life that is impairing your mental health. Finances may be one. And like every area of life, it is one where God is in control, where God can bring restoration and help, and where God calls us to place our hope in Him alone.