Beware Debt’s Silent Partner

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Beware Debt’s Silent Partner

By |August 31st, 2015|

Debt comes with a silent partner – stress. Unless you’re careful, that stress can build to life threatening levels.

We’re told from an early age that we need to get out into the world and make something of ourselves. The subtext is, “go out and make a lot of money so you can buy a big house and a nice car!”

The message is reinforced by commercial messages encouraging us to buy a home, get a new car, and go on fancy vacations.

As if that weren’t enough, our celebrity-obsessed culture encourages us to model our lives on Kim and Kanye, Beyonce and Jay Z, and the rest of the mega-wealthy jetsetters that flood our Facebook streams.

But for most of us, the only way to pay for the car, the home and the vacation is to take on debt. This, on top of the debt we take on to go to college.

That debt creates stress, which breaks us down physically and mentally.

We don’t sleep as restfully. We eat too much or not enough. Our relationships suffer.

We’re at a higher risk of major health issues, including death.

The Debt-Stress Connection

According to a 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association, 73% of respondents said that money and debt were a significant source of stress in their lives. Those who report high levels of debt stress suffer from a range of stress-related illnesses including ulcers, migraines, back pain, anxiety, depression, and heart attacks.

A review by Finnish researchers last year of 33-peer reviewed studies concluded, “indebtedness has serious effects on health.”


That’s why it’s important to spend the time taking care of yourself when you’re working through your debt issues.

Sleepless and Stressed

A story from the Canadian Broadcasting Company examining how debt impacts your stress levels introduces us to  Tanya Zerr, a 38 year old who struggled with credit card debt when her husband lost his job. If you’re in debt, you probably know her story because it fits with your own.

According to Zerr:

“I would cry,” Zerr said. “The thing is, it is not something you really talk about. I couldn’t call my friends and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I am so worried about this’.… You keep a lot of that in.”

“It was sleepless nights, a nervous feeling all the time because you’re just worried, Am I going to get that letter, that eviction letter saying we’re going to cancel your mortgage? It’s kind of living in fear, because you just don’t know what is going to be taken away from you.”

Zerr said stress caused her to eat more and put on weight, while her husband wouldn’t eat and lost weight.

Increased Risk of Suicide


It’s one thing to be a tired and grumpy or pack on a few pounds because of your debt problems. It’s something else entirely to lose your life to debt.

Stories out of India, Australia and beyond show the link between overwhelming debt and suicide. The same story plays out time and time again right here in the United States.

53 year-old Carlene Balderrama of Massachusetts killed herself with one of her husband’s hunting rifles just 90 minutes before her home was auctioned off at a foreclosure sale. Her suicide note said she was overwhelmed by her bill problems and wanted her family to use her insurance money to pay off the debt and keep the house.

62-year-old Emilio Saladriagas of New Jersey was so overwhelmed by his bills that he walked into his local Rent-A-Center, poured lighter fluid all over his body and set himself on fire. Thankfully Saladriagas survived the suicide attempt.


Remember to Take Care of Yourself

When you’re struggling to get a handle on your debt problems, it’s important to remember your own physical and mental needs.

Without enough sleep it’s difficult to make important financial decisions. Your nerves are on edge, so communicating with your loved ones becomes tougher as well.

If you don’t eat properly then you don’t give your body and mind the fuel it needs to operate properly.

Burning the midnight oil to get on top of things is fine for the short run, but over time it deprives you of much needed down time.

And if you find yourself with nobody to talk to, reach out to someone you trust. Don’t have to be a therapist or doctor – consider a member of the clergy or even a friend. A shoulder to lean on makes the stress more bearable, and can help you see things more clearly.

Whatever you do, please be sure to take care of yourself. Anything less is not only unhealthy, but also dangerous.

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About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.