Can being in debt make you sick? Questions for a debt counsellor

If you’re looking for a quick answer – then yes, being in debt can be a big factor that contributes toward all kinds of ill health – and what’s more, the links between debt and illness are being strengthened all the time.

We’ve asked a debt counsellor some questions about money worries and a person’s well-being – and also asked for some tips on how to keep yourself feeling okay, even if money’s on your mind.

Why does money make us worry so much?

“Money is a really important part of most people’s lives – and being without it could mean some dire consequences for people, including homelessness, an inability to support loved ones and life changing significantly. Not only that, it’s normal to feel a little threatened when people call or write to you chasing up debt that’s owed.”

What kind of problems do you see in people who have money worries?

“Firstly, it’s important to say that not everyone who owes money worries about it – and that’s great, if some debt is just a normal part of life for you then that’s healthy – after all, most people have some debt.

For people who do worry I see a lot of anxiety – perhaps thinking about money or a lack of it a lot of the time. Anxiety is a normal reaction when you feel a little threatened worried, the problem is, debt doesn’t tend to go away quickly, so you can feel anxious about money all the time – and that can make you lose sleep, feel forgetful, perhaps even feel moody or down.

Sometimes it’s not the person themselves that notices they’re feeling anxious, sometimes it’s a friend, loved one or work colleague who’s told them that they don’t seem themselves.”

Is there a set amount of debt that makes people worry?

“No, definitely not – what’s a really big deal to one person might not worry another person, so it doesn’t really matter how much you owe. People often tell me that their friends or family have told them not to get stressed about their financial situation – and while it’s easy to say that to someone, it’s a lot harder to do – whether it’s £100 or £1 million pounds you owe to a company.”

What kind of symptoms do people tend to have if they’re stressed about money?

“It’s different for everyone but I would say that most commonly I see people who are experiencing some or all of the following:

  • Trouble sleeping (which can lead to being very tired in the day)
  • A feeling of worry in their stomach when they think about money
  • Not feeling their normal self – either tearful, angry, sad or switching between all of those
  • Having relationship trouble because of money issues
  • Not being able to focus on normal day to day things – perhaps feeling distracted or forgetful

The tricky thing is, even if you cope okay with these things, worrying a lot can have a real impact on your physical well-being too.

When you’re worried your body reacts in the same way as it would if you were being threatened – so, your heart starts pumping a little harder and faster and you often get that ‘butterflies’ feeling in your stomach.

That feeling happens because stress hormones are released called ‘adrenaline’ and ‘cortisol’ – too much of these can cause you to have an upset stomach, lose your appetite, feel sick or having trouble using the toilet – either going too often or not often enough. When these things happen, it’s often stress or anxiety that’s the cause.”

What reasons do you see for people getting into debt?

“Debt is a strange subject, even people who are in debt seem to think negatively about it, like it’s something to be ashamed of. It’s really not, virtually everyone in the UK has some debt – and about 1 in 6 people have problem debt – money issues they can’t work their way out of.

In reality, debt is very rarely something that comes about because of excessive spending – it’s far more common for the people who come and talk to me to have lost jobs, had an illness, experienced a death in the family, struggled to pay for family life and things like that.

These types of things could happen to anyone, so it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of, I’ve talked to everyone from multi-millionaires to people who are living without any money on the street, so actually, debt is something most of us have in common, even if the reasons for finding yourself in debt are different for everyone.”

What advice would you give to someone who’s worried about money?

“Firstly, I wouldn’t tell people not to worry – it’s never as simple as that is it?

Worry is normal and if you try to hide the way you feel then you’re far more likely to make yourself poorly in the long run.

I would always suggest that a person talks to their GP. Lots of people tell me they’d feel silly talking to a doctor if there’s nothing physically wrong with them – but that really is what doctors are there for, they’re not just about colds and broken bones!

GPs are really great – and, no matter what anyone thinks, they’re not going to just give you a tablet that calms you down, instead, they’ll probably give you some things you can do to help yourself feel a little better – and it’s likely they’ll put you in touch with someone like me. It doesn’t have to be a specialist debt counsellor you talk to though, there are some great organisation out there who’ll give you some advice and listen to you.

When you talk to a debt specialist they’ll give you some things you can do that’ll help you feel better – and often, just talking to someone who’s trustworthy and will keep everything you say confidential is a big help.”

What would you say to someone who felt debt had taken over their life?

“I would tell them that it’s normal to feel that way – when you’re in debt it’s very hard to imagine life without these money worries.

What I would also tell them though is that they shouldn’t give up – even though life can feel very hard when you owe money, there’s always a way out of it, whether that’s talking to specialist debt advisors or getting some support from your doctor.

Even if you can’t imagine it now, with the right support you can work your way out of debt, I know, I’ve done it and virtually everyone I know has had to do it at some stage in their life too. It can be hard, but even just taking little steps like talking to the companies you owe money to or seeking some advice – these are all little victories and take you one step closer to being free from worry.”

James Jones

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