While debt can affect your wallet, it can also affect your health.

A recent study from the University of Missouri, showed that the stress of carrying credit card debt through adulthood is linked to poor health, including joint pain or stiffness that interferes with daily activities.

Credit card debt alone hit an all-time high at the end of 2019, increasing by $193 billion to reach $14.15 trillion, a staggering figure that doesn’t take into account the severe economic impacts and fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Debt is just one of the stressors most deal with on a daily basis,” said Dr. Mandi Allen-Bell, of Scottsboro. “Throw in a pandemic and it rises even more.”

A study from Northwestern University found that adults ages 24 to 32, who had high debt-to-assets ratios, also tended to report poorer health in general. They also had significantly higher blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

“We were a bit surprised to see these effects in people so young and otherwise healthy,” said study author Elizabeth Sweet, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “It just goes to show you how salient debt is as a health issue in today’s society.”

Dr. Andrew Hodges, of Scottsboro, said financial stress is a leading cause of stress-related illnesses such as depression, anxiety, frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms and insomnia.

It can affect all ages, not just younger people. A Rutgers University study found that adults age 51 and older were more likely to report depressive symptoms when they owed a high amount of unsecured debt (like credit cards and medical bills) and didn’t feel in control of their financial circumstances.

Amy Morin, a licensed psychotherapist, author of four books about mental strength and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, told Health “individuals who are in debt may struggle to sleep, they may not eat a healthy diet and they may not have much leisure time, which can all contribute to depression.

Morin said depression may also drain someone’s motivation, making it harder to address debt.

Dr. Hardin Coleman, of Scottsboro, said the pressures of Christmas shopping and holiday plans can likely magnify problems centered around health and debt.

“Debt can be difficult to resolve and typically continues to grow,” said Coleman. “One can feel as if being buried in debt and that weight keeps a constant feeling of anxiety festering which can feed many known health conditions.”

Coleman said debt can also instill a sense of shame or social stigma when it precludes one from pursuing some of the luxuries friends and neighbors might be able to enjoy.

“If we feel like a failure financially then that can spill over into failing in attending to health issues or seeking mental/medical assistance,” added Coleman.

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