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Doctors On How Our Money And Our Health Are Inextricably Linked

Lindsay Tigar  |  April 6, 2022

Yes, your money worries and struggles could be taking a toll on your physical health. Doctors weigh in on money, stress, life and so much more.

Countless studies over the years have shown that money is the biggest stressor in our lives — more so than our relationships, moving cross-country, or even the death of a loved one. When we go through periods of financial struggle and angst, it’s not just our bank accounts that feel the pressure — our body and mind also feel the pain. This can lead to some dangerous, even potentially life-threatening conditions. This is why adapting a strategic mindset toward our cash flow and having a plan for both emergencies and our future is recommended for a happy and healthy life. 

Here’s a look at some of the surprising ways our money finances can impact our health, and how to ensure we’re setting ourselves up to be as healthy and wealthy as possible. 

Money worries can cause our stress levels to skyrocket 

Stressed about making rent, or affording your next credit card bill? Worrying about how we will make ends meet puts an incredible amount of stress on our psyche and our bodies, according to Dr. Anthony Crifase. Anytime we experience stress, our body goes into overdrive, creating the hormone cortisol, which can have an incredibly negative impact on our health. Dr. Crifase says 90 percent of all primary care visits can be linked back to this hormone, and unmanaged stress can eventually lead to heart issues, weight gain, depression and a laundry list of other problems. 

Financial stress can cause you to stress eat 

Our bodies are a delicate system that must be protected. When one part (including the emotional parts) is out-of-whack or feeling overwhelmed, that will be reflected in our health and wellbeing — even our immune systems. And, as Dr. Velmir Petkov, DPM explains, often when people are at their wit’s end with finances, their decisions actually become less healthy, not moreso.  This can lead to overeating or even using food as a way to combat our anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, this can be a vicious cycle. “Not only does consuming more calories than you burn lead to weight gain, it can also cause heart disease, high blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, sleep disturbances, and gallbladder issues,” he says. And of course caring for all these diseases then leads to the creation of even more medical expenses — a pattern we’d love to avoid. 

Moments of financial anxiety can send you into a flight-or-fight mode, fast 

When there isn’t an immediate solution to a problem, our bodies typically respond in one of two ways: fight or flight. And yes, this happens even when we’re stressed about money — there doesn’t have to be a bear chasing us or a fight with a partner to tip off that emotion. Think about it this way: A student loan bill that never seems to decrease can leave us feeling helpless. We could, perhaps,  work diligently to bargain for a lower rate, apply for forgiveness, or adopt a side hustle to get out of debt sooner. But if we choose to ignore that bill, we’ll continue to feel the pressure and sadness it’s caused us in the past, and our bodies will continue to produce cortisol as we stress over it. As Dr. Crifase puts it, this can create ‘heightened sympathetic activity’ — where our blood sugar increases, our stomach acid suppresses, and our heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket. Suffering from these symptoms for years can compound our risk for disease. 

Lost sleep over money concerns is a real (and really harmful) thing 

We already know we’re supposed to get seven to eight hours of shut-eye per night to allow our system to reboot, recharge and regenerate. But with overloaded work schedules and family demands, that’s something that can be an unattainable goal many nights.. It can also be difficult to track down Mr. Sandman when we can’t stop thinking about our money triggers. Dr. Petkov says this untreated stress can damage both our quality and quantity of rest. “Your mind gets preoccupied with unpleasant racing thoughts which can make it difficult to rest,” he continues. “This is dangerous for our overall health because our immune systems get affected when we don’t get enough sleep.” When our body isn’t fully equipped to fight against colds and flus, we’ll become sicker easier, and will find it more and more difficult to get better — and stay that way.

When we’re worried about our finances, we’re more likely to withdraw socially 

Sure, part of a withdrawal from social activities can be a result of simply not being able to afford the high-end birthday tasting menu with a wine pairing, but part of it can be because we feel so emotionally defeated by our money worries. In these cases, we just can’t muster up the energy to be around anyone — no matter if they’re our best friends Dr. Petkov says money stress can lead to a loss of interest in activities and social gatherings that we once loved. “It’s hard to think about enjoying yourself if you are in debt and have a lot of bills to take care of,” he explains. But he urges us to continue investing in moments and rituals that supercharge our joy. “They help release your creative energy and offer a distraction from work, personal, and financial troubles. Certain hobbies can even provide additional income or help improve your career over time,” he notes.

Financial Security is what can truly help you build confidence — even find joy

On the other end of the spectrum, when we feel a sense of financial security, we’re more confident and happier in life. Most importantly, this doesn’t mean we need to be wealthy, but rather, stable. As one study from Purdue University discovered in 2018, once we reach a certain income level where our needs are met and we aren’t worried about making payments, our happiness naturally evens out and we feel fulfilled. “People who have achieved financial independence most definitely enjoy better emotional and physical health,” explains Dr. Maya Heinert, a medical expert for RxSaver by RetailMeNot and a pediatric emergency physician. “Being free from debt and not having to worry about how to cover everyday expenses creates enormous peace of mind and allows people the time to exercise, to express themselves creatively and to pursue hobbies or entertainment with friends — all of which benefit human health and happiness.”


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