How to Deal with Debt Stress


Being in debt is never fun. In fact, it can be downright stressful! But with rising rent prices and student loans, debt stress is a reality for most people. In fact, the average American has around $90,460 in debt.

If you’re carrying debt, you know the weight isn’t a physical burden—it’s a mental and emotional one.

The Symptoms of Debt Stress 

Is being in debt having a negative impact on your mental health? Check out the tell-tale signs of debt stress and learn what to do next.

Overwhelming Emotions

We all know the old saying “money can’t buy happiness,” but financial security at least helps you sleep a little bit better at night. When you find yourself in a situation where money is tight and credit card balances are increasing, there’s a constant pressure and even guilt for letting it happen in the first place. Financial stress is no joke.

What it looks like: Every time you indulge yourself, you end up with a serious case of guilt and regret. You can’t stop beating yourself up for every single thing you spend money on that’s not debt payoff.

What to do about it in the moment: Take a deep breath and walk off the emotions. When you’re trying to get rid of debt, guilt and shame will only get you so far. Immerse yourself in some Brené Brown and leave the past in the past. 

A step in the right direction: Set up a budget. You’ll make sure your debt is paid on a pace that aligns with your priorities, you’ll still have enough to pay your bills, and you can give yourself some wiggle room on spending without feeling stressed.

Constant Anxiety

It’s normal to feel anxious whenever you’re handling money and finances. Surprising no one, there’s a correlation between high credit card debt and anxiety or depression. Because it’s so stressful and such a source of discomfort, some people, unconsciously or not, tend to put it off altogether. As it turns out, avoidance isn’t a great strategy for dealing with debt and mental health.

What it looks like: Waiting until the last minute to pay off your bills, going past the deadline and scrambling to pay with penalties.

What to do about it in the moment: Bite the bullet. Sometimes you just have to pay the penalty and move on.

A step in the right direction: Again, budget. A budget will set you up to pay your bills on time and avoid the anxiety of late payments. When you know exactly what your money needs to do before you get paid again, you’ll start more peace and less anxiety thanks to a budget.

Defeat debt stress with a budget.
Creating a budget can help you visualize (and prioritize) your income, obligations, and expenses.

Social Withdrawal

Perhaps intentionally or not, being in debt leaves you with less free time. Whether it’s due to overtime at work, no money to spend for personal entertainment, or simply because you’re too ashamed to go out of your home, social withdrawal is common and can contribute to mental illness.

What it looks like: Netflix and chill for seven nights in a row (and not because you wanted to). Flaking out on plans with friends… again.

What to do about it in the moment: Get some fresh air. Drag yourself off that couch and take a walk around the neighborhood to lift your spirits. It’s free and good for your physical health, as well. 

A good next step: Have a private chat with a close friend or family member and be honest about what’s going on with your financial situation. You might be surprised how light you feel when your debt isn’t a shameful secret anymore.

Anger and Resentment

Debt is rough on anyone, but especially for families and married couples. Sometimes, it even becomes the cause of lasting discontent. So much so that a study from Utah State University reveals that money problems are often a prequel to divorce.

What it looks like: the money fights that seem to spark out of nowhere with your significant other. You always blame each other and the fights seem to be increasing in intensity.

What to do about it in the moment: Stop playing the blame game. Step back to cool down. Get some sleep, eat some food, and take care of yourself.

A good next step: Have a conversation with your partner when you’re both fed, rested, and in a good headspace. If you and your partner can get on the same page about working towards becoming debt free, it can bring your relationship even closer.

When you’re stuck in the depths of the debt hole, it can feel overwhelming and you might have the urge to just quit. But pick up your head, make a plan, and just take one step at a time, one day at a time. You’re not going to pay off your debt all at once, what matters is that you start and keep going.

If you’re ready to get a handle on debt, try creating a budget and put YNAB’s loan planner tool to good use with a free 34-day trial that will help you reprioritize your spending and saving, get organized with your finances, and pay down your debt.


Allie Cooper is a financial education enthusiast and budgeting guru. In her spare time, she enjoys joining marathons and cooking steak (budgeted for, of course).