Being deep in debt can be more than just financially damaging. It can also cause damage to your mental health.

I remember the sensations of being in debt vividly. The seemingly permanent pit in my stomach. Not being able to sleep as my mind raced trying to come up with ways to pay my bills. The burst of adrenaline every time the phone rang or a new bill showed up.  

I was a junior in college with a razor thin budget and although things were very tight, I was in a relatively good spot. I had a job that paid pretty well for a college kid, and I felt like I was being pretty responsible with my spending.

When out of nowhere, I chipped a tooth.

This was particularly troublesome because I did not have dental insurance at the time. After my dentist did a full exam and explained that I’d need two root canals and two matching crowns, I got the cost breakdown from the receptionist, and it felt like my heart dropped into my lower intestine.

All said and done, about $4,500 of work needed to be done. I didn’t know any better, so I didn’t inquire about financing options and I just charged the whole amount to my credit card.

The following week I was coming home from school after a late night study session. I was in the middle lane of a busy L.A. freeway going over 70 MPH when my car lost all power. The engine completely died and the dashboard lights started flickering like an airplane getting ready to make a crash landing.

It turned out that my timing belt had snapped and my engine had seized, rendering it completely worthless. I would need to purchase a used car, and quickly if I was going to make it to work and school the following week.

In the span of 7 days I had amassed over $8,000 in debt. And since I barely had enough money to pay my rent before these unexpected expenses, that debt would continue to grow rapidly due to the unfortunate power of compound interest.

I fell into debt WITH a budget. I was already living a barebones lifestyle with multiple roommates. I was already eating a steady diet of peanut butter sandwiches and toaster pizzas.

To say that I was depressed would be an understatement, but luckily I was able to dig myself out of the debt and the depression.

What is debt depression?

Debt depression is a colloquialism for when the mental stress of debt is negatively impacting a person’s mood to the point where it is impeding their daily life.

Although debt depression isn’t a clinical term, research studies have concluded that the negative mental impact of debt can actually mirror the stages of grief.

If this sounds familiar, you should check out the following tips in an effort to relieve the symptoms.

Visit a counselor

If you think you’re suffering from debt depression (or any depression for that matter), seeking out a counselor can truly be life saving.

After seeing a mental health professional, a credit counseling service can help you to mitigate your debt and repair your credit.

Psychological Counseling

High levels of stress can have adverse consequences on the body including suppressed immune function, increased chance of heart disease, insomnia, and weight gain.

A mental health professional will be able to work with you to manage your stress and negative feelings. Additionally, a mental health professional can work with you regarding any behavioral issues that might make you prone to impulsive spending or other types of detrimental financial behavior.

Credit Counseling

Credit counseling services are typically non-profit agencies that help people to manage large amounts of debt.

Depending on your circumstances, a credit counselor can reach out to your creditors to negotiate your balance and work out new terms for you to pay back your balance on a monthly basis.

Make sure to do your research on any credit counseling service. Most are non-profit and will not charge you for their services.

Take the shame out of your game

Rule #1 for people suffering from debt depression is to stop shaming yourself.

Regardless of whether or not you find yourself in this situation due to circumstances you could control, the fact of the matter is that negative self-talk will only hurt your cause.

Getting through debt depression will require compassion for yourself. Take note of the way you are talking to yourself internally. Are these the types of things you’d say to your best friend if they were in this situation? What do you think your best friend would say to you about this?

It’s important to learn from your mistakes so that you don’t repeat them, but beating yourself up over debt is simply counterproductive.

Separate net worth from self worth

When I was deep in debt, it consumed my thoughts. It was the last thing I thought of when I went to sleep, and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning. Then I continued to worry about it throughout the day. It was hard not to think about it because the debt was influencing so many of my decisions. It felt like a piano that was constantly hanging over my head.

Until one night my friends noticed I was a little off. The stress had been weighing me down, and over a few drinks my friend Eric inquired as to why I had been so quiet. The rest of my friends went silent waiting for me to respond. They had noticed it too.

I hadn’t been myself, because as the debt continued to compound, I felt like I had to punish myself. Why should I be able to have fun with my friends when I should be trying to get this albatross off my back? I felt like debt was for the irresponsible and reckless and that’s exactly how I felt even though the circumstances were beyond my control.

I didn’t want to admit to them what was going on with me. I didn’t want to shine a spotlight on something that was already bugging me so much, and I certainly didn’t want anyone’s pity. But they pressed me.

As I finished reluctantly telling them my tale of woe, I could see the sides of Eric’s mouth turn up with a knowing smile.

“I’m pretty sure everyone sitting on this patio right now is in debt. Whata’ya got? Under 10 grand? Those are rookie numbers.”

The rest of the group laughed in unison and then started calling out their debts trying to one-up each other.

“I owe the IRS 15 grand!”

“I will be paying back student loans until I die.”

“My credit card company is literally suing me!”

It was as if I had stumbled into a support group for people with debt. Here were all these people I knew and respected that were able to keep living their lives in spite of their substantial debt. It was at that moment that the tension from my shoulders released, and I was able to go back to enjoying my free time, instead of constantly worrying about my finances.

Make a plan

Some people say that the antidote to anxiety is action. Learning to manage the stress of being in debt is great and all, but now it’s time to roll your sleeves up and address the issue at hand.

Check out our ultimate guide to getting out of debt with low income for a step by step road map to achieving zero debt! Our guide covers topics like how to budget, debt mitigation strategies, debt consolidation, debt forgiveness, bankruptcy and more!

A final note on debt depression

It’s important to take action quickly whenever your mental health is suffering. Your finances are undoubtedly very important, but your mental health is paramount!

Have you battled with debt depression? How did you cope with it? Let us know in the comments!