Debt, stress and the modern world.

Two constants in our modern society are the importance of money and the unwavering onslaught of various forms of stress. For most people, the topic of money in itself is stressful. In a sense, most of our lives are entirely based around the pursuit of money. Let’s be honest , we need it for almost everything. A side effect of this pursuit of an aspirational lifestyle along with our consumer-driven economy, is debt creation. And while both debt and stress are inevitable concerns for most people, there are ways to create healthier relationships with them.

Recently, I was consulting with clients at their annual review. One member told me that she would prefer it if our office communicated via email rather than calling her. When I enquired why, she said that she does not answer her phone because of a persistent creditor who hounds her with calls. She went on to explain that she has severe anxiety related to her debt and its ongoing and long-term consequences.

Unfortunately, her case is not the exception. Most South Africans have accrued some form of debt, some being more debilitating than others. One commentator on CNBC referred to debt as modern slavery. Debt can leave us disempowered, fearful, angry and at a loss as how to repay it.

The related stress can paralyze us.

Through unsecured loans it is easy to access money and funds. There is that momentary elation and relief when an institution transfers the loan value to your account. The moment is brief; the quiet before the long emotional stress storm that is to follow. As soon as the payments for the loan become too onerous for the individual, a journey towards burnout has started.

Thus begins a very long and difficult path, starting with innocence and naivety and a silent hope that the problem will just miraculously disappear. One loan leads to another and then to the next and the next until the proverbial wall is hit and no more loans are possible. This is the point where many approach debt counselors, or take the hard route of liquidation/sequestration.

The stress, fear and anxiety that stem from debt is a daily occurrence. The body is constantly in fight and flight mode. The adrenal gland is overworked and cortisol is pumped into the system as part of our natural protection mechanism. Many people become passive-aggressive which is a sign of deep stress and the mind/body preparing for a shut down or burnout. The path is different for us all. A few will emerge with a stronger character. But for the majority, some form of stress release intervention should be mandatory. The problem is that a mass scale solution does not exist…yet…and stress is now an epidemic.

Contemporary societies, and notably corporate structures, are in the midst of a serious mental health crisis mostly related to money issues. These mental health issues include the following, among others:


Chronic fatigue




The impact of these mental health problems is far-reaching. Not only do they have negative implications for individuals’ personal lives, but they can, and do, also detrimentally impact work productivity and performance. This can impact the individual’s income and future earning ability, with consequences rippling through to their families and communities. South African disability claims related to stress, anxiety and trauma are increasing by roughly 20% per annum with the average healing time for these issues averaging at nearly eight years (Liberty Group Benefits presentation, 2017).

Even higher earning individuals, who we may perceive as beyond the middle-class and lower income debt struggles, face the same stress-related issues when it comes to money and financing. A client of mine called not long ago to access her pension fund. She is a high-earning executive, a modern paradigm of success, yet even she has hit the debt wall.

It happens.

It’s part of modern life.

The solution to this modern problem will be different for each individual, as each case is so specific and each person responds to stress in their own way. Here are a few recommendations to assist you if you are in a debt or stress trap:

Own up to how critical and serious the situation is

Acknowledge and accept responsibility for your financial situation. Take the time to understand your finances and how they may be impacting your health. Reach out for help if you need it.

Be honest

This is not a time for secrecy. Be open with your loved ones and employer. Hiding the truth will lead to more stress down the road.

Make a plan of Action

This could include many interventions that target both your finances and your physical well-being. There is not one-size-fits all so do your research and decide which course is best for you. There are a number of approaches you can take, such as:

Debt counseling

Re-negotiating with your creditors

Consulting a financial planner

Sacrificing the hell out of your finances

Making an appointment with a psychologist

Eating healthy foods


Re-visiting your purpose in life

Reaching out to friends and family and consolidating your support system.

Debt and money issues affect everyone at one point or another. It’s important to remember that in our modern society debt is nothing to be ashamed of. Living with debt and the associated stress is a completely normal part of our lives. The trick is not to let it infect your mental and physical health and well-being. Debt ,or excessive debt, as a percentage of our earnings creates pain in our lives. But pain can be your friend. Think of it this way; it is a friend because it is a teacher. See it not as an overwhelming obstacle, but rather as an opportunity to learn and grow. Ask yourself;

What is the life lesson being taught by this teacher we call debt ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *