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Ask Alina — How to Deal With Debt Stress

Dear Ask Alina:

I have been feeling very anxious lately about losing my job. I moved to the Bay Area after college and worked very hard to get bigger roles. I am ashamed to admit that after all these years of working, I have saved very little money, I have student and credit card debt, and if I lose my job tomorrow I won’t be able to afford my rent. I can’t talk to friends or family about my fears, because I don’t want to tell anyone about my financial secret. My anxiety is exploding!

Deep In Debt

Alameda Post - image of hands, a calculator, bills, money, keys, and coffee cup. Deep In Debt feels the pressure of potential job loss

Dear Deep In Debt,



Anxiety over fear of losing a job is a common concern people are facing these days. It is understandable that you are feeling anxious and ashamed about your financial situation, but please know that you are not alone.  Today 35% of Americans carry credit card debt and 17% of Americans have student loan debt. More than 60% of high-income earners are living paycheck-to-paycheck. This is so common that doctors have identified Debt Stress Syndrome as a condition.

Financial anxiety can paralyze some people and prevent them from planning or finding solutions. It is important to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Your worth as a person is not defined by your job, your debt, or your financial situation.

Focus on what you can control. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown. Recognizing that you have control is to realize that you can have a plan. There are some practical steps that you can take to alleviate some of the financial worries. Make these steps small to alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed.

  1. Get organized. Excel, Google Sheets, YNAB or Mint are just a few tools that you can use.
  2. Document your monthly bills, typical spend on food, entertainment, subscriptions, etc.
  3. Set a realistic financial plan. How much can you pay each month toward your debt? Make it slightly higher than what you have been paying thus far.
  4. Pay yourself! Open a savings account in a different bank which is difficult to access.
  5. Automate debt payment and savings transfers. Set it and forget it.

While working on these goals, remember to maintain good nutrition, good sleeping habits, practice deep breathing and avoid isolation.

Find a therapist who can help you learn tools to manage your anxiety and discover your relationship with money. Yelp and Psychology Today are good places to find a therapist.

This week’s riddle:
Where can you find “money” whenever you look for it?

Answer: In a dictionary.

Alina Baugh is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Ask Alina is for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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