It’s hard to get into action when you feel scared and stressed. If that anxiety and worry devolve into full-blown panic, you can forget about reaching the calm mental state required to think clearly, make a financial plan, and change your situation.
And that’s exactly why dealing with student loan debt can be so difficult. Financial stress — and specifically, stress around student loans — affects more young adults than ever.
According to a study conducted by the University of South Carolina and the University of California, people with higher amounts of student loan debt experience higher levels of depressive symptoms.
And in a 2012 study performed amongst psychology graduate students, 64% reported that concern over debt interfered with their ability to function normally.
When you feel depressed, afraid, and worried, it doesn’t matter how much you know about getting rid of your loans. Your mental state and emotions take over, making it nearly impossible to proactively tackle your debt.
If this describes you, take a step back. Let’s look at how to stop the panic so you can stay calm and take productive action. Here’s how to deal with financial stress so you can move on and knock out your student loans from a calm and confident place.
Reduce financial stress by getting mindful
A mindfulness practice provides you with a way to manage anxiety and money stress (along with other worries in your life). Mindfulness means that you maintain a “moment-by-moment awareness of [your] thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” according to the Greater Good Science Center.
This allows you to be more present with yourself. Mindfulness gives you the ability to separate yourself from your thoughts and emotions instead of letting them drive your behavior. That, in turn, can help you accept discomfort instead of feeling anxious because of pain, suffering, or bad experiences.
If this sounds a little wacky to you, rest assured that studies around mindfulness show it can reduce stress, increase creativity, and ease anxiety. If you’re less stressed, feeling more creative, and not trapped by anxiety — well, you’re in a much better place to get to work on your student loan debt.
Start asking questions
Once you feel your financial stress is under control, take the student loan repayment process one step at a time. Start by educating yourself and knowing your options.
You can seek out professionals and financial experts to ask questions. Look for fee-only CFPs willing to work as fiduciaries for you, and talk to people familiar with student loans and how they work.
You can also research on your own by asking questions. It sounds simple, and it is: Start by running Google searches for questions about your specific loan types. Take time to review the results and read everything you can get your hands on. As more questions arise, make note of them and research those, too.
You can also get started with these trusted resources on student loans to educate and empower you:
You may also want to explore other options. Depending on your situation, refinancing or consolidating your loans can help you manage them more effectively.
Asking questions, researching information, and learning about various options can help you deal with financial stress. These actions leave you more informed, which means you can make better decisions around your debt.
Make your situation manageable
Repaying student loans is a huge undertaking, but you’re not expected to go through the process alone. Doing so can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed, which opens the door for that financial stress to creep right back into your life.
Use these tactics to help make your situation feel more manageable instead.
Reach out to friends and family who understand your struggle and know why you experience money stress.
Simply having someone you know you can talk to — or vent to! — can help make the process of repaying your student loans a little easier. If you can reach out to people in your life who have been there and done that, even better.
You can also get support from online communities and forums, like Reddit’s subreddit for all student loan discussions. Blogs like this one, rich in resources and conversations, can also help.
Student loan repayment can take years, and it’s a challenge to stay motivated and on track the entire time.
Make it easier by getting someone else to hold you accountable. Again, this could be friends, family members, or a coworker who’s also paying down debt.
You could even start your own blog to document your challenges, wins, and lessons learned. Having a public place to record your progress and share your setbacks can make it more likely that you’ll follow through over the time it takes to repay all your debt.
Create a system
You can use tools and apps to manage your student loans as you repay them, or keep your own records.
There’s no one right answer. It’s about what works for you to remain aware of your progress. Seeing yourself make steps in the right direction can keep you motivated, and allow you celebrate every small win along the way.
And knowing exactly what’s going on in your financial life — both good and bad — can help mitigate money stress for the long term.
What to do if you start panicking about student loans again
Of course, these strategies take work to keep in place. Know that some days will be harder than others.
That doesn’t mean you have to let the panic take over. When you feel anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions triggered by money stress, try the following:
- Take a big, deep breath. Our breath gets shallow (and sometimes we even hold our breath) when we get stressed. Breathing deeply will help you relax.
- Acknowledge the feeling. Trying to resist the worry or stress will likely only make the emotion bigger in your mind. Take a moment to simply acknowledge how you feel right now. You can even say something like, “I feel like I’m overwhelmed and stressed out right now” out loud.
- Practice mindfulness. Remember the first strategy you learned about how to deal with financial stress. Give yourself 2 minutes, 10, or 30 — however long you need — to meditate and practice watching thoughts come and go without attaching to them.
- Get out of your head and into action. Spending too much time chasing our thoughts about a particular situation can make us feel more stressed. Instead of staying with your thoughts, get into action: Call someone who supports you or holds you accountable, journal, or hustle to earn a little more to make an extra student loan payment.
Financial stress is inevitable when you deal with large amounts of student loans. But it doesn’t have to run the show.
You’re in control, and you have the resources you need to create a plan and get rid of your debt. Now get to work!
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