Tough economy can take its toll on your health

The longest recession since World War II has wreaked havoc on consumers’ personal finances and thrown millions out of work.

The emotional upheaval from the sick economy also has resulted in physical ailments, such as headaches, backaches, neck aches and insomnia.

In other words, the economy can be bad for your health.

“We are seeing more people who are feeling overwhelmed,” said Dr. Charles Herlihy, a psychiatrist and medical director at Texas Health Springwood Hospital. “It begins to take a toll on them emotionally, physically.”

The margin for economic security is razor-thin these days, raising the stress level for many.

“Retirees are worried about having enough income to pay their bills. Some question if they can stay retired,” said Lynn Lawrance, a certified financial planner at Financial Network Investment Corp. in Dallas.

“Many who are still employed are kicking like crazy to keep their head above water now, let alone worry about retirement,” she added.

One of the worst scenarios is when people feel that they’ve lost control of their personal finances.

“They really spiral down into significant depression when they don’t have control over their finances,” said Dr. Art Mollen, an osteopathic family physician and author of “Healthonomics: The Handbook for Balancing Your Physical & Financial Checkbooks.”

“Once it affects mental function, it’s going to affect their physical function,” he said. “They may lose weight, they may gain weight, depending on how the depression is affecting them.”

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine questioned 250 homeowners going through foreclosure in Philadelphia and found that 47 percent showed symptoms of depression, with 37 percent exhibiting signs of major depression.

The rate was especially high considering previous research showed that only about 12.8 percent of people living in poverty were depressed, the study found.

“Although the health status of homeowners has traditionally tended to be better than that of renters, the financial and emotional stress of foreclosure may undermine the potential benefits of homeownership,” said the study, which will appear in the October edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

It’s no surprise that the researchers found deep attachment to homes.

“There is a sense of hope when people buy their homes,” said Craig Evan Pollack, an internist who recently completed a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is now an associate scientist at Rand Corp.

“The difference between those dreams and hopes and 1/8the3/8 reality that people are finding themselves in may be part of the stress that people are feeling, and a sense of sadness as well.”

Money and all its aspects are important symbols of success, power, dominance and accomplishment.

“Everyone likes to have a certain amount of control in their life, and all of a sudden when they’re losing their home, they’re losing their job, that affects their overall self-confidence,” said Mollen, medical director and founder of the Mollen Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The first step in regaining control over your finances is acknowledging what you’ve lost, said Todd Mark, vice president of education at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas.

“If you’ve got a financial crisis, what is the root cause?” he said. “Is it lack of income or has your income been steady? Is it an unplanned expense that you weren’t prepared for?”

For example, if you got caught with an unexpected car repair bill, you can avoid that in the future by stashing away savings for emergencies.

Likewise, if your debt is out of control, stop charging on credit cards and start paying off that bill. If you’re having trouble making payments, contact your creditors quickly and see if they will work with you.

“You can only regain control once you analyze where you are, what your potential challenges are and develop an action plan of tackling those as a goal of moving forward positively,” Mark said.

Make a brutally honest assessment of your finances and be patient.

“Say to yourself, ‘It took me years to get into this debt, and it will take me years to get out of it,'” Mark said.

There are certain aspects of your finances you can’t control.

“When stuff happens, what you do or don’t do is critical,” Lawrance said. “If you’re passive, it’s easy to feel that you have no control. If you become proactive and take charge of what you can, you’ll feel like you still have some control.”

Her remedy?

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. “In the first column, write what you can control or influence. In the other column, put what you can’t control.”

For example, you can’t control the economy, but you can cut back your spending and do side jobs to increase your income.

“You may have to work longer hours,” Lawrance said, but you should balance that with exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep.

“Make sure you include items for your career, for your physical, financial and mental health and relationships,” she said.

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.