Did you know that people with high amounts of debt are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression?
Nearly 1 out of 3 individuals with high debt report severe anxiety, and fewer than 9% of people who are deep in debt report no mental health issues.
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It’s easy to understand how massive debt could lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and a multitude of negative emotions.
So is it even possible to be happy and content when you’re in deep in debt? If so, how do we do it?
How Thoughts Create Feelings
We often believe the false idea that our circumstances create our feelings. In reality, your external circumstances in your life are neutral. They do not create your emotions.
It is your thoughts about your circumstances that drive your emotions. You can choose to have positive, encouraging thoughts or negative ones that make you feel like dirt.
Thoughts -> Emotions -> Actions -> Results
If you’re buried in massive debt, it’s easy to have a lot of negative, discouraging thoughts that create unpleasant emotions such as fear, anxiety, sadness, regret, disappointment, and jealousy.
It’s easy for your brain to go there, but this is not necessary and it is a choice. You CAN instead choose to have positive thoughts about your debt.
Let’s look at some specific ways to do that.
Don’t Give it Meaning
Remember that your debt says nothing about you as a person. Circumstances are neutral, and you can make them mean whatever you want.
You can tell yourself that you’re an idiot and that you’re terrible with money and you never should’ve taken on that debt in the first place, but this type of thinking does not serve you in any way. It just makes you feel like crap.
If you don’t want to feel crappy, why not change the way you perceive your debt?
In a way, I’m thankful for my massive student loan debt because it was the kick in the butt that I needed to start making better financial choices.
Without my student loans, I might never have found Dave Ramsey and I probably never would’ve started this blog. My life would be so different in many ways.
Natalie Bacon has written on her blog about how she’s so grateful for her $200k+ student loan debt because it motivated her to begin her website…which she turned into a six figure business.
She was able to quit her unfulfilling career as a lawyer and now makes over $100k per year as an online entrepreneur.
How could you think about your debt differently? Would thinking about it in a new way change the way you feel about it?
What has your debt made possible?
Remember Your Why
If you’re constantly thinking about what you’re giving up to get out of debt, you’re probably not going to feel great.
Complaining about how you don’t have the money to do any of the things you want to do certainly doesn’t inspire positive emotions.
Instead, focus on all of the things you’ll be able to do once you’re debt-free. What can you do 5 years from now? 10? 20?
What is your “why”?
Do you want to travel more, give generously, retire sooner, or work fewer hours? Spend your time thinking about these things and how exciting it will be when you can do them.
You may even want to create a vision board (this could be a physical item or a digital one on Pinterest) that shows all of your debt-free dreams.
Having this visual reminder will help you to stay focused on the end goal.
Remember How Far You’ve Come
Instead of feeling stressed about how much debt you still have left, remember how far you’ve already come.
When my husband and I had nearly $60,000 of debt left, it felt incredibly overwhelming…but when I reminded myself that we had already paid off over $60k, it seemed less daunting.
I love the concept of a reverse bucket list. With this, you make a list of all the things you want to accomplish…that you’ve already achieved. This is a motivating exercise.
Getting out of debt is tough, but so are you. You can do difficult things. You have already achieved amazing things, and you will again.
Stop the Comparison Game
You’re going to be miserable if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others while you’re paying off debt.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel any envy when I scroll through my Facebook news feed and see my friends traveling the world, buying beautiful homes, and doing all sorts of fun (read: expensive) things.
Social media makes it too easy to compare our lives to others.
Remember that you’re comparing your behind the scenes life to someone else’s highlight reel. You have no idea what is truly going on in their lives.
They “Joneses” do not have the perfect life you think they do.
Take a Break
I do NOT mean that you should take a break from paying off debt. When I say “take a break”, I mean think about something else for a while.
Go for a walk with a friend, take a free class, work on a fun hobby that you enjoy…do something other than sitting around worrying about your debt.
Find Your Tribe
If you’re working on paying off massive debt, there are going to be plenty of people who don’t “get” it. They won’t understand and they’ll tell you that you’re crazy.
They’ll tell you that it’s impossible to live without debt.
Remember that their opinions say NOTHING about you or your choices. Their opinions say a lot about them.
You do not need to pay any attention to what they say. Sometimes the people who love you the most are the same people who give you the worst advice.
They may not understand your journey, but that’s okay. It’s not for them.
It’s totally fine if most of the people in your life don’t understand it, but I highly recommend that you find at least a few people who do “get” it.
It’s incredibly motivating and inspiring to spend time with people who have the results in their lives that you want to have in yours.
These people don’t necessarily have to be people you know in real life.
They could be, or you could surround yourself with money savvy people via social media communities, reading blogs or personal finance books, and listening to personal finance podcasts.
Accept Negative Emotions
No matter how many positive steps you implement in your life to try to be happy in spite of your debt, there are probably going to be times when it’s still challenging.
You’ll likely experience negative emotions like sadness, frustration, or jealousy from time to time.
You do not need to be ashamed of your negative emotions. That will only make you feel worse! Instead of judging yourself for your feelings, observe them objectively.
Pay attention to your thoughts and notice how your thoughts drive your feelings.
You should be empowered when you understand that you create your emotions and you can manifest any emotion you’d like to create.
You can certainly create more positive emotions (and I encourage you to do so) with your mind, but remember that it’s okay to experience negative emotion sometimes.
Nothing has gone wrong, and you don’t need to judge yourself for it. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Paying off massive debt isn’t easy, and there will be challenges. There may be times when you just want to give up.
Understand that obstacles are an inevitable part of the process.
Paying off debt is tough, but so are you.
You’ve got this!