Stress over money can cause you physical pain up to 30 years later

ATHENS, Ga. — Stressing out over money problems is something that can give anyone a headache. After all, finances may not just affect one person, but an entire family as well. Even if things eventually get better, a new study finds financial stress can actually cause someone real pain decades later.

Researchers from the University of Georgia say family financial stress in midlife displays a link to a depleted sense of control. As a person ages, this can cause increased physical pain, even 30 years after someone’s money woes.

“Physical pain is considered an illness on its own with three major components: biological, psychological and social,” says first author Kandauda A.S. Wickrama, a professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, in a university release. “In older adults, it co-occurs with other health problems like limited physical functioning, loneliness and cardiovascular disease.”

Researchers explain that most of the pain people feel is neurological. However, they add it’s important to remember that stressful experiences can also cause a physical response.

“Dr. Wickrama and I are both interested in the context surrounding families and how that context impacts the relational, physical and mental health of the individuals in the family,” says lead author Catherine Walker O’Neal. “Finances are an important component of our work because it’s such a relevant contextual stressor families face.”

Stress and money can enter into a painful and expensive cycle

Study authors examined information from the Iowa Youth and Family Project to reach their conclusions. The project provides 27 years of data on rural families across north-central Iowa. These families include 500 husbands and wives who lived through the farm crisis of the late 1980s and experienced many financial hardships during that time. Most of the couples are now over 65 years-old and still together, some for up to 45 years.

Researchers discovered a connection between family financial problems in the early 1990s and reports of physical pain later on. Unfortunately, the study finds this relationship isn’t just a one-way street. While money stress is more likely to cause real pain, health problems causing pain also lead to more financial strain through rising health care costs.

Wickrama notes that physical pain is a biopsychosocial phenomenon. He adds when stress erodes a person’s sense of control, brain regions sensitive to stress become more active. This triggers pathological, physiological, and neurological processes which cause health conditions like pain, physical limitations, loneliness, and even heart disease.

“In their later years, many complain about memory loss, bodily pain and lack of social connections,” Wickrama concludes. “Nearly two-thirds of adults complain of some type of bodily pain, and nearly that many complain of loneliness. That percentage is going up, and the health cost for that is going up. That is a public health concern.”

The study appears in the journal Stress & Health.