Stress Caused By Money Worries May Cause Physical Pain


Your financial woes may not only be hurting your wallet, but it may also be upsetting your body.

People who lose sleep over money troubles and get boatloads of stress because of it may experience more physical pain than people who are at ease with their economic status, a new study revealed.

The research, which is featured in the journal Psychological Science, was inspired by observations that complaints of physical pain and economical security have both gone up over the past 10 years. Lead researcher Eileen Chou and her colleagues set out to find out if there was a link between the two.

Going Broke – Figuratively And Literally

After conducting six different studies throughout the years that assessed the relationship between economical security and physical pain, the team found that feelings of economic insecurity would lead people to feel a lack of control in their own lives.

In turn, the feeling would trigger psychological processes associated with anxiety, fear and stress. These processes have been found to share common neural mechanisms to the system underlying pain.

"Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure," said Chou, who is an assistant professor at University of Virginia.

Chou said results from six studies establish that financial insecurity causes physical pain, reduces tolerance for pain and predicts consumption of over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers.

Linking Evidence

The first indication that the team was on the right track while the studies were ongoing emerged in 2008. Chou and her colleagues had examined consumer data from about 33,000 individuals.

Filtering through the huge chunks of data, the team discovered that those who were unemployed spent 20 percent more money on OTC painkillers than people who were financially stable.

The findings of the 2008 study were further strengthened by an online study which evaluated 187 economically insecure participants who reported the more physical pain they experienced, the more insecure they were.

A third online study required individuals to think back to a period of economic stability and economic turmoil. In the end, researchers found that the participants reported twice the amount of pain during the financially unstable periods.

One of the strongest and most definitive studies they had was conducted in the lab. The participants placed their hands in ice water, and they were told to picture unstable jobs and stable employment in the future.

Participants were able to deal with the cold ice water longer while they were thinking of financial stability. Researchers said this indicated that economic stability weakens or strengthens our tolerance for physical pain.

Finding Possible Treatments

The study concluded that as individuals have subjective interpretations of their own economic security, this indeed has crucial consequences beyond objective interpretations.

Meanwhile, the team says more research will be conducted to confirm the causal link between physical pain and economic instability. They hope to understand how the two factors influence one another, and how we are best equipped to treat it.

Chou conducted the research in collaboration with Bidhan Parmar of University of Virginia and Adam Galinsky of Columbia University.

Photo : Allan Rotgers | Flickr

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