Life Wellbeing Financial stress causes physical pain years down the track
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Financial stress causes physical pain years down the track

Financial stress
The bills that are causing you grief today can still be hurting you decades later. Photo: Getty
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Put someone under financial stress, and soon enough they’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a heart attack.

But once the balance sheet is under control, the body recovers, right?

Not as much as you’d hope.

New research finds that, aside from the immediate effect on wellbeing, financial stress can lead to physical pain 30 years later.

How was this discovered?

According to a statement from the University of Georgia, the authors investigated data from the Iowa Youth and Families Project, a longitudinal study that provides 27 years of data on rural families from a cluster of eight counties.

The data was collected in real time from husbands and wives in 500 families who experienced financial problems associated with the farm crisis of the late 1980s.

Most of the participants are aged over 65, and the couples are in marriages that have lasted up to 45 years.

Even after the researchers controlled for concurrent physical illnesses, family income and age, they found a connection between family financial hardship in the early 1990s and physical pain nearly three decades later.

Additional findings from their study show it’s more likely that financial strain influences physical pain, though physical pain can in turn influence financial strain through additional healthcare costs.

But how can this happen?

The study reveals that family financial stress in midlife causes an erosion of psychological resources, such as a sense of control.

This depletion of resources activates brain regions that are sensitive to stress, “launching pathological, physiological and neurological processes that lead to health conditions like physical pain, physical limitations, loneliness and cardiovascular disease”.

Dr Kandauda Wickrama is a social epidemiologist and professor in Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. He is the paper’s lead author.

“Physical pain is considered an illness on its own with three major components: Biological, psychological and social,” Dr Wickrama said.

“In older adults, it co-occurs with other health problems like limited physical functioning, loneliness and cardiovascular disease.”

Most pain research is neurological, “but it’s important to also connect it to stressful family experiences,” he said.

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