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Everyday Cheapskate: Turns Out It's Not Just Me -- It's AFS

Mary Hunt on

I've written about it a lot over the years, and by "it" I refer to my six-figure credit card debt and how it affected me mentally, physically and spiritually. I speak of it routinely as I have addressed audiences across the U.S. and around the world. While my debt has been paid off for many years now (my gratitude knows no limits), I can recall and re-live the stress in a heartbeat -- and I do, every time I talk about it. It's real. It's palpable.

For many years, I assumed I was the only one who'd ever experienced this -- that I was an anomaly and a true nutcase. Why else would I continue down such a destructive path piling on more and more debt while finding new and improved ways to hide this from my husband? Why would I find the pain of the debt and the lengths to which I had to go to keep all my destructive plates spinning so much more desirable than the far less worse pain of facing what I was doing, coming clean and owning up?

Oh, the shame, the fear. I was afraid of being found out, but even more terrified that I couldn't stop this thing that was spinning out of control. I couldn't think, couldn't sleep. And then it happened. I hit rock bottom. No more available credit. No more stories that would satisfy the collection calls. No more hiding. I began spiraling down into a deep, dark pit of despair -- an emotional bottomless pit.

Turns out I'm not the only person on Earth who has ever experienced the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effects of heavy debt and financial turmoil. What I experienced is real, its effects measurable. And now it has a name, thanks to scientific research and discovery.

According to Ryan Howes, PhD, in Psychology Today, acute financial stress (AFS) has a remarkable similarity to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), resulting in many of the same symptoms as PTSD presenting problems with sleep, relationships, upsetting thoughts, emotional outbursts, avoidance, difficulty concentrating, being jumpy when the phone rings or easily startled, surges in heart rate, elevated blood pressure, fear, despair, abdominal pain, outbursts of anger and frequent failure to think clearly.

Simple stress management techniques do help AFS sufferers to gain more control over their stress. These techniques are not new. Stress is stress. These tried-and-true techniques borrowed from cognitive behavioral therapy that when applied personally on a daily basis can bring remarkable results that allow AFS sufferers to get back on track and onto their joyful journey to financial freedom:

Relax. Several times a day, or as you are able make time to relax. Begin by taking deep, slow breaths. As you continue breathing, tense the muscles in your feet briefly, then let them relax completely. Slowly work your way up your body, from your calves to your face. Repeat this process a few times daily. It helps me to clear my mind so I stop with all the negative thoughts and fear.

Identify. Figure out when your stress hits hardest: morning, noon or night. Over the next few days, track your thoughts, emotions and actions to spot stress patterns.


Manage. What thoughts do you have about your finances? Saying, "They're terrible, and I'm terrible, and it'll never improve" won't keep you motivated. Instead, try thinking, "I'm working on it," and "I'm strong, I've overcome tough times before."

The past. How did your family handle money when you were growing up? Who taught you about finances and what did they say? When did money start stressing you out? What's its significance to you? How does your financial situation affect how you see yourself? All of that matters, and considering the answers helps bring clarity.

Mindfulness. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the outside world and worries about the future. Instead, pay attention to your body, thoughts and feelings in the present moment. It's a useful, quick way to feel more in control and relaxed.

I've discovered this kind of self-therapy is super helpful. Try it! You'll find yourself able to think more clearly, get back to the work of living your get-out-of-debt plan, willing to endure temporary sacrifices that will speed you to your goals. Soon you'll know and experience what I've come to believe because I have lived it.


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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