The feelings around your debt are so strong it causes you to lose sleep. You stay up wondering how you’ll ever pay back your debt. The feeling of debt stress washes over you and you feel stuck in panic mode, unable to take action. But if the debt is causing you anxiety, then taking action on your debt is the only way to lessen those negative feelings. Action is the antidote to anxiety. It’s not easy to get started when you feel so overwhelmed, but there are small steps you can take. Here’s how you can overcome the paralyzing feeling of debt. 

Check-in with the numbers 

When you’re so consumed with anxiety and feeling stuck with debt, it’s easy to sweep everything under the rug. You’re in denial with debt and can’t possibly face what’s ahead of you. But in order to take action, you need to look at the hard numbers. 

This is often the most difficult part of the process. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Seeing how much debt you owe can be alarming, as interest can make your balance balloon to unforeseen levels that cause even more anxiety and anguish. 

Before you check in with the numbers, remember this. They are only numbers. Don’t internalize what they mean. Don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out right away. The first step is just awareness and acknowledgment. 

Don’t beat yourself up 

If you have bad debts, especially credit card debt or personal loan debt, it’s easy to feel a lot of shame and guilt about the situation. You spent too much money on stuff you didn’t need. Maybe you were a little reckless with your money. Perhaps you were just trying to get by. Whatever the case may be, don’t beat yourself up. 

If there’s one thing that will keep you paralyzed from taking action, it’s a shame spiral fueled by guilt. We all make mistakes from time to time or get into situations that are less-than-ideal. It happens. No matter how much you beat yourself up about the situation, it won’t change the reality of the situation.

Instead, acknowledge what happened. Learn the lessons. Get ready to take action and move forward. Shame and guilt keep you in the past instead of making progress in the future.

Know you’re not alone 

Dealing with bad debt can make you feel like you’re the only one dealing with this issue. Spoiler alert: you’re not! In fact, most people in the U.S. have debt. Between student loan debt, credit card debt, auto loan debt, mortgages, medical debt and more, debt is a way of life for a ton of people. 

You are so not alone and debt doesn’t make you a bad person. According to data from the Center for Microeconomic Data as of Q2 2019, household debt increased to a whopping $13.86 trillion dollars. Credit card debt makes up $870 billion dollars of that, student loan makes up 1.48 trillion dollars and auto loan debt makes up $1.30 trillion dollars. 

These numbers can help normalize debt for you. Not that you want to stop caring about your debt, but you don’t need it to consume you or affect your self-worth. Your self-worth is not your net worth. You’re not alone in the struggles you deal with. 

Choose a strategy 

Once you’ve looked at the numbers, take a look at the interest rates on your debt. You’ll want to start taking action, little by little, to overcome debt. To make the process easier, you can choose a strategy that will help you stay focused. 

There is the debt avalanche method that helps you save money on interest by paying down the highest interest debt first. So you pay the minimum payments on all of your debts and put any extra cash toward your highest interest debt. Once that’s paid off, then you’d focus on the next highest and so on and so forth. 

There’s also the debt snowball method which can boost motivation as it focuses on paying off the smallest balance first. In this situation, you’d pay the minimum payments on all your debts and put any extra cash toward the smallest balance debt. Once that’s paid off, you’d focus on the next smallest balance and so on and so forth. 

Each of these strategies can work. The avalanche may save you more on interest but the snowball could be more psychologically motivating as you overcome each debt, removing blocks of debt stress along the way. The key is to choose a plan to stick with. Consistency will lead to success in your debt payoff journey. 

Find community and accountability 

Part of the reason debt stress can feel so bad is that we feel alone. On top of that, paying off debt requires sacrifice. You must budget, cut back, earn more and stay focused to pay down debt. It’s not fun. But if you can find an accountability buddy or community, it can be easier. You can search the #debtfreecommunity hashtag on Instagram and read personal finance blogs. You can join finance-focused Facebook groups. Do you have friends or family members also trying to overcome debt? Check in each month to discuss your progress, successes, and setbacks. You don’t have to do this alone! Having encouragement and support will go a long way. 

Bottom line

Paying off debt can do a number on your mental and financial health. The debt stress becomes a paralyzing feeling that can be all-consuming. To confront this, look at the numbers, choose a strategy and find support. Run your own race and do it in your time. Little by little, you’ll start seeing progress so you can reach financial freedom and experience life free from debt and all of the terrible feelings associated with it. 


Melanie Lockert

Melanie Lockert is the founder of the blog and author of the book, Dear Debt. Through her blog, she chronicled her journey out of $81,000 in student loan debt. Her work has appeared on Business Insider, Time, Huffington Post and more. She is also the co-founder of the Lola Retreat, which helps bold women face their fears, own their dreams and figure out a plan to be in control of their finances.