One Major Side Effect of Stressing About Money, Say Experts

Woiman sitting at the table worrying about the money.

If you've experienced money-related stress because of the pandemic, you are really—and we can't stress this enough—really not alone. A new report from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University found that even in the year before COVID-19, 60% of people felt anxiety about their personal finances. Other studies have found that while chronic stress of any kind can be hazardous to your health, stress about money comes with a uniquely dangerous risk. Read on to find out what it is—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 19 Ways You're Ruining Your Body, Say Health Experts.

Money stress leads to delay in seeking care

According to Gallup's Health and Healthcare Poll in December 2019—right before the COVID-19 pandemic upended Americans' daily life, including routine medical care—25% of Americans said they or a family member had postponed treatment for a serious medical condition in the previous year because of worries about cost.

That was an increase from 19% the previous year, and the highest number since Gallup began asking the question in 1991. The number of people delaying treatment in households earning $40,000 or less per year jumped 13 points between 2018 and 2019, while the number of middle- or upper-income people who reported delaying treatment stayed essentially flat.

These are the kind of statistics that make health experts shudder, since prompt diagnosis and early and consistent treatment are crucial to positive outcomes for many health conditions.

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Pandemic also reduced healthcare access

On top of that, studies have found that the COVID-19 pandemic itself caused many Americans to delay health care. A February report by the Urban Institute found that 36% of adults in the United States delayed or went without needed medical care during the pandemic, including 41% of people with one or more pre-existing health conditions.

"Going without needed treatment had consequences, as one-third of the adults (32.6%) who reported delaying or forgoing care said one or more of their health conditions worsened as a result, or their ability to work or perform other daily activities was limited," the Urban Institute researchers wrote.

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More advanced health problems being found

Last month, the Washington Post reported that doctors are seeing more cases of advanced illnesses caused by pandemic-related delays in diagnostic tests and medical treatment. For example, colonoscopies declined 80 to 90 percent in the first months of the pandemic.

Today, COVID-related concerns are fading, but the side effects of postponing healthcare remain: If financial stress is causing you to deprioritize or delay routine testing or needed medical treatment, the physical costs can be severe.

For example, "People put off routine breast examinations and there are going to be some cancers hiding that are not going to be identified, potentially delaying intervention," J.P. Valin, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at SCL Health of Colorado and Montana, told the Post. He said the delay in testing keeps him up at night.

And for people who are already facing financial difficulty, later diagnosis of health problems often means increased treatment costs, resulting in a vicious circle of debt and reduced ability to pay for future necessary healthcare. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.