If you have shaky finances, you already know that it can cause anxiety, stress and even fear. These emotions aren’t uncommon, and likely stem from the feeling that inadequate finances reduce the control you have over your life.
However, the psychological processes involved in fear and anxiety share similar neural mechanisms to those underlying pain.
As such, we’re now learning that money problems could cause you to experience more aches and pains than those who are financially secure.
This new bit of research stems from an observation of two co-existing trends: Increasing economic insecurity and rising complaints of physical pain.
“Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure,” explains lead study author Eileen Chou. “Results from six studies establish that economic insecurity produces physical pain, reduces pain tolerance, and predicts over-the-counter painkiller consumption.”
One study analyzed data on households where both adults were unemployed. Then, the researchers compared the data against households where at least one adult was working. The unemployed households spent 20 percent more money on over-the-counter painkillers.
In an online study, researchers linked two measures of financial insecurity with reports of pain: personal unemployment and insecurity at the state level.
Another online study revealed that just remembering a time of economic instability can increase pain levels. People asked to recall one of these periods had almost double the amount of physical pain compared to those who remembered a more stable period.
And what happened when people were simply asked to think about financial insecurity?
In a lab-based study, researchers asked students to hold their hands in a bucket of water while thinking of a bad job market. The idea was to see how long it took the students to experience discomfort. Surprisingly, these participants suddenly had a lower tolerance for pain. However, those who thought about a stable job market while holding their hands in a bucket of ice had no change in pain tolerance.
Additional research looked at the degree of control participants felt they had in their lives. In this case, degree of control helped account for the link between economic insecurity and reports of physical pain.
“By showing that physical pain has roots in economic insecurity and feelings of lack of control, the current findings offer hope for short-circuiting the downward spiral initiated by economic insecurity and producing a new, positive cycle of well-being and pain-free experience,” the authors conclude.