What do debt management planning and lower back pain have in common? Let me explain.
I can still remember that day. It was 7:30 am in the morning and I was brushing my teeth before I went into work. As I bent over the bathroom sink I felt a sharp pain in my lower back. It felt like I was being stabbed with a kitchen knife. Not any knife – the big ones they sell on those TV infomercials. The pain was so excruciating that I immediately fell to the floor.
That event started my two-year struggle with lower back pain. Back pain, discomfort, and stress that lasted much longer than it needed to. I spent those two years managing the symptoms related to my back pain rather than addressing the cause.
In a similar fashion, if you’re struggling with a mountain of debt it’s easy to get caught up managing the symptoms of the debt. And by managing the symptoms you allow debt to create unnecessary stress and anxiety in your life.
Whether it’s managing the symptoms of lower back problems, or debt – managing the symptoms of a problem never works. Symptom management is never a long-term solution. In relation to debt management planning, debt management is stress management.
Welcome to Middle Age
Prior to my unfortunate back pain event, I had never experienced lower back pain before. At least not the kind with muscle spasms, tingles, and numbness. The whole experience taught me a lesson in symptom versus root-cause management.
Over the course of two years, I would periodically “throw my back out”. The symptoms ranged from minor pain which was more of a nuisance, to debilitating pain where I was unable to sit or walk.
My solution to the pain was to see a chiropractor, purchase lower back support pillows, and use the lumbar support in my truck when driving. When it got really bad and I couldn’t go into work. I resorted to Tylenol, a heating pad and laying on the couch for a couple of days, watching movies and re-runs of MASH.
Over time this whole process frustrated me. My lower back problems were keeping me from doing the things I wanted to do. The pain was creating stress and a lot of anxiety. I was spending too much time managing the symptoms of my back pain and not addressing the real problem.
Fixing The Problem
One day I had a long conversation with my chiropractor regarding the root-cause of all my back problems. Age, a loss of flexibility in my hamstring muscles, and weakening of my lower back muscles were the culprit. Much of this was due to my sedentary work environment – sitting in a chair in front of a computer.
His solution was simple, stretching and strengthening exercises. He had actually been telling me this for years. It wasn’t until I became so frustrated and stressed about the situation that I started listening.
Today, I have a simple routine I perform each morning. I do some simple stretches and lower back strengthening exercises. The whole process does not take more than five minutes. When I follow this routine on a regular basis I experience no lower back problems. Skip the routine for a few days or a week, and I am back to the couch watching daytime soap operas and game shows.
Addressing the source of my lower back pain fixed the problem and eliminated the stress of managing the symptoms.
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The Symptoms of Debt
Years ago on the sit-com Rosanne, there was an episode where Rosanne and Dan were struggling to make ends meet. In order to by some time, Rosanne decides to send the check for the cable bill to the electric company. The electric payment to the telephone company. And the check for the telephone company to their cable provider. This got a lot of laughs, and this type of writing is what made the show a big hit back in the late ’80s.
Of course, this type of debt management planning isn’t so funny if it’s your day to day reality.
If you’re struggling with debt you already know the impact it has on your day to day budget. Not having the money to pay for the things you need or do the things you want are the symptoms you can identify with – I know I have been there.
What’s harder to recognize in the midst of all that debt, is how it creates an environment of anxiety and stress that overflows into the other aspects of our life.
The symptoms of debt come in many forms, for example:
- A family member has an upcoming birthday and you don’t have the money to purchase a gift.
- Friends ask you to go out for a night on the town and you don’t have the money to go with.
- Your car breaks down and you can’t afford the repairs.
- The kids need new boots for the winter, and you’re still trying to figure out how to pay for the swimsuits they needed over the summer.
When these things start to happen, you then start to manage the symptoms of your debt. By further managing the symptoms you create more stress in your life.
Inevitably, all this managing of the symptoms leads to more debt, which in turn leads to more stress. It’s a vicious circle.
Three Things You Can Do to Eliminate Debt Stress
If you’re finding yourself stressed out because you’re managing the symptoms of your debt. Here are three things you can do to re-focus your efforts. Create a debt management plan and start reducing your stress.
Change Your Perspective on Debt and Money
Our beliefs, and emotions will often dictate our behaviors – managing money is no different. Gaining a different perspective on how to view debt, and create new behaviors is a good place to start. Consider reading books that offer a different perspective on your finances.
- The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey
- Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robbins
- Or my short-read – In 4 Steps, Save Cash, Eliminate Debt, Create a Lifestyle of Opportunities.
These books will help you change your beliefs about money management and allow you to approach your finances in a different way.
Create a Debt Pay Off Plan
If debt is the problem, then you have to have a plan to eliminate the problem. FTP recommends the snowball method for debt pay off. The snowball method is simple to implement and you will see immediate results. You can download my free Workbook, which will show you how to use the snowball method to pay off all your debt – credit cards, student loans, car loans…
Change How You Manage Your Finances
We all develop routines around life’s daily habits. If what you’re doing with your finances isn’t working consider making changes or adjustments to how you manage your money.
- Do you have a budget? Try tracking your expenses for a week to see where your money is going.
- Have multiple credit cards? Try eliminating all of them but one.
- Re-evaluate monthly expenses to see if you can save money – your cable and phone bill, streaming services, magazine subscriptions?
Debt Management is Stress Management
Similar to my lower back issues years ago, if you find yourself managing the symptoms rather than the problem then unnecessary stress will become a way of life.
Debt management planning isn’t just about getting out of debt, it’s about eliminating the stress-related symptoms caused by debt. Creating a debt management plan will allow you to focus on the root-cause and over time correct your debt problem and eliminate the stress.
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- 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, by Dan Harris, ABC News