People eager to improve their health this New Year may want to start by thinking beyond their waist line and instead take a good hard look at their bottom line.

“Financial stress has a profound effect on the human nervous system,” says Dr. Chris Oswald, who has treated more than 12,000 patients at his chiropractic clinic in downtown Toronto. “In extreme cases, it can be comparable to the physical stress of losing a loved one.”

This month, that stress will flood into Canadian households in the form of post-holiday debt—bills and credit card statements, adding to already record-high consumer debt levels, that will force many families to put off meeting critical financial goals. As a result, families may be forced to play financial catch-up throughout the year.  

For patients walking into Dr. Oswald’s clinic this New Year, the tell-tale signs of financial stress are already fully visible.

“We see a pattern with patients suffering from upper and lower back pain,” says Dr. Oswald. “But problems with sleep and digestion are also common: sleep and the digestive process are highly sensitive to stress, and losing sleep can exacerbate everything else.”

Money woes hurt, and science shows they do so in ways we can physically observe.

Pioneering studies by Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye on the biological response to stress explain the effects of stress on the body. Selye’s experiments in the 1930s and 1940s demonstrate a triad of alarming stress reactions. Selye showed that:  

  • Persistent stress enlarges the adrenal glands and releases cortisol (the hormone triggering the “fight or flight” response)
  • By secreting stomach acid, stress can lead to gastric erosions or ulcers, along with a host of other stomach issues
  • Stress can weaken your immune system by damaging the thymus—a small pyramid-shaped organ that stimulates production of disease-fighting T-cells

Minimizing stress over money woes should be on everyone’s mind. A national survey by the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) has found that 42 per cent of Canadians rank “money” as their greatest stress—the leading source of stress among respondents. But how many of this year’s resolutions will involve tackling financial stress head on?  

The good news is that help is available. Interested in the connection between health and personal finance, FPSC commissioned a separate three-year-longitudinal study of 15,000 Canadians from coast to coast. It revealed that Canadians with a comprehensive financial plan in place, prepared with a certified financial planner® professional, were able to overcome financial stress and regain control over their financial future.

Canadians with comprehensive financial plans reported greater levels of financial well-being (85 per cent), emotional well-being (62 per cent) and overall contentment (45 per cent) than those who have engaged in even limited planning.

The key to these findings is that Canadians with comprehensive financial plans—taking into account all aspects of one’s finances, from investment choices to income tax issues to insurance to retirement planning—are reporting that they are financially and emotionally better off than those who have engaged in limited planning or no planning.  (Learn more about the study, The Value of Financial Planning.)

There are however intangible benefits to planning, too. As Dr. Oswald says, “Nerves tell muscles what to do, but the brain tells nerves what to do.” Greater control over finances, based on the ability to set and achieve clear financial goals, is a psychological reward of its own. Regardless of a person’s net worth, Canadians who have engaged in comprehensive planning report less stress and worry and more “peace of mind.”  

But all of that begins with a plan. When patients walk into Dr. Oswald’s office, they’re asked to rate their pain on a scale of one to 10. What if this New Year we make a concerted effort to rank our financial pain? What’s your number? Where does your money hurt? And, critically, what are you going to do about it?

To find a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional in your area that will help guide your financial future, use our Find Your Planner tool.

For more on calming financial stress and getting started with the right planner, read 5 tips to fight anxiety about moneyHow financial stress can affect your life and health and 10 questions to ask your planner.