Have you ever been so stressed out about something that it kept you awake at night? Maybe you were waiting to find out whether you were accepted to your dream school. Maybe it was when you were waiting to hear back from a dream job you’d applied for and hadn’t heard from. Maybe it was in the weeks leading up to a really important entrance exam for school. For me, it was when I first felt the stress of student loan debt. It was when I realized just exactly how much debt we had and before we had the jobs we would need to pay it off.

stress from student loan debt

Our student loan debt is literally keeping me up at night. 

Ever since Danny graduated, I have been feeling the crippling weight of our student loans. I feel the greatest impact late at night, usually around 2:00 or 3:00 am. I toss and I turn and then I toss and turn some more. I cannot stop seeing our student loan numbers in my head. I cannot hide from it, not even behind the safety of closed eye lids and my fluffy down comforter.

It bleeds over into our family relationship. Stress encourages us to be more curt with each other and with little M. We zone out into our TV shows or phones, or whatever, to not have to deal with it or talk about it.

And I don’t think these feelings of stress are limited to us. According to Forbes, there is plenty of research that backs up the link between stress and depression with student loan debt. Student loan debt stress is robbing many young adults from enjoying their prime of life.

As such, it has prompted me to find coping mechanisms to deal with the crushing weight of our debt. If you are feeling stress from your student loan debt, use these tools. They really have worked for me.

Stress from student loan debt just feels different than other stress we have felt. Maybe it is because we know that the only escape from it is based on our own efforts. It is up to us to earn enough to pay it off. There is no discharging student loan debt. There is no filing bankruptcy. Even if we had chosen “loan forgiveness” we would still be paying the amount we took out over time, plus we would be taxed on the forgiven portion.

Eventually we will pay these loans off. I have to remind myself of this. In the mean time, I have compiled a list of strategies that I have used when dealing with all different kinds of stress and have found that they are working just as well for managing our stress from student loan debt.


(1) Create a plan to deal with your debt.

The first step to managing stress from student loan debt is to create a plan to get rid of your debt. This will help you gain control over your situation. Feeling in control helps us feel less stressed. If you need ideas for how you will take control of your debt, check out our master plan HERE, or feel free to click through our student loan help menu.

Your plan might be to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Honestly, if the stress of your student loans is keeping you up at night, that is probably the best choice for you for your own mental health. This will likely include refinancing your student loans at a lower interest rate.

You might choose an income based repayment plan. You will need to come up with a strategy to be able to pay the hefty amount you will be taxed the year it will be forgiven.

If your interest rates and debt load are not too high, it might make more sense to choose a standard repayment plan and make the minimum payments on it for ten years, while investing in your own retirement.

Sit down and choose a plan that seems right for you. You will be surprised how much stress this will relieve!

(2) Review and follow your plan.

Once you have a plan in place, there will be people who will question your pay off strategy. There will be temptations to spend money or do things that do not fit within your goals. This will inevitably add stress into your life. So frequently review your plan, and stick to it. Be honest with and good to yourself, and don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. You chose your plan for a reason. Remind yourself of that reason and stick to it.

(3) Exercise, eat right, and sleep.

Another important thing you must do to reduce stress from student loan debt is to take care of yourself by exercising, eating right, and at least trying to get enough sleep. There is a reason we have heard this advice 500 million times in various contexts throughout all of time. That reason is because these principles work.

According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), physical activity is well known to reduce stress. Do some yoga, go on a run, pump some iron at the gym. You will feel  better.

There is plenty of research that also backs up eating healthy to reduce stress. This one feels counter intuitive for me. I always think that stuffing my face with the whole pan of brownies will help me feel less stressed. It never works. In fact, it makes my body feel more stressed. So do yourself a favor, and grab an apple next time.

Finally, just go to sleep. I can attest, this is easier said than done. Huffington Post has an excellent list of 15 things you can do to help yourself fall asleep and stay asleep.

(4) Do not add more debt.

Once you have a plan in place to deal with your student loan debt, DO NOT ADD MORE DEBT. If you are already feeling stressed out by debt, then the last thing on earth you want to do is cause yourself more stress. Now is not the time to buy a fancy new car. It is not likely the time to go on an extravagant vacation or buy a whole new wardrobe. Save those things for when you are out of debt. That day is coming. Spending more money is not going to make you feel better. But it is going to make you feel worse, so don’t do it.

(5) Breath away the stress from student loan debt.

I first started practicing breathing techniques when I was preparing for M’s birth using Hypnobabies. I was feeling a lot of stress at the time being pregnant and in my third year of law school, applying for jobs and trying to keep my grade point average up. This technique alleviated so much stress in my pregnancy. In fact, people often commented about how calm I was about everything. Feelings of peace and calm permeated my life because of this technique.

Then, when I was at the police academy almost a year later, I was reminded of these breathing techniques to manage stress in high pressure situations. That’s right. You learn how to breathe at the police academy. This is not baloney. It really works. Plus its free ok? So just try it. (But seriously, it decreases your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps your muscles relax).

  • Start by:
    • Sitting or lying down if you can. Standing works too. Allow yourself to feel like you are sinking into the floor.
      • Inhale. Allow your breath to go as deep into your stomach as possible. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
      • Count steadily from one to five as you inhale. You may not be able to reach five at first.
      • Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from one to five again.
      • Repeat for 3-5 minutes.

(6) Confide in someone else.

Last in our list, but not of least importance, is talking to someone about the stress you are feeling is one of the most efficient ways to manage stress. “Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.” In fact, it is the feeling of safety when we express ourselves that  helps alleviate our stress. Your nervous system perceives that safety, and as a result, your feelings of stress decrease. Build relationships with the people around you, so that you can confide in each other.

Do you feel stress over your student loan debt? How do you cope with it?

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  1. I totally hear you about the stress of student loans. We’re a similar household. I’m a JD and she’s a DDS. Our way of coping was to take things in steps. Each time I got my law school debt down another $10k, I felt like I was getting closer to my goal. We’ve still got Ms. FP’s dental school loans to go through next, but if we keep hustling, we’ll get there soon! Like you said, having a plan is extremely important in coping with the student loan stress.

    1. Thanks for sharing! Smart to take things in steps, makes it feel less overwhelming. Good luck with the dental school loans! May they disappear quickly 🙂

  2. With any huge and overwhelming goal, I think it is important to trust the plan. Exactly what you said in 1 and 2.

    Reviewing on the final goal can be detrimental if it is so far away you can’t comprehend the entire journey (like $600k). Revisit the plan occasionally so it still lines up with the final goal, but put it out of mind. I would recommend you track a goal that better let’s you feel the positive progress – like paying down $50k before New Year 2018 and celebrating when you get there!

  3. My student loans were thankfully tiny, so I cant’ say that I know what you’re going through, but I do know all about debt, and that it sucks – that’s something I can empathize with. So re: your #6 – confide in us, you’re blog readers!

    You should also check out Melanie’s blog over at I’d love to see your break up letter (should you write one). I think you’d find tons of support on that site!

    You’re wise to have a plan as step number 1. A goal without a plan is just a dream, or a wish – so well done having a strategy in place to reach that goal.

    Best of luck!

  4. I think the most important is to have a plan. But be flexible and not self defeating if your plan doesn’t work out perfectly. Be forgiving to yourself. I have my original loan spreadsheets from when I was first tackling my debt from 2008. The original payoff prediction if we stayed on course was YE2013. Yet here we are almost at the end of 2016 and we are just now crossing the finish line three years later.

    If you have a multi-year payoff stuff will happen to throw a wrench in your plan. Don’t go back and rehash what you should have done. Unemployment, required moves, family events, all these can get you discouraged but they WILL happen.

    PS. The stress doesn’t magically go away once your loans are gone. I think my stress level is higher in the past few months knowing my loans are gone. Its almost like PTSD from 10 years of feeling guilty on spending. I feel the intense pressure to live it up and simultaneously use my newly available cash to its maximum potential. Two completely opposite paths. I feel like I have years of catchup to do. Its more stressful than having loans with a concrete finish line.

  5. Oh, that’s a lot of debt for sure. I can’t relate to student debt, but I can relate to a financial meltdown, which Hubby and I experienced. After putting four children through college debt-free, I surviving cancer and the exorbitant medical costs, we blew into the perfect storm of long unemployment in middle age, a dead real estate market in California (could not sell our home for love or money), and the recession of 2008. Long story short–we lost everything! But here we are, still standing 8 years later. Have we recovered everything? Well, no…. but…

    We downsized to the Midwest and don’t miss anything of our old life. I guess my advice for you would be to love one another and your son and create a little haven from the world that is a safe place for you. Be kind to one another and don’t let the debt undermine your marriage and relationship. Your husband will be working hard to establish his dental practice and needs to concentrate on that and not debt worries. You may be looking for a job too. Be united together against the world! What I saw when all the dust settled was that our abiding faith, a happy marriage, health, healthy children and grandchildren, good food and a warm bed are all that really mattered. It will get better. You will see. Don’t compare yourselves to others. Stick with the plan and do it a step at a time. I will be cheering you on!

    1. Thank you for sharing this! It brought tears to my eyes. And thank you for your encouraging words, they help more than you know 🙂 p.s. we also moved to the Midwest and we are loving it too!

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