Overwhelming financial stress leads to physical pain, say researchers. According to research in Psychology Science, people who feel their financial outlook is shaky may experience more bodily pain than those who feel financially secure. The findings indicate that the link may be driven, at least in part, by feeling a lack of control over one’s life.
“Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure,” says researcher and lead study author Eileen Chou of the University of Virginia.
Economic Insecurity is a Driver of Pain
The research stemmed from an observation of two trends: increasing economic insecurity and increasing complaints of physical pain. In analyzing data of 33,720 people, the researchers found that households in which both adults were unemployed spent 20% more on over-the-counter painkillers in 2008 compared with households in which at least one adult was working. In addition, an online study with 187 participants indicated that two measures of economic insecurity – participants’ own unemployment and state-level insecurity – were correlated with participants’ reports of pain, as measured by a four-item pain scale.
Pain Tolerance Decreases During Instability
Evidence from a separate lab-based study also suggests that economic insecurity might also be linked with tolerance for pain. Student participants who were prompted to think about an uncertain job market showed a decrease in pain tolerance, measured by how long they could comfortably keep their hand in a bucket of ice water; students who were prompted to think about entering a stable job market showed no change in pain tolerance.
“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 researchers said.
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