A support system can be a difference maker if debt leaves you feeling alone, ashamed or full of regret. “Having a community helps students and past students feel connected to people who are going through similar situations,” says Katherine Street, a Lexington, South Carolina-based mental health clinician with TimelyMD, a virtual student health care platform. “At a minimum, it gives them support that might have felt unconquerable to get through alone.” Street, seeing a common theme of self-blame with regard to financial struggles, says that shame can leave you feeling like an outlier. Instead of hiding, realize that you can get through this. You’re a part of a larger group of borrowers facing a similar struggle. Fully understand your financial situation Ashley Agnew, a Dartmouth, Massachusetts-based certified financial therapist with investment management firm Centerpoint Advisors, says student debt stress can often show up as an “out of sight, out of mind” relationship with money. Completely avoiding your finances is one way financial distress can manifest itself, she explains. But without taking the difficult step of looking at your finances — total debt, monthly expenses and monthly income — you can’t create a realistic plan to get out. In fact, a common piece of advice given by financial experts to those overwhelmed by student debt and severe stress is to create a personalized money plan. But it isn’t something you have to do alone. Work with an expert A licensed therapist can help you process a lot of the thoughts, feelings and emotions that come with severe stress, offering strategies to cope while you work on your finances. Certified financial planners, or CFPs, will work with you to create a plan. This could involve diving into the details of your spending and exploring your student loan repayment and refinancing options to land on a unique strategy that helps you manage it all. Similarly, you can work with a certified financial therapist for a blend of therapeutic strategies to help you deal with financial stress and financial strategies so you can better manage your student debt. For example, visualization or “imagery” — a psychological technique used to improve the chances of achieving a goal — can be used in combination with budgeting, aggressive debt payoff strategies and other healthy financial habits. Financial planning paired with visualization, according to Agnew, can open the borrower’s eyes to a more positive financial future by showing them what’s possible. Many licensed experts come with a fee, but some schools and companies may offer mental health and financial counseling at little to no cost for qualifying members. If you work for an employer, start by contacting your human resources department to see what benefits may be available to you. Students can also reach out to their school’s student services department.
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