Tackling Student Loan Debt & Anxiety: Advice for Millennials

Tackling Student Loan Debt & Anxiety: Advice for Millennials

“I can remember like yesterday gaining my first job in my career after finishing college. I was excited and nervous! Then in the mail, information came regarding my student loan payments. Shock, disbelief, anger and tears ensued. I panicked. I called my parents and cried.”

This is a common story told between Millennials once the excitement of graduation wears off and they get closer to being off the six months grace period.

Student loan debt is often reported by therapy patients to have contributed to and/or caused anxiety. It’s no wonder. The current estimated student loan debt affecting the U.S economy is 1.56 trillion dollars (bankrate.com), and the class of 2019 has an average debt balance of $29,800 (studentloanhero.com) at graduation. Home ownership for Millennials is currently reported to be at only 37 percent due to student loan debt, eight percent less than that of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers at the same age.

What is Anxiety

Anxiety is characterized as being an excessive worry that occurs more days than not for at least six months about various events, activities or performances.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive worry
  • Restlessness
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension (trembling, shaking, muscle soreness)
  • Nervous systems issues (stomach aches, diarrhea, accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath)
  • Sleep disturbances

Worry impacts an individual’s ability to complete tasks at work and home. Worrying takes a lot of energy which can contribute to a depressed mood, feeling exhausted and not wanting to engage with others. Many people characterize anxiety as worry that is difficult to control.

A trusted mental health professional can help assess how much anxiety is currently impacting you day to day and help equip you with tools to help alleviate symptoms.

<<Related article: Anxiety Disorder Insights>>

Tips for Things You Can Control

One way to address the anxiety is to find practical ways in your control that can help you address your spending and finances so that you can enjoy life and pay your bills.

Pay bills on time.

Timely payment of bills saves you money in the long run. It can help keep away late fees. In addition, your credit score will improve based off of lenders knowing you will repay money in a timely manner. If you have trouble keeping track of when payment is due, consider setting up an automatic payment plan.

Live with a roommate, family or friends.

You will save money if your family will allow you to live with them for free after graduation. It’s always nice to help out by buying toiletries and such. When discussing moving back in, come to an agreement on a timeline of how long you will live there and their expectations of you.

Live with a friend who owns their home to save on rent or just have a roommate. Many millennials waste cash because of a feeling that they need to live on their own as an adult.

You dictate your self-worth; it is not based on where you live or if you live alone!

Find free activities in your community to do with friends.

Healthy friendships and relationships can serve as a protective factor against anxiety and depression. Research has shown that friendship can add enjoyment, companionship and empathy to our lives.


Spending time focused on enriching the lives of others and working passionately for a goal you support can bring about feelings of pride and good self-worth.

Look into public loan forgiveness programs.

For those concerned that they will never be able to pay back their loans, look into the options for public loan forgiveness. In order to qualify for a public loan forgiveness program you have to fit one of the standards.

  1. Work for a nonprofit agency
  2. Be a teacher
  3. Work for the government

After 10 years of working within a nonprofit sector, your loans would be forgiven as long as you make 120 payments (which is 10 years of payments) on time.

Try to reduce high monthly payments.

There are income-based repayment plans. Call your loan provider which should be under the federal government and tell them you can’t make the payments and need to be placed on an income-based repayment plan! There are quite a few plans but some depending on your family size could equal out a payment of $0 a month. Yes $0 and it counts toward your 120 payments.

Find ways you can knock down some of that debt while making payments.

Check to see if your employer offers the services of a financial planning advisor to staff and take advantage of free consultation(s). Some employers also provide loan repayment as a job benefit due to the tight labor market.

In addition, check out a self-help program such as Dave Ramsey Financial Freedom program which provides excellent advice.

Lastly, honestly, once in the work force, everyone is just working and paying bills…lots of bills for some and less for others.

Money is needed to live, but it’s not intended to own us. There is a meaningful life that can be lived with and without student loan debt. With a little bit of research there could be a program out there that can help you. If anxieties regarding financial concerns are affecting your life, then there are trusted mental health professionals and financial advisors who can help.

Elizza LeJeune, LMSW, is a fully licensed clinician social worker at the Pine Rest Northwest Clinic. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Central Michigan University and her Master’s in Social Work with a Certificate in Disaster Mental Health from Tulane University in New Orleans. Her areas of interest include working with children, adolescents and adults struggling with depression, anxiety and spiritual issues as well as family, child and women’s issues.

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