Student loan debt is out of control in the United States! 

Hasan Minhaj on our nation’s insane student debt issue.

Around 1 in 4 Americans is currently paying off student loans, and a full 70% of today’s students graduate with debt. Not only is that an absurd amount of people, but most people with student loans report feeling that their debt is out of their control. 

In our country, where anxiety, stress, and depression are already rampant, student loan debt only adds to the mental health crisis.

The good news: Whether you’re just starting to take out loans or are managing debt from a decade ago, there are steps you can take to manage the stress surrounding your debt.

But first, be proud of yourself for your initiative and looking into tips and suggestions. Loans are messy and complicated, and anyone who can nosedive in is starting on good footing. 

Practical Practices

First, let’s talk practical moves to lessen stress about student loan debt.  

1. Check your repayment plan.

There are several repayment plans available with varying options to meet your individual circumstances. Just make sure to look out for the interest rate and the time frame for repayment. 

When problem-focused coping is not an option, emotion-focused coping is the way to go.

  • Use this repayment estimation tool to get an idea of your plan options. 
  • For the lowest total cost: If you’re not seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the Standard Repayment plan will cost the least in the long run. 
  • For an initial low income: A Graduated Repayment plan will cost more than a Standard plan, but it can help if you have less money available now and expect more later. Payments under this plan start lower and increase over time. 
  • For a longer time frame: If you have a large amount of debt and can’t pay it off in 10 years, you can check your eligibility for an Extended Repayment plan. You will pay more in the long run for this plan. 
  • For those seeking loan forgiveness: If you are seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness, there are several eligibility-based plan options that calculate your monthly payment based on your income and family size. These will usually forgive your remaining debt after 20 or 25 years. Check out all the available options here

2. Consider consolidating your loans.

With loan consolidation, you can pay off your debt in one place with one fixed rate. You can check this service out here — but be wary of consolidating to a private plan, which can limit your options for repayment. 

  • Pros: consolidated loans are simpler to pay off, provide you with a longer time frame to pay, and can open up your access to income-based repayment plans. 
  • Cons: consolidated loans usually cost more in the long run, may increase your interest rate, and can cause you to lose access to benefits provided by your individual loans. 
  • If you choose not to consolidate, pay off the loans with the highest interest rate first.  

3. See if you are eligible for loan forgiveness.

People who have jobs in the public sector or who are unemployed due to disability may be eligible for debt forgiveness

  • If you are interested in seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you’ll need to be careful with which repayment plan you choose. Standard, Graduated, and Extended Repayment plans do not allow you to take advantage of PSLF. Income-based repayment plans are usually the way to go. 

Managing Student Loan Debt Stress

There aren’t always practical solutions for problems, and student debt is no exception.

When other people truly hear us, we feel more prepared to manage what’s ahead.

Despite repayment options and potential loan forgiveness, you’ll still likely end up with a lot of debt to repay. This debt pushes people to extreme levels of stress and depression, with a whopping 1 in 15 borrowers having considered suicide due to their student loan debt (according to an online survey).

When problem-focused coping is not an option, emotion-focused coping is the way to go. 

Here’s what you can do right now:

Take a step back from your loans and address your in-the-moment stress response. Two of the most effective stress management techniques are mindful breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. You don’t need a therapist or any special setup for these exercises. They can be done at home, in the car, or even in a meeting. Here’s how they work:

Mindful breathing technique:

  • Pick an anchor for your breath — this could be the air passing through your nose, the rising and falling of your chest, or the air filling your stomach.
  • Breathe normally, count each breath up from one to ten, then start over.
  • Acknowledge the thoughts that pass through your mind, but then bring your attention back to your breath. 
  • Continue until you feel more relaxed. 

Progressive muscle relaxation:

  • Focus all your attention on your toes. Let them relax as if they were floating on water. Feel the tension in your body relax. 
  • Slowly move up your body, allowing each part to relax. 
  • When you get to your face, relax your cheeks, eyes, eyebrows, and ears one at a time. 
  • Sit still for as long as you can. 

Why do these exercises work?

During times of stress, your “fight or flight” system activates. Mindful breathing and muscle relaxation practices manually deactivate your fight or flight response and allow you to relax. With a clear head, you’ll be better prepared to manage your debt going forward.  

But what about in the long term?

For managing long-term debt anxiety, the first thing to do is be honest with yourself and get some clarity on your feelings. From there, you can decide what your next steps are. 

  • Try writing down how you feel, to get your thoughts out in the open. Are you stressed about your loans? Angry? Hopeless? 
  • Divide up your thoughts into those that are “facts” and those that are “perceptions.” Take a look at your perceptions. Are they realistic? Are they fair?  

Our best advice, though, is to get support. Talk to a family member, a friend, a therapist, or someone at It always helps when other people truly hear us; we feel more prepared to manage what’s ahead.

In addition to that, it helps to see what your peers have tried, experienced, and problem solved to cope with their student loan debt. Get connected and start asking questions – you’ll come away with unique ideas you wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

Anxiety about student loan debt affects a large portion of adults in the U.S. If you are feeling the pressure from your debt, look into refinancing your loans, practice stress reduction techniques, or ideally, talk to someone who can help you make a game plan